Night Skies: The Version of E.T. I Saw
By Amanda Rossenrode
It's the 35th anniversary of the release of one of Stephen Spielberg’s most beloved films, E.T.. For some people- for me it was a horror film that took me 18 years to be able to watch without running and hiding under my Donald Duck sheets. And yes, I still had Donald Duck Sheets at 18.
What? You say, its an adorable movie about a boy and his alien pal! To that I say, did you hear what you just said? Also, you’re afraid of It. It is just Tim Curry in clown makeup. He gets defeated by Seth Green and the dude from Sea Quest. The generic gin-soaked guy in a bear costume my mother hired from the PennySaver to entertain my sixth birthday party, definitely more scary. No, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is a by far more terrifying than Pennywise and "Barry the Bear" and on so many levels.
Let’s start at the beginning. If there’s one thing Steven Spielberg gets, its kids. For years I have suspected that he is just three kids on each other’s shoulders wearing a man-costume. In E.T., the kids are playing a game and ordering pizza and nearly punching Elliot in the face when he interjects his pizza preferences. Every younger sibling on earth knows that until the day your elder sibling moves out of the house you will not get what you want on a pizza. And that half-and-half business is nonsense, it always gets on the wrong side of the pizza. To this day I’m not entirely sure what I like on pizza and, gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you what my little sister, third in line to the pizza accession, likes on her pizza. Cheese? Hawaiian? She may have said this as some sort of political protest because no one really likes Hawaiian. Anyway, amidst all this, a UFO has landed in the vast woods behind this family’s house because you should never live with a vast woods behind your house. Or on top of a graveyard. I don’t care how cheap the land is, maybe you should just get an apartment if money is that tight.
Anyway, armed men are running around the woods trying to round up aliens to cut up into pieces, because we’re a stupid species, and this is our immediate reaction to intelligent life. They want to study the plant life of earth and we want to see what the inside of their skull looks like. No wonder the aliens in Independence Day hated us so much. Understandably wanting to get the hell out of there, they leave E.T. behind, stranded like your drunk friend Todd at a New Year’s Eve party (nobody thought it was funny when you peed in the fridge, Todd).
So they send Elliot out to go get the pizzas, because its every older brother’s secret dream that you will get picked up by a traveling circus and cease to annoy them. He hears something messing around in the shed, something that rolls a ball to him. This is not a meet-cute. This, in any other movie, is pure horror. If that were you, if you were standing in the darkness and some unseen entity rolled a ball towards you while grunting, what would you think it was? A ghost? A machete wielding maniac? A stupid clown? Certainly not a friend you would like to invite in and share some delicious Reese’s Pieces with. Elliot ditches the pizza in a moment that still irks me, because you should never, ever wastes hot pizza.
No one believes him because he ruined the pizza and because, statistically speaking, children are lunatics. Although, based on their track record in horror movies, when I have children I will take every claim they make with the utmost seriousness. “You say the bathroom mirror is haunted and Billy Corgan lives in our lemon tree? Good enough for me, we’re moving.”
Now, without synopsizing the movie scene for scene, let’s remember the series of events. First off, E.T. establishes some sort of parasitic mind control that allows him maneuver Elliot and share feelings (drunk, wanting to kiss a girl in class and generally causing havoc). This is not good for Elliot, not only is he being mentally controlled, this connection is making him physically ill and E.T. just don’t GAF, to quote my friend’s cousin’s girlfriend on Facebook who I’m not entirely sure why I accepted the friend request of. E.T. just wants to phone home and get the hell out of there, leading the boy out into the middle of the woods, to basically die while he searches for a signal.
Bust in the government, led by a dude named Coyote and dressed up in hazmat suits. They figure it would be a good idea to see what the insides of both of them look like and set up a makeshift surgical ward in their family living room. And then E.T. dies. He turns a terrifying shade of chalky white, shriveled up like a used piece of Juicy Fruit, and dies. Then they zip him up in plastic, like, “We’ll get to that dead mind-controlling alien in the kitchen in a minute guys. Here Elliot, say bye-bye to your accordion-necked bud.”
Of course, they resurrect him and bust him out, flying through the air, because this was a power E.T. had all along, and why did he need an 10 year old boy and Ponyboy Curtis to facilitate him? This is whimsy and not unadulterated horror? If I found a Fennec fox and it bit me, nevertheless sent me and my bicycle hundreds of feet into the air, I would probably part ways with the fox, no matter how cute his mannerisms. E.T. tries to abduct Elliot and take him back to his own planet, but Elliot wisely snaps out of his Stockholm syndrome and decides to remain on Earth with his family and human race.
Still think E.T. is as benign as Beethoven the Third? Well, it was intended to be a horror movie but rewritten into a family movie. Even as a kid, a kid that believed the bathroom mirror was haunted, I knew there was something darker there. I knew that E.T. was a force to be reckoned with.