I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing.This one’s from June 2017, about seeing E.T. with my sons in the theater at about the same age I saw it in the theater. It remains a perfect movie.
We took the boys to see E.T. last weekend. It was showing as part of the Flashback Cinema series, which shows old movies at multiplexes on select dates at select theaters across the country; you can go see The Princess Bride next week, and Raiders of the Lost Ark soon, and all kinds of great stuff. It’s like having our own, non-indie New Beverly.
I hadn’t seen E.T. in the theater since I saw it when it first came out, way back in 1982, when I was six years old. It’s my second-earliest movie memory — I remember falling asleep in the back of my parents’ van during a drive-in double feature of Taps and The Cannonball Run — and without question my most vivid early one: The scene where E.T. and Elliot surprise each other by screaming is maybe the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen in a movie. But I was mesmerized by it when I was a kid: There was a time when I was pretty sure I actually was Elliot. (And I’m certain Gertie was my first crush.)
Anyway, it was surprisingly emotional to watch it again in a theater, 35 years later. One of the strangest things about being a parent is realizing that your children are nearing the age that you actually remember being alive, and it knocked me over to re-experience sensations and responses I had when I was six years old. So much of watching that movie came rushing back to me, from the goofiness of the Halloween sequence to the audacity of the frog scene to the power of watching all those bikes go flying through the air. I’ve always known intellectually that one of the smartest things Steven Spielberg did with E.T. was to shoot everything from the perspective of the children, but to actually see the film in a theater, for the first time since I was a child, with my children, just killed me. The movie brought me right back to that place, of a little kid entranced by E.T. and his friends at the Cinema 1–2–3 in downtown Mattoon, who felt like he was watching himself up on that screen.
And man oh man, that ending. I wrote last week about imagining a world in which there were no Star Wars sequels, but I have to say: How lucky are we that they never did an E.T. sequel? It might have hurt the film’s historic resonance — it’s a film that isn’t talked about nearly as much as you’d expect the one-time all-time box office champ to be; I wonder if most millennials have even seen it — but the movie would lose so much power if E.T. returned in some later sequel. That goodbye with Elliot has to be final: It’s a tearjerker ending that is deeply earned. It got a little dusty in that theater last weekend, and how could it not? When I was six, I bawled for days. The movie is great. It is great great great.
I had been a little worried about how the kids would handle it. They love going to movies — they were transfixed by The Force Awakens but bored silly by Rogue One — but the rhythms of ’80s movies are very different than the rhythms of movies in 2017. After the hyperactivity of Sing and Moana, would they have the patience for E.T?
I was unnecessarily concerned. They were lost in the film. They didn’t budge, they didn’t shift in their seat, they didn’t make a sound. They, too, were mesmerized by the thing. William, in particular, was swept away by it: He was visibly upset by the ending and kept asking me if E.T. was gonna come back, if he’d ever come see us.
In the car today on the way home from dinner, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw both boys with their index fingers in the air. They were saying, “E.T., Phone Home” to each other. It’s been a week since they saw the movie and they haven’t stopped thinking about it. William told me before bed last night that he thinks E.T. is going to come visit us “sometime this summer.” I told him I hoped he was right. And I did. I still hope he is right.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get a chance to see E.T. on a big screen again: Maybe I’ll go see it with my grandchildren someday. But it remains one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had in a theater, both when I was six and when I was 41. You probably haven’t seen E.T. in years. Go watch it again. It’ll knock you over just like it did decades ago. Watch it with someone you love. Watch it with someone who will remember it forever.