“The influence of E.T. on most people from my generation is enormous. It’s so fundamentally important.”
JJ Abrams, director, STAR TREK and SUPER 8.
“Spielberg does more with one spacecraft and one alien than many other movies do with massive battle scenes and alternative universes.”
Joe Cornish, director ATTACK THE BLOCK
Now 30 years old, Steven Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece created a bike-basketful of classic moments that not only continue to wow audiences young and old but also inspire movies and TV shows trying to tap into and have fun with the E.T.’’s unique brand of timeless magic. To celebrate its release on Blu-ray, here are five of the most memorable moments, the secrets of their creation and their legacy in pop culture…
1. Over The Moon
The Moment: Elliott cycles E.T. to the forest to create the communication advice to let him “phone home”. With time running out and a huge drop approaching, E.T. raises a finger and carries the pair flying into the night sky, at one point memorably silhouetted by the moon.
The Making Of: The unsung hero of the shot is cameraman Mike McAlister who spent three frozen nights a month for three months in a field in Nicasio, California waiting for the perfect moon.
Pick Of The Parodies: E.T.’s bike ride has been aped in Donnie Darko, Attack The Block and this summer’s Mark Wahlberg comedy Ted. One of cinema’s most iconic images, the over the moon image is also one of the most parodied — see The Naked Gun 21/2: The Smell Of Fear to The Last Action Hero to B movie Invasion Of The Bunny Snatchers. The image is clearly personal to Spielberg: not only did it inspire a theme park ride at Universal, the director chose it for the logo for his production company Amblin Entertainment.
2. A Healing Hand
The Moment: Elliott cuts his finger on saw blade creating E.T.’s communicator. E.T. raises his now glowing forefinger and gently touches the boy’s blood. To Elliott’s amazement, the wound is miraculously healed.
The Making Of: Mime artist Caprice Rothe, wearing two sets of specially prepared gloves, provided E.T.’s hands. The gloves had four fingers, an extra knuckle and a fiberglass tip with a quartz lamp to provide the healing glow.
Pick Of The Parodies: The dazzling digit has turned up in everything from Caspar to Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste via Spongebob Squarepants. Perhaps the most irreverent pastiche comes in the Family Guy episode Long John Peter: E.T. is afraid to use his finger to heal Tom Hanks’ character in Philadelphia. E.T’s other famous glowing body part — his heart — inspired a Michael Jackson song Turn On Your Heartlight.
3. “E.T. Phone Home”
The Moment: E.T. is not only famous for its iconic images but also for its memorable dialogue. With the help of Gertie, E.T. gains a limited vocabulary, most famously “E.T. phone home”, a plea to contact his home planet.
The Making Of: E.T.’s voice was actually provided by Pat Welsh, a retired elocution teacher, who sound designer Ben Burtt heard in a camera shop. He paid her $350 to record the 98 words that make up E.T.’s dialogue, then added watery textures to her voice.
Pick Of The Parodies: Young Doctors In Love, Airplane! II: The Sequel (E.T. “phones home” from a pay phone; it costs him $6 million) and Gremlins all played riffs on the famous line. In 1999, E.T. became the star of a series of TV commercials for British Telecom helping a family to “phone home”.
4. The Toy Cupboard
The Moment: E.T. may be famous for its tear-jerking qualities but it is also has perfectly timed comic relief. One of the biggest gags comes when Elliott’s mom, searching the toy cupboard, fails to notice an impassive E.T. hidden in the midst of stuffed lions, monkeys and dolls.
The Making Of: Four interchangeable heads were used during the shoot including one with one capable of 35 different facial tics — “E.T. could have sung arias if he’d wanted to,” remembered Spielberg — but this one remained drolly expressionless.
Pick Of The Parodies: The Cleveland Show and US sitcom It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia have hidden major characters in similar closets. The Simpsons’ episode The Fool Monty makes the reference more apparent — Mr. Burns hides in a toy cupboard next to an E.T. toy.
5. Trick Or Treat
The Moment: Elliott, Michael and Gertie smuggle E.T. into the neighborhood during trick or treat celebrations, disguising E.T. as a ghost under a white sheet. As a kid walks by in a Yoda costume, E.T. tries to follow his fellow alien.
The Making Of: With his young cast in disguise for Halloween, Steven Spielberg decided to direct the sequence in fancy dress. “We had such a good time with Steven dressed up as a little old lady,” recalled Drew Barrymore. “He was behind the camera in high heels. He looked really great too.”
Pick Of The Parodies: E.T. saw a boost to the American tradition of trick or treating all around the world. Spielberg’s tribute to George Lucas’ Yoda elicited thumbs up from the filmmaker. “I remember George was sitting right next to me during the screening and when Yoda appeared,” recalled Spielberg. “George gave me a little nudge on the arm which was his way of saying it was cool.” To repay the compliment, Lucas included a gaggle of E.T.’s in the senate scene of Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace.
ET: The Extra Terrestrial is available on Blu-ray now and will be reviewed later this week on THN.