Volume 1, Number 1, December 1982

Reviews: E.T. (movie)

Reviewed by Jodi Webber Berls

It may be the ultimate libertarian nightmare. You’ve done nothing to harm or threaten anyone. You open the front door to find a helmeted, faceless, government minion forcing his way in. There is another one at the back door—in fact, the house is completely surrounded. No escape.

We are all more accustomed to seeing the bug-eyed monsters as the bad guys. In the film E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, not only do the bad guys wear white, but their suits say “NASA” and sport American flag patches. Steven Spielberg's film makes a poignant and powerful statement about the destructiveness of mixed values and the threat of government invasion of our lives.

For all the complexity of the philosophical issues E.T. brings up, its plot is deceptively simple. A mission of extraterrestrial creatures lands on earth. When human investigators arrive near the Landing site, the ship takes off to escape interference. One of its “crew” is accidentally left behind. Far from “threatening mankind, E.T. is peaceful, vulnerable. and easily frightened. He gets assistance in surviving on this strange and rather hostile planet from a child, Elliot, who helps him to call the ship back so that he can go home. The one thing no one has reckoned with is that the United States government knows E.T. is there and they want him.

The NASA insignia on the equipment used to harass E.T. is shockingly appropriate. It conjures up mental images of Carl Sagan lobbying for tax money. A tremendous weight of sophisticated technology comes to bear against E.T.’s escape. Geiger counters, helicopters, fleets of police cars, and finally, a good, old-fashioned shotgun are used to try and block the departure. When all else fails, blast it.

There is a terrible sadness about the unidentified scientist tracking down E.T. Be exhibits a willingness to use any force necessary to find and keep the alien creature, even at the risk of destroying the very thing be wants. As E.T. lies “dying,” despite human medicine’s best efforts to save him, the scientist laments, “What else can we do?” Elliot answers, “Leave him alone. You’re killing him.” but governments have never considered laissez-faire an answer to any question. It’s too easy. and it puts the power back where it really belongs—out of the hands of the politicians.

As one might suspect, human beings get no better treatment from the scientists and security forces. The family aiding E.T. unwittingly becomes a target for a total violation of their rights to privacy and property. Their home is watched probed by sensitive listening devices, then invaded by a whole army of the aforementioned faceless minions.

E.T. does finally get back to the ship and go home after a glorious sequence in which the children steal a government van, then get on their bicycles and almost manage to outrun the security force’s cars.

But the ultimate solution is more realistic than riding a bicycle into places where a car can’t go. When the FBI types corner E.T. and the children, E.T. uses his power to levitate himself and other objects to fly them all away into the forest. In truth, defying gravity may be the only way to get out from under the fed’s iron fist.

The basic premise of E.T.: The ExtraTerrestrial is that humans may pose a threat to an alien creature left on earth. It’s a much more rational treatment of the subject than the traditional “monster who wants to take over the world” plot. After all earth is not safe for humans yet, much less strangers who don’t understand how the game works. When men learn that things worth having can be achieved without the use of force, without the violation of the rights of others, then this planet will be a safe place for humans and extraterrestrials.

If you can suspend disbelief long enough to get through a few minor technical flaws (for example, why didn’t E.T. Just fly back to his ship In the first place?). this is a very enjoyable film with considerable emotional and philosophical depth.

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