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SUMMERS WITH SPIELBERG – <i>E.T.</i>: Spielberg in a Bottle

SUMMERS WITH SPIELBERG – E.T.: Spielberg in a Bottle

Keegan O'Brien

August 25th, 2015


Directors pass on movies every day. Ava DuVernay passed on The Black Panther earlier this year, Edgar Wright dropped out of Ant-Man, Josh Trank ungracefully left his Star Wars spin-off, Michelle McLaren left Wonder Woman, and Christopher Nolan reportedly opted not to do Ready Player One, which is now Steven Spielberg’s next film. Coincidentally, Spielberg was attached to direct Interstellar for several years before backing out, with Nolan taking his place.

Nolan and Spielberg are completely different directors; Nolan’s films are often described as cold and clinical, whereas the most common criticism of Spielberg is how sentimental his films can get. Bloggers had a fun time theorizing how Christopher Nolan would be able to take a movie tailored for Spielberg and make it his own. The result was almost a blend. Moments like the cornfield drone chase at the beginning of the film seem like something straight from Spielberg’s playbook, whereas the crosscutting spectacle that begins the third act is undoubtedly Christopher Nolan. Essentially, not all movie concepts are exclusive to one kind of director. But E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is not like Interstellar. E.T. could only have ever become the classic it is today under the guard of Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg likes to throw ordinary people into extraordinary situations. It’s one of his favorite plot devices. Tom Cruise is a crane operator and an everyman — aliens attack. Sam Neill is an archeologist — welcome to an island of dinosaur clones that escape! Roy Scheider is a small-town cop — how about a shark attacks his beach multiple times?

E.T. is no different. An ugly-but-cute little alien just happens to stop by a ten-year-old kid’s house. Now, Christopher Nolan could’ve made War of the Worlds just fine. Minority Report, too. A.I., certainly. But if you offered him E.T., he’d either laugh and say he’s not the man for the job, or you’d get something closer to J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, which is basically just a violent, action version of E.T. You couldn’t hand another director the script for E.T. and expect it to turn out nearly as good. The movie needs to be crafted in a certain way — the way only Spielberg can craft a movie.

E.T. is a summation of Spielberg’s cinematic strengths. Just the concept of E.T. screams Spielberg. The bicycle scene screams Spielberg. The broken-home dynamics scream Spielberg at the top of their lungs. The balance between sentimentality and wonder, the perspective of Elliot echoing Spielberg’s in many ways (with Spielberg’s parents being divorced as well), and the treatment of E.T. like a pet that’s smarter than you. Even in Interstellar, many critics believed that Nolan tried to recreate the sentimentality of Spielberg, but ended up overplaying it to a point that ruined scenes of the movie.

E.T. is Steven Spielberg in a bottle. It’s so intensely personal to him as both an artist and a human being, that it isn’t a script that could just be passed onto another director in a way that a comic book adaptation could be. E.T. only works because it’s directed by Spielberg in the same way that Indiana Jones only works if it’s shot like an actual serial film from the 1930s and not some enormous blockbuster. E.T. seems like an extension of the director himself, and that’s something rare to find in a blockbuster.

The Eugene Film Society and the City of Eugene Cultural Services proudly present Summers with Spielberg, a weekly series of free screenings of Spielberg’s landmark films. Summers with Spielberg continues with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Aug. 26 from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Kesey Square in Downtown Eugene.

Keegan O'Brien is a Eugene native in his senior year of film production at Portland State University. While filmmaking is his primary focus, film writing and analysis is a hobby that he deeply enjoys. Check out his blog, Cinematic Ramblings, to read his spontaneous thoughts on movies.

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