Magazine article The Christian Century

Phoning Home Again. (Arts)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Phoning Home Again. (Arts)

Article excerpt

WHILE IT MAY be coincidental that two of the most famous English-language movies of all time--Steven Spielberg's beloved E.T.--The Extra-Terrestrial and Stanley Kubrick's revered 2001: A Space Odyssey--are being rereleased in the same year, it is probably no coincidence that E.T. opened the weekend before Easter. It remains, two decades after its initial release, the most commercially successful "religious" movie of all time.

Of course, such a declaration begs the question of what constitutes a "religious" film. It's not religious in any conventional sense, but to those in search of a good old-fashioned Christ figure, E.T. is very accessible, especially since since Spielberg, working closely with writer Melissa Mathison, seemed intent on making this tale of spiritual healing extremely kid-friendly. Seeing it again after 20 years (the new version has only a few minor cosmetic alterations), I found myself impressed again by the work, though also reminded of its limitations.

It's a darker tale than I remembered--the darkness accentuated by the bleak and shadowy cinematography of Allen Daviau. Elliot (Henry Thomas), the young boy who finds and hides E.T. from the dreaded "men with keys" (we don't see their faces at first), is depressed because of his parents' recent divorce. For him, the encounter with E.T. is like the conjuring up of an imaginary friend or finding a stray mutt in the neighborhood ("Can I keep him, mom? Can I?"). This desperate quality in Elliot gives the film gravity, much as the theme of obsession fuels the action in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978), which remains the best of Spielberg's fantasy films.

On the negative side, the script seems unoriginal, tacked together from any number of fables, fairy tales and movies dealing with childhood loneliness, the power of friendship and the gradual acceptance of responsibility. …

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