ET at 40: Why Spielberg’s classic feels so unusual today

His influence resonates today, and not just in the more obvious descendants of film like Netflix’s Stranger Things, with its self-conscious nostalgia for 1980s family cinema. It’s not too much of a stretch to see his legacy in the way that Pixar has cornered the children’s entertainment market, from Toy Story (where toys can be seen as substitutes for children) to Turning Red. However, while Stephenson agrees that the film has been extremely influential, he thinks that few of those who have attempted to make films “specifically in the ET mold have achieved ET harmony”.

Indeed, if Spielberg’s fantastical, child-focused storytelling feels influential in the world of film and television, the more heartfelt elements of ET and the time it gives to everyday life, as well as the way it doesn’t shirk pain and sadness, feel strangely old. -fashionable now and perhaps more aligned with auteur cinema than with the frenetic landscape of blockbusters. A likely cousin of ET, in this sense, is Céline Sciamma’s recent Petite Maman, which also has a supernatural dimension and a deeply emotional and decidedly child-focused narrative. Here, as in ET, a lonely girl, whose parents seem to be drifting apart, meets a fantastic playmate, a kindred spirit (in this case, traveling back in time to meet her own mother as a child); again, as in ET, the girl is filmed sympathetically and with the feeling that she is her own free agent, exerting an influence on the world around her. Another film clearly indebted to Spielberg, but hampered by Spielberg’s characteristic sentimentality, is Todd Haynes’s Wonderstruck (2017), which also premiered at Cannes: also set in a world of children, and again attempting to conjure up a sensation. of wonder from the adventures. As children, the film features a somewhat divorce-embarrassed boy in the title role. Spielberg’s clear suggestion is present in the script, but it feels a bit uncomfortable with Haynes’s more eccentric and twisted directorial vision.

If ET has an unmistakably large imprint on the subsequent film landscape, spawning a youth-led reinvention of youth cinema, from The Goonies to The Hunger Games, it has also gone out of style, in the sense that we are no longer used to the care of his writing, his sheer cinematic artistry (visible, for example, in Spielberg’s delightful nods to the confrontational shots characteristic of traditional westerns, when children flee from adults, filmed marching ominously down a path in single file). Does the film hold? Haskell, somewhat cryptically, tells me, “I think it stays for the most part, but it might as well be retitled The Long Goodbye.” Perhaps in this sense, ET marked the beginning of a new kind of cinema, but it also gave a long farewell cry to its own brand of cinema, one that is largely driven by emotion, and where action, fantasy, and the supernatural they are only considered in terms of what they contribute to authentic human lives.

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