The last movie night at my house was an unmitigated disaster, with Alexia running to her mom in tears over the surprising sadness from the strained mother-daughter relationship in “Brave.”
I am happy to report Friday night’s screening went much better — although, really, it couldn’t have gone worse than “Brave” did. The movie this time was “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” which is not only a certifiable classic but one of my all-time favorite movies. I saw it over and over again during the summer of 1982 at the Wometco Theater at the 163rd Street Mall in North Miami Beach, an old-school movie house that back then was a single-screen theater, IIRC.
Going to the movies was always an escape for me, but even more so back then. My parents had just separated not long before, which was probably one of the reasons I identified with Elliott so much (a fact that I did not realize until some years later).
Anyway, “E.T.” has always been high on my list of films I couldn’t wait to watch with my girls. Obviously Talia is too young to really get it, but Baby T gave a valiant effort. She made it through about 45 minutes before she finally passed out (it was late for a three year-old). Alexia and her bestie Charlotte were both scared to death by the beginning of the film, and kept saying they were going to close their eyes. It didn’t help that Spielberg built up the first meeting between Elliott and E.T. like it was “Jaws.”
Unlike with “Brave,” I knew what was coming here so I could prepare them. I did my best not to flat-out spoil the movie for them, but I said just enough to let them know that E.T. wasn’t some ghoulish monster out to eat little kids.
But I think my words had less to do with calming them than the sight of Reese’s Pieces. Once the girls saw E.T.’s favorite sweets make an appearance, they relaxed. They sat up a bit straighter and stopped talking. The moments where E.T. got to know Elliott and his family also went over very well. When in doubt, throw a dress on the alien.
E.T.’s medical emergency had them in a bit of a panic, but they both made it through.
Alexia in particular, I could see was really into the movie. She sat up and was mesmerized by the final chase sequence when the kids smuggle E.T. away from the Feds and go for that magical flight on their bikes. She thought it was “the best thing ever”, and that’s a direct quote. That’s probably what her old man thought back in ’82.
And why would she feel any other way?
After all, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” remains, 34 years after its release, a note-perfect encapsulation of pre-adolescent wish fulfillment. To see a child of Elliott’s age figure out a way to save his friend, a stranger from a strange land, by seeing what the grownups couldn’t, is what alot of kids on the cusp of teenage life can relate to.
It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve seen “E.T.” and one element that struck me was how the three siblings, all dealing with the breakup of their parents in different ways, came together because of E.T.
I had forgotten that, as much as the movie is about the relationship between two lonely outsiders — Elliott and E.T. — it’s just as much about how a total stranger served as the catalyst for a fractured family to heal.
During the final scene, Alexia started crying again.
But this time it felt different, it sounded different. I explained to my daughter that it’s OK to cry in a movie. When she wondered why, I explained that great movies can take your breath away, they can make you laugh, and they can make you cry. and sometimes, the tears are good ones.
And then we both watched E.T.’s ship, that gorgeous egg-shaped vessel designed by Ralph McQuarrie, soar off into the sky. We both sniffled a bit and dabbed at our eyes.
Tonight was a good night.