I’ve been unmercifully harsh on Steven Spielberg over the years.
But this is the first time I’ve written about one of his films.
And, of course, it doesn’t really matter what I think of this movie.
The director couldn’t care less what I think.
And that is fine.
But there is a more profound lesson in all of this.
I know the psychology of it.
And I can trace the genesis.
So let me start by saying that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a good film.
Not great, but certainly good.
That is, of course, a statement of opinion.
That’s the nature of what I do.
As I wrote recently, I don’t like to belittle films.
In the end, it hurts me as much as anyone.
It’s simply a poisonous activity.
So I watched this blockbuster from my youth.
A film I hadn’t seen in a looong time.
It almost holds together as a great film.
But Spielberg seems to be the chess prodigy who can’t win a game.
He has the beginnings down.
And his middle game is decent.
But his final approach is a maudlin catastrophe.
Or, put another way, he gives the audience exactly what they want.
But put more precisely, he gives the audience what he THINKS they want.
There is a lot of guessing here.
The old formula ending in, “…you can’t please all of the people all the time.”
There is a lot of good filmmaking in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Some truly special scenes!
A great concept!
But some parts haven’t aged so well.
And it’s not just because the special effects seem dated.
At issue is the artfulness of Steven Spielberg.
My guess is that he’s just not a very artful fellow.
But I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
So we might say, in 1982 he was still not a mature filmmaker.
That is, I think, a relatively fair statement.
This was, of course, Spielberg’s second “space” film.
Indeed, perhaps this was the watered-down, family version of Close Encounters…
And I respect Spielberg for making a family film.
But there is something profoundly grating about his mise-en-scène.
It’s not a pandering of genuine naïveté.
It’s more of a director trying to get into your wallet.
And he did.
Almost $800 million (!) at the box office.
That’s about $2 billion today (inflation-adjusted).
Let me make it very simple.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial goes astray the first time the bike takes flight.
And completely goes off the rails when the BMX bandits flock to the friendly skies.
But what is most excruciating is the melodramatic “hospital” scene.
Henry Thomas is really good in this film.
He’s from my hometown (for Christsakes!).
But an 11-year-old boy needs some direction when he’s in a $10 million movie.
He either got bad direction at certain points, or (even worse) no direction.
I admire Spielberg for getting in the wallets so deftly.
But poetic pickpockets will be found out sooner or later.
And E.T…., as a whole, has not aged well.
Look…Spielberg is not a bad director.
I always insult Schindler’s List.
That’s because there are some serious problems with how Mr. Jaws took on the Holocaust.
As overwrought as it is, it’s still a popcorn affair.
We will get to it eventually.
But the dead deserve a poet.
The Holocaust is not blockbuster material.
And the daft pickpocket, no matter how good his intentions, will never recuse himself from such a haul.
But more specifically…
I’m sure Spielberg’s motives for making Schindler’s List were as pure as the driven snow.
I’m not being facetious.
But he was not prepared to make such a picture.
Indeed, the picture he made is not possible.
But that is a different matter for a different day.
The Terminal is a very fine film.
E.T. is a good one.
The most troubling part is that this was Spielberg’s seventh feature-length film.
That’s really not a promising sign.
But we will give him a fair chance.
The guy has immense talent.
It just seems that his puffed-up reputation is disproportionate to the largely mediocre films he’s made.