Saturday, 9 February 2008

E.T. - The Extra Terrestial

If I had to name one of those movies that I shall remember fondly all throughout my life, E.T. is a must on that list. Not because it's sweet: many films are just sweet. E.T. is much more than that-- it touches my heart everytime I watch it. Even yesterday, as I watched the film for the umpteenth time in two years, I felt tears swelling up in my eyes. But I don't rate the film so highly just for it's very emotional content: I am an ardent fan of it because the film so beautifully shows us that even the weakest of beings on earth, in fact the universe, have a huge power in them. A power that beats the darkest of thoughts: love! Simple as it may sound, I feel that no other emotion is as brutally tortured and profaned (as Shelley said) as love. But I won't go into how most of us have profaned the greatest of all emotions: there'll be a separate post for that coming up in a few days (since Valentine's day is just round the corner). And since the film is such an old one, I don't have any qualms in revealing spoilers. I shall talk about the film in detail, and hopefully in it's whole entirety.

The film begins with a group of alien botanists collecting bio-samples in a California forests. As US government agents arrive at the scene, the aliens hastily flee in their spaceship leaving one of their kind behind. Meanwhile, in a California suburb, a young boy named Elliott has to cater to the orders of his elder brother, Michael, who is having a round of games with his pals. As Elliott rushes out to fetch pizza, he notices a strange creature by the house. While Elliott is himself quite frightened to see the alien, the alien is also initially quite terrified to the boy, most probably because he (and his kind) has already been chased by humans (US government agents). Elliott's family doesn't believe when Elliott tells them how he had spotted something strange roaming around the house. Just to prove his suspicions right, he lures the alien into his house by leaving candies in the forest leading into his bedroom.

Elliott discovers that inspite of his initial fears, the alien is a friendly being. To amuse the young boy, E.T. imitates the movements of Elliott. The two strike a sudden kinship, and a very tired Elliott finally doses off to sleep on his sofa. Next day, to avoid school, Elliott feigns illness, and spends the day playing with his new friend. That day, Elliott also introduces E.T. to his elder brother, Mike, and very young (and very cute!) sister Gertie. The three siblings ask E.T. about his home, showing him their own location on the map and the globe. E.T. levitates some balls to show that he is from outer space and points to the representation of the solar system in the encyclopedia. E.T. also heals a withering plant to show his powers of healing the dying.

Elliott and E.T. now share a psychic link, which becomes apparent because Elliott begins referring to himself as "we". Because E.T. drinks quite an amount of beer, the psychic link to Elliott makes the boy feel extremely drowsy at the dissection class. Under a sudden impulse, Elliott decides to free the frog to be dissected by him-- an example soon followed by his classmates. As E.T. watches two lovers kiss each other on T.V., the psychic link works again-- this time leading Elliott to kiss his crush at school!

Meanwhile, E.T. learns to speak by watching Sesame Street on T.V., which amuses the little girl Gertie very much. She tries to tell mum several times that her friend E.T. has learnt to speak (though, mum is totally unaware even of the existence of E.T. in the house!), but mum is so busy that she can't even stop for a moment to listen to her daughter. A very fitting and notable portrayal of usual parental attitude towards children: that of negligence. Elliott and Michael arrive at home to see E.T. not present in Elliott's room, much to their worry. And then they discover their friend in the toy-store of their little sister. Gertie cheerfully tells them that she taught E.T. how to speak, and just to celebrate that occasion she has dressed E.T. in a brilliant women's attire (again, much to the dismay of the two brothers). Both Elliott and Mike are happy to see that E.T. has learnt to speak like humans: and they hope to have some free conversations with their friend. But E.T. only keeps on muttering 'E.T. phone home', by which Elliott understands (as a loner himself) that E.T. is feeling terribly homeseick by now and wants to go back to his own home. And so he and his elder brother decide to devise a 'phone' to contact E.T.'s own kind. They chance upon some trash in the garage, in the process also discovering an abandoned shirt left behind by their father, who recently has had a messy divorce with their mother. The shirt re-awakens some lost happy memories of early childhood in both Elliott and Mike. Elliott has his hand cut by a sharp-edged gearwheel, but E.T. heals that in an instant with the miraculous power of his glowing finger (while Elliott looks on disbelievingly).

On Halloween, Mike and Elliott dress E.T. up as a ghost, and lie to their mother that the ghost is actually Gertie (who separately leaves for the halloween party). With their crude model of the 'phone', Elliott leaves for the forest with E.T. on his bike, with the promise that he shall return home before the evening ends. Meanwhile, on the way to the forest E.T. uses his powers of telekinesis of make Elliott's cycle fly-- a stunt that the boy is initially afraid of (due to his fear of heights), but later ecstatically enjoys. The brilliant and historic scene of Elliott's cycle against the backdrop of the huge white moon remains on of my most favourite cinematic moments. But the call to E.T.'s home takes a lot of time, and Elliott can't help but break the promise he had given to his brother about returning home in time. Meanwhile at home, mum is worried about Elliott's absence, and she calls in the police for help. Mum thinks that Elliott must've fled due to the emotional turmoil he has undergone due to the recently concluded divorce. Elliott sleeps in the forest through the night, and wakes to find his dearest friend missing. He returns home a sad boy, much to the relief of mum. Mike meanwhile goes to the jungle in search of E.T., followed slyly by a government agent, and finds the alien in a very ill state. Back home, with both Elliott and E.T. very ill, the siblings decide that it's time to reveal the truth about E.T.'s identity to mum. Her reaction is that of panic-- she thinks that the presence of an alien is nothing but a danger to her children, inspite of their assurances that the creature is a friendly and harmless one (I vividly remember how E.T. smiled at mum, inspite of it's visibly impoverished state!).

But as she is about to flee with her children, government agents surround the house and enquire about E.T. A huge contingent of scientists arrive, with their frighteningly developed machinery; and they quarantine both Elliott and E.T. Elliott cries in vain for the scientists to leave him and his friend alone, but in vain. Elliott feels the psychic link between him and E.T. suddenly disappear as E.T. collapses into a condition of near-death. It further pains the boy when his friend is subjected to almost inhuman medication and treatment. But just as the scientists give up on E.T. declaring him dead, Elliott notices a withered flower suddenly regain its life. He visits E.T.'s 'coffin', only to find in surprise that E.T. has been able to establish contact with his own kind, and that he has miraculously healed. When E.T. is put in a van to be taken as a (dead) specimen of living beings from outer-space by the government- authorised scientists, Elliott and his brother Mike devise a plot to take E.T. to the waiting spaceship in the forest by 'hijacking' the very van the scientists use! Mike signals his friends to wait for them at the park with two extra bikes. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse chase-- Elliott and his friends on bikes competing with the agents in cars. And just as the boys near a capture, E.T.'s telekinesis saves thair day! They all fly to the forest on their bikes to find E.T.'s spaceship waiting for them. Meanwhile, mum also arrives with Gertie and a sympathetic agent, Keys, on the spot. E.T. bids a very emotional farewell to every one of the family, and especially to Elliott, saying 'I'll be right here' with his glowing finger pointing to the heart... A rather poignant, very emotional and brilliant cinematic moment: again, one of my eternal favourites. A subtle statement that all one needs to follow throughout his/her life is the heart: the epicentre of all emotions, thoughts and ideas. Above everything, a fitting tribute to universal love. And with that, E.T. leaves his dearest friends behind, which other than Elliott and his family, also includes the thoughtful and emotional viewer (like me)!

But still, you don't leave the cinematic journey with a heavy heart: at least, I never do. After all, there is so much to and be happy about in this superb film: firstly, that without love, life is nothing but a dull and dreary drag-on. Secondly, the film so brilliantly and simply shows the Christian concept of a messiah from another world arriving and pumping in a whole lot of happiness and love in our troubled lives. In fact, a lot of film critics still do equate E.T.'s character with Jesus Christ. Thirdly, the film also subtly (albeit minimally) shows what is wrong with parenting today: most parents don't even care to listen to what their children have to say, even if they mostly speak very childish and simple things.

I think it would be apt here to mention that some of my classmates have opined that the film is extremely childish, and rather boring. I can't figure out why: have the children in them already died? And have their imaginative capabilities gone so dry that they have trouble accepting the basic fact that a alien can exist in reality? As far as I know, even the greatest of scientists won't dare to oppose the theory that aliens do exist in some part of the universe we are yet unaware of. In fact, a lot of them would stress that rather strongly! Or should I take it this way: that every non-masala or non-action film is a waste of time for them? I am also quite unsure of the fact if they would have been appreciative of the movie had the alien been replaced by some human? In any case, it doesn't take away the fact that I like the movie, and so do the greatest of movie critics in the world.

P.S.-- I am aware of the fact that Satyajit Ray had penned a script called The Alien to be made into a Hollywood film: a project that finally never saw the light of the day. But that doesn't reduce the value of this Spielberg classic-- even if I assume that Spielberg had a copy of Ray's script to his aid, if it were not for his brilliant direction, this movie would not have been the classic it is.

And yes, I didn't like the Bollywood version of this film-- Koi Mil Gaya, simply because it had too many unnecessary scenes and sequences. The only positive factor I found in KMG was Hrithik Roshan's commendable act as a mentally-retarded boy. That's all for now!