E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
What new can I say about one of the most beloved children's films of all time, especially so by my generation? All I can add is my perspective as someone who has never seen it until now. (That's not entirely true; I think I must have seen it when I was four. But my only memories are those generated by the film's lingering presence in our culture in the twenty years since it was released.)
What strikes me most is how well Spielberg does what he does best, creating something wholly believeable out of artificial special effects. E.T. is a movie character of great empathy; he is instantly likeable and, as time has shown, unforgettable. The film generates so much empathy towards E.T. by showing nearly every scene from his perspective, or from the perspective of Elliott as his surrogate. The only world this film knows are the places E.T. explores after he arrives, and the only villains are the ones who seek to rupture that world. They're such simple antagonists that their plain-white cars have "United States Government" printed on the doors. Whether or not the digital removal of guns from these shadowy villains' hands hurts the film, I cannot say, but the weapons do seem unnecessary in that E.T. would barely know what they are; the men are already threatening enough.
What doesn't go so well in the restored version is the CGI face on the creature. It's very well animated, to be sure, but it just doesn't seem to be there in the same scenes with the human actors. If the lack of adequately moving lips demonstrated the limits of animatronic puppets in 1982, then the fact that the face seems detached from the body (and the rest of the shot) demonstrates the limits of CGI in 2002.
Watching this film for the first time, it is easily understood how a generation of children fell in love with it. It is made with an understanding of humanity lacking in films of technical perfection, but it achieves an emotional perfection instead. It generates very specific, very powerful feelings in nearly everyone who sees it. No wonder; nearly everyone remembers what it was like to be a child.