When Steven Spielberg made AND the extra-terrestrial he described the film as a reflection of his childhood and the epitome of his inner child. The film’s story isn’t overly complex, but that’s the point. The story of a young boy, Elliot (Henry Thomas), befriends an alien and integrates him into his family with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughten) and her younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), is the one everyone knows and loves.
But what about a new generation of moviegoers? Would have HEY still have the same effect on them? The film is a timeless classic and as it nears its 40th anniversary, I wondered if it was time to show the film to my own children.
When you fall in love with movies, chances are that at some point you have fallen in love with the cinematic experience. The beautiful darkness of a movie theater, the buttery smell of popcorn at your fingertips, and of course, the idea that you’ve been transported to another world on screen. As we get older, that experience still resonates with us, but we also begin to understand our love of cinema in a deeper way. We start seeing ourselves on screen and finding characters that represent us or different people in our lives. We begin to see other people and other cultures that may not be part of our lived experience and gain a little understanding of how other people live.
When we revisit films from our childhood, all of these things combine to give us a deeply personal experience. For many, HEY is the film that is an integral part of this lived cinematic experience. There was no way that when I showed this movie to my own kids, I would drop it under the banner of “an old movie that daddy liked, that he makes us watch.” It was HEY., one of the founding films of the 1980s and a film that still influences filmmakers today. If you show them the movie at too young an age, the slower pace of the movie could turn them off for good. If they watch the film at a later age, the film’s childhood charm might lose all of its effect.
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My two daughters grew up with the first Disney movies and the endless cycle of Cinderella at White as snow at Frozen. For a long time, there wasn’t a moment when you walked into my house without hearing “Let it Go” in the background. Now older, 8 and 10 respectively, their cinematic tastes have changed, but they are part of a generation of moviegoers who lack the patience of an older generation. They are used to the action happening right from the start of a film and the idea of credits at the start of a film is foreign to them. Presentation HEY for them was going to be a challenge in my mind.
Nonetheless, I darkened the room, turned up the volume, and made the popcorn.
Sitting nervously with them, I tried my best to focus my attention on the film and not seek their reaction, but I couldn’t help it. Their eyes widened along with mine. They rode the film’s emotional waves, poked fun at the funny parts, watched in amazement at what was happening on screen, and became fully invested in Elliot’s relationship with ET. does not fall in love with the film turned out to be unfounded. While it’s easy to say the film is “timeless” and leave it at that, there’s more to discover when it comes to HEYsome 40 years later.
HEY is a film that is built on relationships. Elliot and his family feel like real people, going through their daily lives trying to find happiness with each other. While ET acts as a relationship surrogate for Elliot’s father in the film, the depth of their friendship was something my eldest daughter could relate to. She is at an age where she develops close friendships with the people around her and does so on her own. She truly understands what it means to have a best friend and the comfort that comes with that special relationship. For my youngest, ET itself represented the possibility of asking herself what she still firmly believes in. She saw herself in Gertie, who initially watched ET with some dread but later developed a tender relationship with him. Although she couldn’t admit it with her big sister in the room, I could tell that for my youngest, she strongly believed that there was a small chance that ET could visit her and that something wonderful can happen.
From a scene-by-scene perspective, the film is a classic because of the way it presents smaller events on an equal scale with larger, more memorable ones. The family sitting around the dinner table bickering with love is not only something relatable, but an affirmative truth of being in a loving family. Emotions can run high at the table and it gives audiences an authentic experience in a film described as fantastic. When their mother Mary (Dee Wallace) hears something upstairs and opens the closet to find ET, hidden among the children’s collection of stuffed animals, everyone’s childhood dream that one day our toys can come to life comes true. When ET spends the day at home and gets drunk, the laughter in the room was audible and as his connection with Elliot unites, so does ours with the characters in the film. The emotional scenes of HEY being sick and the legendary bike rescue scene tugs at all of our emotions in a very real way because of the way the movie paces everything. It’s not just a credit to Spielberg’s directing, but Melissa MathisonThe script, which doesn’t try to outdo itself, instead letting the film’s natural wonder build at a normal pace.
For my daughters, their cinematic world was flooded with CGI effects. This of course brought the spectacular to life in a way that was not offered to previous generations, but it also made things less authentic. As great as today’s effects are, there is a boundary imposed on them. They can create a world out of green screen, but audiences are very aware that green screen exists. It’s what separates HEY movies today. The adorable alien looks like it belongs in the world that Spielberg created, as opposed to an added effect that was placed in the film months later. Oscar-winning special effects artist Carlos Rambaldi created the creature with over six months and $1.5 million. Rambaldi and his team of actors, mechanical puppets and voice actors have worked tirelessly to create a real experience for the actors, and it translates to the audience in the most authentic way possible. Many of today’s best actors react to events in films they don’t see, causing a small break in the viewing experience for everyone involved. Because ET himself looks real and is real for all intents and purposes, my daughters didn’t have to pretend what they were seeing was real; it was a very authentic visual experience for them.
Now the question is, is it the summer that I show them Jaws?