The following is my post for the “Blogathon From Another World” which is hosted by The Blog Of The Darned. Click here to view the other entries being exhibited during the event. Thank you Chris for hosting.
The Barrymore family is a long lineage of show business folks that have been entertaining audiences since before the birth of the movies and right up to the present day. The most prominent from this acting dynasty is John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore who were the first of the famous descendants to break it into motion pictures after enduring a successful tenure on stage.
After the deaths of the three siblings, movie enthusiasts worldwide thought that the days of being enamoured by the talents of this theatrical family that have been in the business for decades were over, but at the time nobody had quite anticipated the arrival of a child prodigy with the name of Drew Barrymore who would grace the screen and sweep millions of their feet with her memorable introductory in the 1982 perennial classic, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. As legend has it, this latest addition to the Barrymore clan is no other than John’s granddaughter, Drew.
Like her great great grandmother, Louisa Lane Drew, the prolific stage actress and owner of the Arch Street Theatre who rose to stardom when she was twelve months old, Drew Barrymore embarked on a career of dramatics shortly before her first Birthday when she auditioned for a commercial selling dog food, but it wasn’t until Barrymore played Gertie in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial that she would emerge as a consummate child star with a promising future fast approaching on the horizon.
For a film that consisted of an unknown cast and that was initially intended as a B-grade vehicle, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial hails as the most financially successful motion picture in history, surpassing other major productions such as Star Wars, and later going on to break all records.
If it weren’t for the creative genius of Steven Spielberg, the story of E.T. may have never been brought to life. Spielberg, the highly esteemed director who with his influence in the entertainment industry helped form the era known as New Hollywood recalled that the concept of the film was derived from the recurring presence of an imaginary friend that dominated most of his teenage years after his parents divorced in 1960. Twenty years later once Spielberg was fully established in the motion picture medium he approached Melissa Mathison about the idea of generating his reflections and metamorphosing them into a pivotal plot point in a movie.
A few years earlier Steven Spielberg developed a strong interest in filming an autobiographical film titled, Growing Up, which was to be based on the events that surrounded his childhood, but when Spielberg ensued delays with 1941 the project was abandoned. However his thoughts on directing a picture on his early days before stardom evolved continued to resurface, which left Spielberg bored with his current situation. For a while he had thought about doing a sequel to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind along with a darker project that touched based on literary fantasy while delving into the subject of aliens terrorizing a family, but while none of these assignments came to fruition it did help him conjure up a story about the imaginary friend that occupied his young creative imagination many years earlier.
During filming of Raiders Of The Lost Arc, the childhood visions in Spielberg’s mind constantly materialized an even stronger ambition to resurrect his memories by bringing them into existence on screen. Shortly after he confided all his plans to Melissa Mathison about Night Skies, and together they worked on developing a subplot by loosely borrowing the theme from the failed movie about a friendly alien who befriends a young autistic child and replacing it in his new project with a slightly different scenario. In eight weeks Mathison had completed a first draft titled, E.T. And Me, a script that Spielberg not only considered perfect but was flawless enough to be continued on until it reached the filming stage.
Once the script went into finalization, Steven Spielberg started considering the casting aspects of the production. He had wanted a team that mostly consisted of children. For the role of Elliot he had auditioned hundreds of boys, but when none of them possessed the expressive characterizations and heightened emotions that he was after, Jack Fisk suggested Henry Thomas who had made an effective impression in Raggedy Man for the role. Although Thomas didn’t perform well in the formal rehearsal, Spielberg hired him once he witnessed his potential in the improvised scene. On the other hand, Spielberg had already assigned the role of Gertie to Drew Barrymore. Spielberg had looked favourably upon Barrymore when she conveyed her wild imagination in a story about leading a punk rock band. Spielberg was immediately impressed and knew that young Drew Barrymore who could easily dream up a fantasy was perfect to play Elliot’s mischievous sister, Gertie.
Filming for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial commenced in September 1981 at Culver City High School under the working title of A Boy’s Life. Two days later the locale changed to different areas between Northridge and Tujunga, where they would stay for eleven days before moving to Laird International Studios in Culver City for the interiors of Elliot’s home and Crescent City and Porter Ranch for the famous bicycle scene. Due to Spielberg’s secrecy of the plot, the cast and crew had to adhere to Spielberg’s rigorous demands and the rules that he enforced. All actors were required to study their scripts behind closed doors while an ID card for everyone on the set was mandatory.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is a magical tale about a young ten year old boy, Elliot who eludes his loneliness when he befriends a lost alien who has been left behind on earth by his group of botanists. During the course of the next few days, Elliot and his siblings, Gertie ( Drew Barrymore ) and Michael form an emotional bond with E.T. and together they set a scheme to help E.T. find his way home.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is unlike any other film. Although it’s a science fiction, a genre that is largely composed of futuristic elements and technology, the movie itself delivers an important message and continues to retain it’s pivotal status in cinematic history.
While most science fiction films are considered B-grade, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is artistically created and made to perfection. This was achieved by the masterful approach of Carlo Rambaldi, the special effects artist behind the film. Rambaldi not only emulated E.T. but he along with Kathleen Kennedy helped with the construction of the creatures appearance. In addition to Carlo Rambaldi and Kathleen Kennedy a plethora of other notable scientists are credited for their assistance in the reconstruction of E.T.
John Williams who was known for his innumerable collaborations with Steven Spielberg provided the musical score for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Williams later noted that the obstacles he faced while trying to develop a compassionate tune that was worthy of generating a sympathetic response was one of his most challenging efforts. However the end result proved to be effective when Spielberg lauded him for his impeccable work on the films soundtrack, especially the chase scene in which he edited the sequence to perfectly blend it in.
So much of Steven Spielberg’s early beginnings is represented in Elliot. Like Spielberg who spent most of his younger years craving for attention which forced him to form a friendship with an imaginary friend, Elliot is a sad boy who lives a lonely existence that is fuelled by the separation of his parents, so once E.T. enters his life, Elliot views him as the friend that has been absent from is entire being of life.
Even though it’s not really referenced in the film, us as the viewers come to the conclusion that Elliot is often bullied at school by the other students and spends his breaks in complete isolation away from his fellow class mates and teachers. This constant bullying doesn’t cease however. On his return home, Elliot endures a repeat of the episodes at school when his older brother Michael who pays little attention to his younger brother starts causing a chaotic stir, but once he meets E.T., Elliot escapes being companionless by developing an unforgettable emotional bond with him.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial has continued to evoke a large impact in today’s popular culture. Shortly after the film was released, the renowned singer/songwriter, Neil Diamond wrote the song Heartlight along with his mentors, Carole Bayer Sager and her husband, Burt Bacharach who all attended the première of the film together. Diamond later stated that the song was inspired by the films finale when E.T. leaves earth his heart glows a luminous red. You can watch the video to the song here.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial continues to cement itself as the greatest film ever made. Even now forty four years since it’s release the film still continues to trigger such an emotional response, ignited by it’s true depiction of everyday life from the emotions and experiences of broken families, loneliness, friendship and love.
Most of the full-body puppetry was performed by a 2′ 10 tall stuntman, but the scenes in the kitchen were done using a 10-year old boy who was born without legs but was an expert on walking on his hands.
At one point during filming, Drew Barrymore was consistently forgetting her lines, annoying Steven Spielberg to the point where he actually yelled at her. He later found out that she had reported to work with a very high fever. Feeling guilty, he hugged her and apologized repeatedly as she cried and cried. He then sent her home – with a note from her director.
Steven Spielberg shot most of the film from the eye-level of a child to further connect with Elliot and E.T.
Steven Spielberg stated in an interview that E.T. was a plant-like creature, and neither male or female.
E.T. riding in the basket on Elliot’s bicycle flying in front of the moon is the trademark image of Amblin Entertainment.
Drew Barrymore: Born Drew Blythe Barrymore on February 22nd, 1975 in Culver City, California.
Henry Thomas: Born Henry Jackson Thomas jr. on September 9th, 1971 in San Antonio, Texas.