February 14, 2021

An instant classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s depiction of a friendship between an alien stranded on earth and a young boy named Elliot continues to enchant audiences.
 
“We knew there was one big problem when making the movie and that was the character of E.T.,” explains Carol Littleton, ACE, who earned an Oscar® nomination for the film. “It’s a puppet made of different parts and we knew that if the audience could accept this little creature as real then half of the battle of telling the story would be won.
 
“That’s why the ‘getting to know you’ scene is so important,” she says. “Previously, Elliot left a trail of Reese’s Pieces and he is sitting waiting for the creature to appear. There’s a sense of mystery and perhaps fear over what he will discover.
 
“The creature appears and each time it gets closer, Elliot’s curiosity grows. He lures the creature upstairs to his bedroom by continuing the trail of sweets. Once inside the bedroom they have their first conversation.”
 
Littleton points out this scene has virtually no dialogue and likens it to a silent movie. “They create a sign language almost by mistake,” she relates. “Elliot rubs his nose and the creature mimics him. Finally, Elliot releases a laugh of glee and surprise. You begin to realize E.T. has a certain power over Elliot. He has an almost telepathic way of communicating. In a way the whole movie is about gaining trust and having a true friendship. It’s almost a love affair between the little boy and E.T
 
E.T. itself was a combination of puppetry, a mime artistry and a face articulated by a dozen engineers just off-set. “Steven would call out to them exactly what he wanted them to do: ‘Lift the neck’ or ‘get the eyes to blink.’ There were all sorts of issues with the movement. They shot a roll of film for each single shot. That meant that each time you needed to make a cut it had to be a sustained piece so you could feel it was a character and yet we didn’t always have the pieces. We had to comb through the material to find what we needed.
 
“One of the reasons the child actors and the audience could relate to E.T. as a real creature was because it existed in 3D space. That could not have been achieved if done by greenscreen.”
 
Littleton confirms that the film is a personal one for Spielberg, who as a child felt alienated by his parents’ divorce. “He told us he had a make-believe buddy who was a person who consoled him at this moment. So, it’s with a great deal of empathy that he created this movie. It’s a very loving portrait of childhood and the resilience of children to accept the best of any situation.”
 
The end of this scene depicts adults searching for E.T. with torches. It is the adults (with exception of Elliot’s mother) who are alien. “I recall Steven and DP Allen Daviau discussing lowering the camera to a child’s point of view,” Littleton remembers. “When I first saw the scene in dailies I realized he was capturing their world view where adults exert a control or exhibit indifference to small people. That feeling is in the film from the first frame.
 
“The power of this scene comes from the audience being shown the character bit by bit, over preceding scenes, culminating in the first face-to-face meeting in Elliot’s bedroom. We feel the trust, the magic, the trepidation which is then resolved when E.T. puts Elliot to sleep. It’s the key that unlocks the relationship between them.
 

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