“Then there’s the scene at the end. E.T. has phoned home, and the spaceship has come to get him. He’s in the woods with Elliott. The gangplank on the ship comes down, and in the doorway we can see another creature like E.T. standing with the light behind.
Emil, you said, “That’s E.T.’s mommy!” And then you paused a second, and said, “Now how did I know that?”
We all laughed, because you made it sound funny, as you often do—you’re a natural comedian. But remembering it now, I asked myself—how did Emil know that? It could have been E.T.’s daddy, or sister, or the pilot of the ship. But I agree with you it probably was his mommy, because she sounded just like a mommy as she made the noise of calling E.T.
And then I thought, the fact that you knew that was a sign of how well Steven Spielberg made his movie. At 4, you are a little young to understand “point of view,” but you are old enough to react to one. For the whole movie, you’d been seeing almost everything through the eyes of E.T. or Elliott. By the last moments, you were identifying with E.T. And who did he miss the most? Who did he want to see standing in the spaceship door for him? His mommy.
Of course, maybe Steven Spielberg didn’t see it the same way, and thought E.T. only seemed like a kid and was really 500 years old. That doesn’t matter, because Spielberg left it open for all of us. That’s the sign of a great filmmaker: He only explains what he has to explain, and with a great movie the longer it runs, the less has to be explained. Some other filmmaker who wasn’t so good might have had subtitles saying, “E.T.? Are you out there? It’s Mommy!” But that would have been dumb.
And it would have deprived you, Emil, of the joy of knowing it was E.T.’s mommy, and the delight of being able to tell the rest of us.”
Roger Ebert’s 1997 Great Movies review of E.T., which was written in the form of a letter to his grand-daughters.
Ebert’s (and Spielberg’s) genius comes across beautifully in this piece. Not only is it a unique and deeply personal piece of writing, but it captures a vital and much-misunderstood element of Spielberg’s film-making: the film’s relationship with its audience.
Spielberg always attempts to engage the audience on this level, asking them to become actively involved in the film rather than just watching it, and the fact that young children can pick up on that shows just how successful he is at achieving his goal.
“Steven Spielberg’s first films were made at a time when directors were the most important people in Hollywood, and his more recent ones at a time when marketing controls the industry. That he has remained the most powerful filmmaker in the world during both periods says something for his talent and his flexibility. No one else has put together a more popular body of work, yet within the entertainer there is also an artist capable of The Color Purple and Schindler’s List. When entertainer and artist came fully together, the result was E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, a remarkable fusion of mass appeal and stylistic mastery.”
Roger Ebert writes about Spielberg for Time magazine in 1998.
“Roger loved movies. They were his life. His reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences. Along with Gene Shalit, Joel Siegel, and of course Gene Siskel, Roger put television criticism on the map. Roger’s passing is virtually the end of an era and now the balcony is closed forever.”
Steven Spielberg pays tribute to the late Roger Ebert.
On this sad day, it’s worth checking out this great piece about the late Roger Ebert’s reviews of Spielberg’s films.
While I didn’t agree with all of Ebert’s opinions, I enjoyed his passion, insight and thoughtfulness. He had an ability to demystify films and help everyone, everywhere connect with them - an approach I greatly admire and hope to bring to this blog.
RIP Mr. Ebert.
Roger Ebert nominated Spielberg for one of TIME magazine’s 100 lists (I’m not sure which exactly) and here gives his explanation as to why. His concluding sentence is particularly good and captures perfectly why I, at least, am such a fan.
“In the history of the last third of 20th century cinema, Spielberg is the most influential figure, for better and worse. In his lesser films he relied too much on shallow stories and special effects for their own sake. (Will anyone treasure The Lost World: Jurassic Park a century from now?) In his best films he tapped into dreams fashioned by our better natures.”