When I was asked to pen a piece on folks' childhood recollections of first seeing Steven Spielberg's classic sci-fi movie "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," in advance of its special one-night-only screening at Trustees Theater, I jumped at the opportunity.
For one thing, I welcomed the chance to revisit my own memories of seeing it for the first time - on opening night, I believe - at the tender age of 12.
However, I soon realized my impressions of "E.T." - which should have been incredibly vivid, given the indelible mark it made on so many young people of my generation - was almost completely eclipsed by the film I saw just one week later.
That was another masterpiece of technically proficient and wildly manipulative science fiction moviemaking which I caught on opening night: John Carpenter's "The Thing."
Doomed to little more than cult status after its rotten luck of premiering just as everyone in the United States had fallen in love with a diminutive, teddy bear-like creature that just wanted to bond with children and find its way home, it's now rightly revered as one of the most grisly and claustrophobic alien invasion flicks ever made.
"The Thing" knocked my interest in "E.T." out of the way like an ice-encrusted pickaxe.
Many fans were upset when Spielberg "pulled a George Lucas" and mucked around with "E.T." a decade ago for its 20th anniversary (enhancing some special effects via CGI, and digitally removing guns from the villains' hands).
Spielberg himself later said even he preferred the original version.
Trustees Theater Program Director Sheila Lynne Bolda said she won't know which version Universal Pictures is sending until it arrives, so cross your fingers and hope it's the one you prefer.
While you're waiting for showtime, here are a few thoughtful perspectives (edited for space and clarity) I received from film biz students and professionals on what was for many years the highest-grossing film of all time.
Ryan Babula SCAD graduate, earning his master's in cinema studies
Wonder and fear pervade every frame of the opening sequence of "E.T.," and it's these initial emotions that most wholly define one of Steven Spielberg's best films.
Tackling themes of divorce and loneliness, "E.T." mirrors not only Spielberg's adolescent years but also an entire range of families and individuals affected by separation. Isolation is a very scary idea, and the film tackles it beautifully and honestly.
"E.T." is also the most wondrous of films, full of iconic images and John Williams' majestic score.
Each time I see it, I am brought to tears, not only for its deeper messages but also for the sheer power of it all. It is the definite example of the power of movies - their ability to transport and transform viewers with every frame and shot.
I absolutely love this film.
AASU alumnus currently earning a master's degree in film studies at North Carolina State University
Recently, I wrote a paper on "E.T." for a graduate-level class on 1980s cinema. I found myself drawn into the soft-focus fantasy world that Spielberg had so cleverly constructed.
As a child, I'd seen "E.T." on the big screen repeatedly and cried every time.
Thirty years later, I found myself crying again as Elliot and the childlike alien are separated by the uncaring, faceless adult world.
It was an important reminder about the emotional power of movies (as opposed to the intellectual power of film). Elliot and E.T.'s relationship mirrors the way in which viewers should relate to movies.
Instead of acting like scientists who seek to discover how a film like "E.T." works, one should be like Elliot and just be happy that it works at all. So few fantasy films nowadays really do.
Master's in cinema studies from SCAD
I'm told I first saw the film at age 2, at a drive-in movie while standing enthralled on my mom's bladder.
My actual memories of "E.T." are of watching it on HBO, my plush "E.T." doll, and eating Reese's Pieces in the woods.
I saw the film again a few years ago, and expected a nostalgic montage. Instead, the moment the theme music played, I started to cry.
Was it childlike sadness from a projected lack of control and a sense of helplessness? No... I'd never noticed how stressful the movie actually was to watch.
Somehow my perspective had changed I've studied enough cinema history to classify the film as a purebred Spielberg manipulation-fest. Now, in the present in my slightly more cynical form, will it make me cry again?
Master's in film and video from Georgia State University
It's remarkable that this may be the only former "Top Grossing Film Of All Time" that wasn't followed by sequels or (to date) a remake. Considering how wretchedly formulaic Hollywood is, that's really amazing - and a testament to Spielberg's power. It is interesting, though, to imagine what would have happened had they gone the sequel route:
â€¢ "E.T. 2: Phone Harder" (sponsored by AT&T)
â€¢ "E.T. 3-D" featuring endless shots of E.T. poking his glowing finger at the lens. The script (penned by the Farrelly Brothers) has E.T. financing his latest communication device by opening a colonoscopy clinic.
â€¢ "E.T. 4: The Revenge" in which Elliot's mom builds a spacecraft and goes to sea to battle the great white shark that's wrecked her family. Note: After the crushing box office failure of "E.T. 4" and subsequent destruction of Dee Wallace's career, the studios turn the franchise over to producer Joel Silver, who brings it roaring back with "EVP: E.T. vs Predator," and "EVP 2: Consubstantiation" - which fails at the box office but becomes a huge hit as an Xbox game.
IF YOU GO
What: "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial"
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
When: 7 p.m. June 29