Boy wonder

E.T. (1982) will probably end up going down as the purest expression of Steven Spielberg’s singular talent for fusing comedy, fantasy, and pathos.  It’s a feel-good movie in which the sentimentality is cut with humor (Chaplinesque physical gags as well as the observational domestic comedy of Capra and Sturges), and with the sense of childlike wonder that has become Spielberg’s trademark.  Until this week I hadn’t seen E.T. since its twentieth-anniversary re-release in 2002, and what struck me most upon revisited it was the beautiful texture of the domestic spaces in which its children play, argue, conspire, and dream just out of the sight lines of adults (in this case a harried but loving single mom played by Dee Wallace).  As in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the family home in E.T. is strewn with toys and buzzes with steady chatter while TV sets murmur in the background.  This is perhaps my favorite element of Spielberg’s work—his understanding that such places can be sites of magic.                    

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