E.T. is probably the most terrifying horror film ever made. The first time I saw it, I had to be carried from the theatre, screaming from fright. I may also have peed myself. Of course, I was barely three years old, but I still worried that to watch the entire film might be to stumble down the path to a sort of Lovecraftian madness.
Surprisingly, it turns out that this Steven Spielberg film is fairly sweet and not actually that scary. In a coming-of-age tale for the Reagan era, three siblings dealing with their parents’ divorce find an abandoned alien. The middle child, Eliot, forms an empathic bond with this “E.T.,” who quickly learns some English, shows off various psychic powers by making bicycles fly, and plays dress up. Eventually, the government butts in and messes everything up (things actually do get a little scary at that point). From a speculative fiction standpoint…well, we never learn much about E.T.’s species (their DNA has six base pairs! They like mushrooms!), but that’s not really what the film is about.
Spielberg’s visual style is very evident; he does a great job of evoking both quotidian suburban America and a real sense of wonder. The E.T. puppet is pretty fantastic, though the movie has been remastered with a digital alien in parts, and the original is hard to come by (they also replaced guns with walkie talkies for some reason; I guess because people like me found the film so terrifying). Six-year-old Drew Barrymore gives the performance of her career, despite being drunk and stoned through the whole production. Having said all this…I think Saturn made a huge mistake with this award. Two other films that came out in 1982 are obviously superior science fiction classics….
I’ve seen critics complain that Spielberg is a “manipulative” filmmaker, but I’m pretty sure that a filmmaker’s job is to evoke emotions. I think they’re just mad that a commercial director made them cry. Then again, speaking of "commercial" the use of Reese's Pieces is the pinnacle of early product placement.