13 April 2009

ET - The Extra Terrestrial

Picture the scene - late 1982 and early 1983...

Many of us were going around intoning "ET phone home" and trying to make a BMX airborne.

And all because of a film...

Sunday Mirror, October 10, 1982:

Out of this world. That's the only way to describe the oddest visitor ever to roam the streets of London.

Not really a pretty sight at first stare, with huge saucer eyes in a squashed-up face lined with a thousand wrinkles. But he was a monster hit wherever he went.

The visitor is E.T. - that stands for Extra Terrestrial - and he's the lovable little alien who stars in the latest blockbusting space movie.

The film is not to be seen in this country until December, yet incredibly, everyone seemed to recognise the creature that has touched the hearts of millions of American movie-goers.

They've ET mad in the States, where box-office takings have hit a staggering £160 million and millions more have been made from merchandising. The hysteria is sure to follow in Britain.

Last week the Sunday Mirror introduced ET to London. Not the real ET, of course. We asked comedian Freddie Starr to don an alien look-alike mask to give startled onlookers a preview of what is coming.

Just the chap for the job, Freddie. ET has audiences weeping over his plight. Freddie has fans crying with laughter.

The superstar comic has also seen the film, created by movie mogul Steven Spielberg, and reckons it's wonderful. He predicts: "It will be a huge success when it opens in Britain. The little creature has such a sad face, it will touch everybody's heart," he said.

The Extra Terrific ET is an alien left behind on Earth by visitors from another planet. He meets an eleven-year-old boy who befriends him in his misery.

The Freddie Starr version of ET met earthling kids at Sullivan's Primary School in Chelsea. Needless to say, they were spaced out.

"It's ET. It's ET!" they shouted. Advance publicity in children's comics has told them the movie is on its way.

"He's lovely," said eight-year-old Claire Adams. "I'd love to see the film."

After blast-off from Chelsea our ET bumped into Tommy Steele near Piccadily Circus.

ET Freddie shook Tommy's hand before taking off his mask. Tommy came down to earth with a quip: "Put it back on. It's a big improvement."

Then it was on to BBC Broadcasting House to meet Radio One's very own hairy monster, DJ Dave Lee Travis.

Once he had been bearded in his den, Dave said: "I've a feeling ET is going to be a phenomenal success in this country. I'm very much looking forward to when the film opens.

In Regent Street, ET came eye to eye with cab driver Benjamin Silkin.

"I've had some funny-looking passangers in my time." he said. "But this little fella takes some beating."

Something to tell his cabbie mates - A Close Encounter of the Friendly Kind.

The BMX flew through the night...

Above and below: from the Brian Mills mail order catalogue, spring and summer 1983. Note the ET Speak and Spell

Love the "ET Phone Home" T-shirts!

The 1982 novel:

He may be wise and as old as the stars but right now he needs a friend. The secrets of the universe can't help him. He's stranded on earth: alone, homesick and afraid.

It is a hostile planet. The police are after him and there's no one who can help... until he meets the children. To them he's a magical being from another world: to him they are unforgettable friends.

The English provincial newspaper article below, from December 1982, reveals how a journalist took three youngsters to the cinema to give judgement on the new sensation...

ET brings out heavy cold symptoms in the audience

After 11-year-old Illyr had seen "ET", he said he had a cold. It must have been a particularly virulent one as so many of us in the audience showed the symptoms at the same time.

The lump in the throat came as the little lost alien, ET, began repeating "home" plaintively while pointing to the sky and by the time he lay dying we were all feeling almost as sick with runny eyes and difficulty in breathing.

The last hour was so heart-rending it made the shooting of Bambi's mother seem as tragic as a sketch from a "Monty Python" film. And we loved it.

There is no denying that at the start the director, Mr Steven Spielberg, had his work cut out to impress my three young companions.

Illyr Pride, Gwendolen Vickers, 11, and Alexandra Alderton, 10, have all seen such favourites as "Mary Poppins" and "Star Wars". They know a thing or two about what keeps their eyes on the screen and not on the clock.

We all agreed that we had been a little put off before we started by the ferocious publicity build up for "ET" the Extra Terrestrial.

Their classmates knew all about the film and wanted to go; some even had ET key rings.

We managed to finish at least three bars of fruit and nut chocolate watching the preliminaries to the main film, including a Pearl and Dean advertisement for ET board games.

Holding our excitement and orange drinks, the title credits begin to roll and we are prepared to share the experience with a widecross-section of adults as well as children in the audience, who only half filled the 900-seat Vic 1 at this 2 pm performance.

The cinema management were not surprised at this low turnout. They expect the queues at the weekend and during the school holidays. The packed houses it is expected to draw everywhere will literally keep open cinemas which have been suffering poor box office receipts.

The Victoria Cinema assistant manager, Mr Trevor Wicks, said: "It will save many. Not us, because fortunately we are already in profit but a lot of cinemas have been hit by the Hollywood strike; there were just no new films coming through. Managers were forced to show re-runs and even films which had been on television."

Struggling managers can quite confidently book their holidays. Any customer resistance created by the infernal racket of "hype" is swept away after the first 25 minutes. By then, my three young critics were totally in love and, perhaps what is more important, in sympathy with the waddling alien who has the appealing vulnerability of a premature baby. Over the top? Go and see it.

Illyr and Gwendolen spent much of the time after the first three quarters of an hour on the edge of their seats. There was as much laughter to be heard as the anguished crushing of drink cartons.

"I thought it had three things: emotion, it was funny and it had very good photography," said Illyr.

"The saddest bit was when he [ET] was dying. I cried," said Alexandra.

"I thought the two bits of flying on their bikes were good," said Gwendolen. "The first time they were flying against the moon he was dying and the second time symbolised life when they were seen against the sun."

Such perceptive remarks show that Mr Spielberg achieved exactly what he set out to. The only criticism of the film, which runs for nearly two hours, was some mumbling in one scene.

All agreed that the most moving moments came when the shared feelings of the human hero, Elliot, and ET are broken during his illness.

Such unaminous verdicts show that ET may be afraid, totally alone and three million light years from home but the film's makers are not.


Peter Gray said...

Its the only film I saw with Mum and my sister..Dad stayed at home..we didn't have a lot of money...But this film drew us to see it..
So this film has even more of an impact for me..

Still makes me cty today..

love the bike chase at the end..and all of them flying into the air..

Nidge said...

Eee, 80's films - everything from ET and Fatal Attraction (Bunny Boiler!!!) to Sex, Lies And Videotape...

Under appreciated movie decade.