E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the crown jewel of director Steven Spielberg’s career, the sweet spot where mass appeal meets filmmaking mastery, and it perfectly nails the auteur’s frequent attempt to tell stories through the eyes of children. And back in 1982, both kids and adults thought that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was something special, as not long after its initial release, the moving, exhilarating, and dazzling film became the highest-grossing movie of all time. Families couldn’t get enough of the kind-eyed alien with the big red heart, glowing finger, voracious hunger for Reese’s Pieces, and a deep connection with a lonely boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas).
E.T. wasn’t exactly a treacly, sunny family film, either. It’s at times harsh and all too real (and perhaps that’s why it resonated), showing a family wrecked by divorce, only to meet a sweet alien who nearly dies and also avoids capture by some deeply frightening government authorities. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is also kind of a weird movie, and like any other film, it definitely has it flaws. Viewing it with adult eyes more than 35 years after its debut reveals that there are a lot of things in it that just don’t add up. So stop trying to phone home as we take a look at some of the dumb things in E.T. that audiences usually ignore.
He who shall not be named
While on the surface, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a movie about an alien abandoned on Earth and some suburban kids who have to keep him hidden lest the government find out and take him away, it’s really about personal connections. The (glowing) heart of E.T. is the profound bond between Elliott and his kind, lost alien friend. Their ties are so strong that they have a psychic link that works across at least moderate distances (E.T. unwittingly makes Elliott do stuff while he’s at school), and the boy is extremely sad when E.T. leaves, although he’s comforted by the alien’s believable promise to "be right here," by which he means in Elliott’s heart.
It’s all very emotional and deep, the relationship of these intergalactic best friends and soulmates. And yet Elliott never bothers to learn E.T.’s name. He calls this magnificent alien creature, the center of the most important experience of his life, a two-letter nickname that’s short for a very clinical word to describe what he is: extra-terrestrial. That’s like calling him "alien" or "stranger," which isn’t something anybody would call their BFF. It’s not only weird that Elliott doesn’t know E.T.’s name, but also that he never even asks.
What’s up with the dad in E.T.?
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was one of the first mainstream kid movies that openly tackled divorce, and it’s certainly one of the few to ever depict life in a single-parent household from the kids’ point of view. In the film, Elliott, Gertie, and Michael live with their recently-divorced mother, Mary, and audiences learn very little about the kids’ father. All we know is that he left the family and took up with a woman named Sally, and they ran off to Mexico. Mary is especially perplexed, as the man apparently "hates Mexico." And when Elliott reveals that he saw something strange in the woods, his family writes him off, although he snaps back with, "Dad would have believed me!"
So then that means that Dad took Elliott seriously. And although he did leave his family, it’s odd that he never calls to check in with any of his kids. He never returns from Mexico, and he never phones home to see how his traumatized-by-divorce children are holding up. He never even calls after the quarantine chaos at the end of the movie, which likely would’ve made the news — even in Mexico — because the discovery of an alien, or at least the government invasion and securing of a California neighborhood, is newsworthy.
Another beer, E.T.?
The more whimsical and amusing scenes in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial involve the wide-headed alien guy sampling the delicious treats that Earth has to offer — particularly those of the average American home in 1982. Not only does he famously enjoy chocolate-and-peanut butter-flavored Reese’s Pieces, but he raids the family fridge when the house is empty. He notably skips right past healthy treats like V8 and strawberries and tucks into a container of potato salad, which he licks like an ice cream cone. Then he decides he doesn’t like it, and throws it on the ground, and the family dog helps himself to it.
Then, E.T. finds some beer, and, figuring out pop-top technology instantly, cracks it open and drains it, and then has another and crushes the can like a true American. After every treat he samples or finishes, E.T. just leaves the evidence on the ground, ditching food containers and beer cans on the ground. It seems odd that the kids’ mom wouldn’t notice this massive mess in the kitchen (with a fridge left open), or be cool with what she would assume to be one of her three kids knocking back some brewskis.
Another beer, Elliott?
When E.T. discovers a beer in the fridge of Elliott’s family, he drinks it all, and as a result, he’s instantly reduced to a stumbling, bumbling drunken goofball. E.T. sure is a lightweight, but that’s probably due to his lack of a tolerance for Earth booze, but it’s what happens next that would raise a few eyebrows if it were put into a movie today.
Because of his all-encompassing mind-meld/psychic link with Elliott, E.T. getting drunk gets the boy drunk too. Yes, this beloved, universally popular, blockbuster family film includes scenes of a drunk alien who intoxicates a child. E.T. drinks multiple beers, which gets Elliott all the more soused across town during his science class. He slumps in his chair, gains a crooked, boozy smile, and starts making leery eyes at a female classmate. Meanwhile, drunk E.T. gets sucked into some TV, and his emotional reaction plays out with Elliott freeing frogs meant to be dissected, and then grabbing that girl from earlier and kissing her. Uh, that’s assault.
A big and cheesy pizza nonsense
E.T. is obviously the breakout star and focus of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, so it’s easy to forget or at least overlook the parts of the movie before he shows up. Just before the alien arrives to change the lives of Elliott and his family forever, there’s a scene of some regular nighttime hijinks at Elliott’s house, with his brother, Michael, and friends taking off. But before they leave, they tell Elliott that he can’t go because he needs to wait for the pizza delivery guy. When he arrives, they instruct Elliott to order a pepperoni pizza.
This is absolutely bizarre, as if the script for the movie was written by somebody who’d never ordered a pizza before. That just simply isn’t how pizza delivery works. In 1982, as today, it worked as such: A person calls a pizza parlor, and they tell them what kind of pizza they want, and then somebody from the pizza parlor delivers it. One doesn’t summon a pizza delivery guy to their home and ask for a pizza. Is the pizza delivery driver supposed to have one of every pizza waiting in their car?
E.T.’s flight powers are inconsistent
E.T. can use his telekinetic powers to not only get Elliott distance-drunk and communicate with him telepathically, but he can also make a group of kids’ bikes fly all at once. It’s the most famous, most glorious scene in all of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and it’s one of the greatest moments in all of cinema. When Elliott, E.T., Michael, and their friends are trying to escape government agents via bicycles, the little alien launches them into the air over the feds and into the evening sky, as John Williams’ iconic score swells.
However, this all calls into question the rules of E.T.’s flight-causing abilities … and points out they might be rather arbitrary. In the climactic flight sequence, E.T. is heavily weakened, barely hanging on to life and wrapped in a blanket in Elliott’s bike basket. And yet despite being so sapped, he can make a whole bunch of bikes fly for a few moments? If he had the strength for that, then he certainly would’ve had enough oomph earlier in the movie to fly up to the spaceship that left him behind.
Speak & Spell and scoff
The Speak & Spell was a popular educational toy in the early ’80s, so it’s inclusion (or Reese’s Pieces-like product placement, if that’s how you want to frame it) in the contemporary 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial totally tracks. But it’s not the kind of toy that seems to engender strong feelings of nostalgia. In fact, it’s arguably only widely remembered at all because it was so prominently featured in the enormously popular movie.
The Speak & Spell was exactly what its name suggests. It spoke words (in a garbled robotic voice), and then it asked its kiddie players how to spell them. It’s a primitive and, in retrospect, simple gadget, packing about as much technology as a calculator. It makes Atari video game consoles of the era look like supercomputers by comparison. In other words, there had to be people in the audience for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial who didn’t understand how E.T. could use this extreme bit of low-tech as the basis for a homemade telephone capable of sending messages to advanced alien communications tools located potentially millions of miles away in deep space.