This was the closing-night attraction at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, a venue not known for blubbering sentiment. At the end, as the little critter bade his farewells and the Jules Verne-like space ship left the ground, the audience similarly levitated. One heard the audience’s childlike applause; one felt their spirits lift. This was rapture made audible, palpable. And when E.T. played in commercial theaters, the effect was repeated around the world. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison lent a fairy-tale clarity to the director’s standard plot of a lost boy seeking his way back home. And Spielberg orchestrated the movements of the camera and the puppet spaceman with the feelings of—it has to be called love—expressed in young Henry Thomas’ yearning face. E.T. was the first film character to be a finalist in TIME’s Man of the Year sweepstakes. It would have been fine with me if the little creature, this lovely film, had won.
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