Column: It is OK to need an escape

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

The news can be a bit overwhelming right now. Every time you pick up your phone, open Facebook or Twitter or turn on the news, it is easy to feel like things are out of control.

In times like this, it is OK to feel the need to escape from time to time. Find something to do each day that brings you joy and clears your mind for a little while. Watch a movie, play a video game, read a book, take a nap. Maybe do all of the above.

Recently I felt the need to take a couple hours away from the ills of the world, and I did so by watching Steven Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”

“E.T.” is on Netflix currently, and I decided to watch it for the first time in at least 15 years. When the end credits started to roll, I was the happiest I had been in months.

The movie tells the story of a small alien who is accidentally left behind when his spaceship takes off from a California forest. Lost and confused, the alien wanders into a suburban development and meets a young boy named Elliott.

The two become friends as the boy tries to help the alien, which he calls E.T., call its ship to come back and take it home.

The story is simple enough, and you generally know what is going to happen before it actually happens. But “E.T.” is about more than its story. It is about the characters and their emotions.

When I was a child watching “E.T.” I did not care about the emotions. I liked the movie because it was exciting and funny. But watching it again at age 26, the emotions really took me by surprise.

Halfway through the movie, I thought to myself, “I am going to cry at the end of this movie.” Sure enough, there I was an hour later, sitting on my couch alone crying at a movie from 38 years ago starring a large, ugly alien puppet.

It is incredible how Spielberg was able to convey the emotions so strongly through a movie that must have seemed kind of silly on paper. His ability to do so is why he is one of our greatest filmmakers.

The  emotions work for two reasons: E.T.’s eyes and the performance of Henry Thomas as Elliott.

E.T. is a large puppet, or some such thing. He is ugly and cute at the same time. His neck extends, his fingers are long and slender and his legs are so short you can barely see them. Frankly, he is pretty ridiculous.

But he has large, blue eyes that make him seem so real and make his emotions seem so genuine. The entire success of the movie hinges on whether or not E.T. works as a character, and because of the eyes, he is very effective.

Thomas, who was 10 years old when the movie was made, is also wonderful as Elliott. Sometimes movies fall apart because of child actors. But Thomas gives perhaps the best performance by a child actor even put to film.

It is hard enough to act opposite another person, but I would imagine it is even harder to act opposite an inanimate object like E.T. Thomas pulls it off in magnificent fashion.

The emotions are firmly established in the movie, and are then elevated by John Williams’ wonderful music. His work takes scenes that would be good without music and makes them some of the classic moments in movie history.

As Spielberg himself once said, “without John Williams, bikes don’t really fly.”

Everything comes together perfectly in “E.T.” The final product is one of the most heartwarming and uplifting movies ever made. It is also thrilling and, at times, very funny. It is as close to flawless as a movie can be.

For the 115 minutes I sat and watched it, I was transported to another place. Once it was over and I picked up my phone, I unfortunately came crashing back down.

But that is important, too. We cannot afford to escape forever. This is too important a time in our nation’s history to not be paying attention. It is okay to need a break, but you cannot afford to be sidelined for too long.

But when you inevitably need a time-out, there is an ugly little alien that can help you relax, even if only for a little while.

 

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]