He came to earth in a chariot of fire and made his abode in a humble shed. Meek and mild, he suffered little children to come unto him and taught them to love one another. He healed their wounds with his gentle touch and revived dead flowers with a glance. When the powers of darkness drew nigh, he bore his friends aloft as on the wings of angels. Death itself had no dominion over him. For lo! he rose again and in a mighty company of spirits ascended into heaven.
So saith the gospel according to Steven Spielberg, a flagrant but enchanting popcult parody of the Second Coming that became the biggest box office blockbuster since cinema was a gleam in Edison’s eye—and introduced the most lovable animalcule since Disney reinvented the rodent. Confected of fiberglass and foam rubber and controlled by 11 technicians and electro-mechanisms, the hero of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial stood just over 3 ft. short, cost $1.5 million and looked like the winner of an Ugly Fireplug Contest. But a world beset with brain-boggling problems saw him as the first teddy bear from outer space and clutched the cuddly little fella to its troubled heart.
In seven years Spielberg’s saga has twirled a world-record $715 million through the turnstiles, raked in roughly $2 billion from spin-off products (videocassettes to E.T. Ice Cream) and established its furrowed, waddling hero as the decade’s unlikeliest superstar. Pigging out on Reese’s Pieces, whooping it up with a six-pack of Coors, jiggering a heap of domestic junk into an intergalactic intercom, E.T. offered us a magical and hilarious second chance at childhood and made even jaded eyes well at the word “home.” Yet in a darker vein the plight of this tiny stranger in a strange land reminded us, as we jogged through a decade of global hypertension and rampaging materialism, that what the world needs now is a damn sight more of another grand old four-letter word. And a sequel called E.T.C.