In 1982, the world was introduced to Steven Spielberg's latest film, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. The film is about an alien who is accidentally left on Earth and he befriends a young boy named Elliot as well as his siblings. They help E.T. get adjusted to Earth, while trying to help him "phone home" and hide him from adults. At the same time, scientists and government men are after E.T. What will happen to him? Audiences and critics loved the film and rightfully so. I remember watching this film at a young age and enjoying it. As I got older and watched it more and more I saw new things in it. Currently, I'm what many people would call a movie buff. So now when I watch it, I watch in a whole new perspective. When I watch it now, I still think it's a terrific film. Not only that, but I love the effects, acting, story, etc. Sure nowadays the story seems very formula bound, but back then it was something fresh. It was a throwback to the old days of Disney when they made family friendly live action movies. However, the filmmakers took this film and made it their own and today it remains a classic. Throughout the rest of 1980's we saw several films that had the same formula. The formula was: some sort of misfit creature (alien, robot, etc.) befriends someone while trying escape from higher authorities then the creature almost dies and comes back to life and then there's a happy ending. However, as similar to E.T. as they are, some of them are actually pretty good and some were not so good. Let's take a look.
First, I'll start off with a film that was one of the first to resemble E.T., Starman (1984). Starman is about an alien who comes to earth befriends a young woman and has to get to the other side of the country to get to a space craft, with her help, while trying to escape from chasing government men. See the theme coming about again? However, here's the twist to the film. The young woman is a widow and the alien takes form of the dead husband. Of course, a romance starts to develop as they become closer to each other. First hearing the plot, you might think that it sounds typical, but despite the similarities it's a good movie. Now I haven't seen it in a few years, so I can't give too much detail on it. Although, I do remember liking it. I thought it was a nice, sweet and fun movie to watch. I consider it to be an 80's classic. So, for what it is it's an enjoyable film.
Next, I'll go on to a film that was more for kids, but it resembled E.T. quite a bit. D.A.R.Y.L. (1985). D.A.R.Y.L. is about a little boy named Daryl that has no memory of who he is or anything. So, a family decides to take him in. At the same time, they notice that he seems different from other children. He seems to have special abilities, such as beating a video game in record time and figuring out how to fix a broken ATM machine. So, one day a few government people pick him up one day to bring him back home and do testing on him. We discover that Daryl is actually a government robot, but a special one, because he loves the family he was with. So, now he wants to go back to his family. Notice the same theme again? I remember watching this on the Disney channel as a kid and enjoying it. I haven't seen it in years, but I think if I saw it today, I would notice the flaws, but would still enjoy it. It's a nice little movie to watch every once in a while. I don't think it's all that bad.
Next, is a film that many people know as one of the worst movies ever made. Howard the Duck (1986), which was based on the comic book by Steve Gerber. Howard the Duck is about a duck named Howard who is accidentally blasted to Earth from his planet Duck World. There he befriends a young lady, who tries to help him get home, while trying to escape from scientist and government men who are after him. Again, see the theme pop up? When the film was released it was considered to be one of the worst films ever made. However, today it's a cult classic and has become a guilty pleasure with movie fans, including myself. It's a dumb and ridiculous movie and I enjoyed every minute of it. For some reason, you just can't help but like it. I don't know why, I can't explain it. The thing I like the most about it, is the effects. I love how Howard was bought to life, but I especially love the big monster at the end that was done by stop motion animation legend, Phil Tippett. So, if you like B-Movies or creature type of films, then you might like this. All in all, it's silly, but it's an enjoyable silly.
Next, is a film that actually had two movies, but the first film was more like E.T., than the second one. It's Short Circuit (1986) and Short Circuit 2 (1988). Short Circuit is about a robot named Number 5, who's a military robot. He gets struck by lighting and becomes alive. He escapes the military and befriends a young woman as she tries to help him get away from the government who's after him, and trying to convince one of the scientist who invented him that he's alive. Once again, can you see the theme? Now, Short Circuit does have quite a few flaws to it, such as the acting, dialogue, and it's story. However, I enjoy it. I think what was good, was the robot Number 5. While his personality is one of a character who spews catch phrases and has a kids shows character quality to him, you like him. He's a funny character, who made film work in some ways. Also, I would like to add the effects to make him come to life are terrific. It's good old fashioned puppetry at it's finest. Although, this was a good film, I enjoyed the second film, Short Circuit 2, a little bit more.
Short Circuit 2 is once again about the same robot Number 5 (now called Johnny 5), only this time he's in the big city trying to help his friend break into the toy business, as well as trying to survive against criminals who want to use him for their own purposes. While the E.T. theme does pop up a little bit here, I feel that this film is actually that rare sequel that's better than the original. I feel that it's a more original and better story. I like the fact that Johnny 5 is more like a combination of Frankenstein, Pinocchio and Quasimodo. It gives him something to fight against. It's not a great film, but it's an enjoyable one that's fun to watch.
Next, is a film that was produced by Steven Spielberg that also resembled E.T., which I expected since he produced it. It's Harry and the Henderson's (1987). Harry and the Hendersons is about a family who's coming home from a camping trip and they accidentally hit Bigfoot with their car. They decide to tie him to the roof of their car and take him home. He starts to interact with them in their home. His tall stature leads to obvious comedic moments. At the same time, there's a hunter who's after him and the family tries to protect him. Again, you see the theme here? Most things about this film, especially the ending was similar to E.T. I did somewhat enjoy it though. I mean the comedic moments, were sometimes funny, but not always. Again, it's a nice little family film that I'm sure most will enjoy. I would say give it a chance.
Finally, we have the most obvious film that was clearly inspired by E.T. You can even call it a rip-off. It's Mac and Me (1988). Mac and Me is about an alien who comes to Earth who befriends a little boy in a wheelchair, while trying to escape from NASA people. I don't even need to ask if you see the theme. It's clear as glass. My guess is that this film had a low budget, because it's filled with the most product placement, I've ever seen. As far as the film goes, it's bad. You know exactly what's coming and what's going to happen. It's stupid and very contrived. I mean the other films, I mentioned above also suffer from this, but you at least you enjoy the ride you get out of it. Here, you can't enjoy it. I especially didn't like the ending, it was too much of a stretch. The one thing I do like about it, is how cheesy it is. I like B-Movies for some reason, they have a certain quality to them that makes it fun to watch. I liked watching that in this and that's about it. Unless, you like low budget movies, then I wouldn't recommend watching this.
These are some of the films throughout the 80's that were similar to E.T., such as Flight of the Navigator (1986) and Explorers (1985). However, those films don't have the obvious themes like the ones I mentioned, which is why I didn't go into detail about them. In the 1990's, there were some films that were like this, but very few. Edward Scissorhands (1990), comes to mind as one of those films. However, Tim Burton did an excellent job of making the film his own. I think it's a great film. In the 2000's there's been some rehashing of the theme with several films, such as The Water Horse (2007), which I haven't seen, but judging by the trailer, it looks like that kind of film. Also, there's a little movie for kids, called Labou (2008). I haven't seen this film either, but it looks very E.T. inspired. The upcoming film, Aliens in the Attic also looks to have an E.T. quality to it. There's also a Japanese film from 2008 called CJ7, which I've never seen either. It looks to have more a Gremlins like theme to it, but also has an E.T. quality.
In conclusion, how do these films hold up? Well, while these films do have quite a few flaws to them, I enjoy most of them. I consider them to be 80's classics. This everlasting theme, has become a classic one. It's something, I think future films will have. Is that good thing or a bad thing? Well, it depends on how you look at it. Personally, I think it's a classic theme and you really don't see too many films like these anymore. It's kind of rare. It's something I think just about anyone can enjoy. However, it can also be bad because some would call it lack of originality or a rip-off. In the end though, we still have the one that started it all, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.