Luminous/Numinous

Paul Joannides thinks about Steven Spielberg’s film ‘E.T.’, the most successful in the history of the cinema

Certain to become the most financially successful film in the history of the cinema, the fifth great money-spinner – after Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Poltergeist – by the wunderkind Steven Spielberg, a film so effectively pre-sold that distributors were fretting over revenue lost to pirate video well before the British opening, a film that had a Venice Film Festival audience cheering and received a standing ovation in London – E.T. is difficult to get close to. Its popularity tempts sociological and psychological analysis rather than criticism, leaving the film in limbo as merely the supremely efficient instrument of its effect. Immense popular success is not necessarily commensurate with intelligence or profundity and few of the top ten grossers turn up on lists of the ten best films; on the other hand, for any work to tap such a well of enthusiasm is a clear sign that its maker has achieved an insight into a widespread structure of feeling and has known how to exploit it. E.T. is clearly a phenomenon, but how good is it?

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[*] Princeton University Press, 224 pp., £16.25 and £4.85, 28 December 1982, 0 691 09399 7.