Once titled 'A Boy's Life', which should tell you all you need to know about the real star of the show — Henry Thomas’ Spielberg stand-in, Elliott — this knee-high view of a stagnant childhood and suburban world transformed by the glowing touch of the titular alien retains a sense of magic in almost every scene, even when we’re not dealing in flying bikes or glowing fingers.
Cynics have often accused Steven Spielberg of being an arch manipulator, a peddler of mere sentiment, but the emotions here are complex if deceptively soufflé-light, the film dealing with divorce, dislocation and disenfranchisement. And, as a host of imitators have proved over the years, they’re almost impossible to replicate. Schindler’s List may have done a better job of exposing his raw, beating heart, Mola Ram-style, but E.T. remains Spielberg’s most personal film, and his most affecting too.