Welcome to Framed, a column at Cinematical that runs every Thursday and celebrates the artistry of cinema -- one frame at a time.
Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic, 'E.T.,' has been described as a thinly veiled autobiography. The extra-terrestrial creature had been on the director's mind years before he started working on the fantasy-driven tale about a lonely boy and his alien friend who lifts him out of the sadness of his parent's divorce. Spielberg's own relationship with his family has played into a recurring theme throughout his filmography about the struggles between parents and children. 'E.T.' is probably the Rosetta Stone of this idea -- and Spielberg's career in general -- capturing a childlike wonder of the world in a way that many have tried to imitate.
Aside from 'E.T.'s' thematics, visually everything in the film supports this sentiment. A multitude of low-angle shots and unusual framing (shot with unusual lenses) gives the feeling that we're seeing the events unfold through the eyes of a child. The only adult face we actually see is mom, up until the doctors and scientists appear near the end of the movie. Not only is E.T. child-size, he also feels the same emotions as his kid companions who guide him through their world occupying his time with television and candy. Spielberg didn't storyboard 'E.T.,' because he wanted a kind of freedom and authenticity to shine through from his child actors. This also relates to the reason why he shot the film in sequential order, allowing the movie's stars to become attached to the creature and feel genuine sorrow at the end of the film when he leaves earth for his home planet. The creative economy of Allen Daviau's cinematography conveys big ideas on a more intimate, human scale keeping with this notion.
'E.T.'s' most iconic frame -- an image that is still used today by Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment -- also encapsulates this kind of magic and childhood emotion: Elliott and E.T. encircled by a bright, full moon as the boy pedals his bike through the sky. After Elliott successfully sneaks the alien out of the house disguised as a ghost during Halloween, he rides into the woods with the creature tucked safely in the basket of his bike. E.T.'s health has been declining since he came to earth, and he wants to make a "phone home" with a telephone created from a Speak & Spell. The forest is dense and Elliott tells E.T. that he doesn't think they can make it to their destination, but before he gives up for good the alien uses his powers of telekinesis to levitate the duo into the air above the trees.
Normally I'd try to explain how a frame was crafted and composed, but here it matters very little. The beauty of this image transcends any kind of outlined explanation. It's one of those unexpected moments where the impossible moon that illuminates their journey, John Williams' sweeping score and the look of awe and excitement we feel transports us to that mythical, captivating space in cinema where anything can happen. Before videogames turned us all into our own protagonists, before it became a sport to self-consciously out-snark the next guy, and before we parodied every iconic moment in film history, it was twinkling moments like this that towered above all else and allowed us to simply marvel at the magic of movies.