Phoning home twenty years later
Steven Spielberg’s ET: The Extraterrestrial begins with a vast forest at night: with shadows, rustling leaves, slow tracking shots, and John Williams’ eerily atmospheric music--or so you think, until you realize that it’s really Bernard Herrmann’s opening theme to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (but never mind; call it a tribute). There is an alien ship, and creatures milling about the ship. One strays a little further than the others, is fascinated by a glimpse of city lights; we’re fascinated with his fascination. The passage reminds you of some of the better sequences in Disney movies, the way they combine imagery and music to create a twilight world filled with hidden delights. Never mind if the “hidden delight” is merely the hillside view of a California suburb--Spielberg presents it to us, and to the creature, as if someone had scattered a fistful of jewels across a tabletop.