E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ★★★

Watching it again for the second time in only a few years (and not having seen it before then since childhood), it’s apparent how well crafted this flick is. There are a host of shots that are staged with shockingly artful flair—for a kids movie, this has the look of high art. But the craftsmanship is also somewhat stifling; the manipulativeness with which Spielberg directs the story feels so strategic, with so many rough edges sanded off and buffed to a clean shine, that we never really get to spend any time with these characters beyond what’s necessary—nor do we really want to. Once the film reaches its conclusion, we’re done with the characters; there’s nothing else to know or even wonder about them. Maybe the hardest thing to stomach though is the claustrophobic, cloying soundtrack from John Williams, which just drenches the movie with maudlinism. People accuse Spielberg of being overly sentimental but this movie seems like sentimentality as a kind of cynicism.