'How do you explain school to higher intelligence?'
"Hang on, Michael. Didn’t we do E.T. two months back?" Well, um, yes. But today we’re celebrating the film’s 30th birthday. Kind of. "Oh, this is going well." In the UK, the film wasn’t actually released until December 1982. Imagine that today. Having to wait six months for a Spielberg blockbuster. It would be illegally streaming half an hour after the first US screening. And even back then, it played a huge part in boosting the bootleg video market.
Eleven years old and very much a child of the Star Wars generation, I was a supernova of excitement for any and all sci-fi films. My mum was taking my sister and I to see it at the Empire Leicester Square on the first Saturday of release – this would be my first trip to a West End cinema. But calamity loomed. A boy in my year had got hold of a dodgy Betamax copy and brought it in to school on the Friday. And, for some unknown reason, one of the teachers decided it would be perfectly ok to hold a special assembly that afternoon and screen it for the whole school!? Not quite sure of either the educational value or moral lesson there.
Yes, it was certainly a welcome change from the ‘Way We Used To Live’ low budget dramas we were usually shown. But this wasn’t how I wanted to experience ‘E.T’ for the first time. Or any time. Poorly recorded and projected. Daylight streaming through the ill-fitting hall curtains. Russell trying to impress the row of girls in front with his remarkably poor "phoooone hoooome" impressions. So for two hours I sat with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears to avoid spoliers. And it just about worked. None of the magic of the London screening the next day was tarnished and it remains much loved. Happy birthday, E.T. !