E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Beat Sheet
Written by: Melissa Mathison
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Buddy Love
Opening Image: A night sky full of stars stretches above a darkened forest.
Set-Up: Creatures, obscured by the trees, explore the forest’s flora and fauna before being called back to their spaceship, their hearts glowing inside their chests demonstrating their way of communication. One creature, observing the lights of the town beyond the forest, hides from a man with dangling keys (Peter Coyote, with a limp and an eyepatch that will be used throughout the film). When men begin to pursue the creature, he is accidentally left behind as his spaceship escapes.
At home, Elliott (Henry Thomas) is picked on by his brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his friends. In his thesis world, he is an incomplete hero and needs someone to help him grow.
Catalyst: While outside, Elliott hears noises coming from their shed and tosses a ball inside.
Debate: When the ball is rolled back, Elliott flees into the house, trying to tell everyone that something is in the shed. When they go out to investigate, they only find footprints and dismiss them as belonging to a coyote. Elliott believes there is more to it; at night, he hears noises and follows the source into a field. There, he is startled by the creature, seeing it with his own eyes. He runs home, but returns to the forest the next day, attempting to bait it with candy while avoiding the man with the keys. That night, while having dinner with his family, the things that need fixing become evident. Elliott is frustrated that no one will believe him. He upsets his mother (Dee Wallace) by stating that at least his dad, who is in Mexico with his girlfriend, would believe him.
Theme Stated: When Elliott’s mom leaves, his brother Michael says, “Why don’t you grow up? Think how other people feel for a change?” This is what Elliott needs to learn in order to change. If he does not begin to empathize with others, he faces a Stasis = Death existence and is destined to turn out like his father, causing hurt to others.
Debate (Continued): Determined to prove everyone wrong, Elliott sleeps outside the shed at night. The creature returns, placing the candy on Elliott’s blanket.
Break into Two: Using the candy, Elliott lures the creature into his house, crossing the threshold both literally and figuratively.
B Story: Elliott’s relationship with E.T., his counterpart, will help him learn what it means to empathize with others.
Fun and Games: Having the alien in his home turns it into an upside-down world, an antithesis of what life was like previously. Earlier, Elliott felt like a nobody; now, he has a secret that makes him special. The next morning, Elliott pretends to be sick so he can stay home from school. The promise of the premise is seen as we watch him try to teach E.T., but meanwhile, E.T. is imparting his feelings onto Elliott as well. When Elliott goes to get food for the two of them, E.T. explores household items; when E.T. is startled by an opening umbrella, Elliott feels the same sense of fear and surprise. When Michael and Gert (Drew Barrymore) come home, Elliott shows them the “goblin” he found, further demonstrating their empathic bond, saying, “He won’t hurt you, Gert… We’re not gonna hurt you.” More of E.T.’s abilities are shown as he levitates objects and makes a dying flower bloom. The next day, when Elliott goes to school, he leaves E.T. alone. The alien drinks beer in the fridge, and Elliott becomes inebriated.
Midpoint: While reading a comic strip, E.T. discovers an idea to contact his species. Meanwhile, Elliott disrupts the frog dissection as he realizes he needs to save E.T. A and B Stories cross as Elliott shouts, “I want to save you! I gotta let him go!” Their emotional connection becomes even more powerful as events E.T. watches on television play out in real life for Elliott. However, the plan to “phone home” is a false victory for E.T., as he risks being captured as individuals search for him.
Bad Guys Close In: While men in a black van drive up the street, listening in to the homes, Michael notes that E.T. doesn’t look so good, emphasizing that the stakes are raised and the time clocks are ticking. When Elliott cuts his finger, E.T. heals it, and the two share a tender moment listening to Elliott’s mom read to Gert. The next day, Elliott feels E.T.’s internal bad guys of emotions and the flower begins to wilt. E.T.’s breathing becomes labored, but the two take the device into the woods, E.T. causing Elliott’s bike to levitate for the first time. When Elliott’s mom worries and goes to look for him, the man with the keys enters their house. The next morning, Elliott returns home with a fever. He can’t find E.T., but Michael discovers the alien in a stream, near death. He finally shows their mom, and Elliott tells her, “We’re sick. I think we’re dying.”
Moments later, men in NASA suits invade the house, quarantining it. The family is questioned, and Elliott feels E.T.’s fear. Soon, his health begins to improve as E.T.’s fades. In the morning, the flower finally wilts.
All Is Lost: The scientists try to revive E.T., but he dies, the whiff of death signifying not only E.T.’s demise but the end of Elliott’s ability to feel emotions. The theme rings true as we realize that it’s our connections with others that give us life and meaning.
Dark Night of the Soul: As E.T. is packed in ice, Elliott spends time alone with him, saying, “I’m so sorry. You must be dead ‘cause I don’t know how to feel. I can’t feel anything anymore.” Soon, he breaks through and experiences his own emotions, crying, “E.T., I love you.”
Break into Three: With ET back to life, Elliot must save him and get him to his ship in time.
Finale: In Elliott’s synthesis world, he gives in to his emotions and his connections with others. With the help of his brother Michael, Elliott escapes in a NASA vehicle, taking E.T. The authorities chase them, but the boys soon get on their bikes to ride to the forest accompanied by friends. In a high tower surprise, they are almost caught, and the road is blocked. Digging, deep down, Elliott shares his feelings of fear with E.T., and the group flies over the authorities and into the forest. As the ship arrives, E.T. invites Elliott to come, but Elliott wants E.T. to stay. He further demonstrates how far he’s come in feeling emotions, pointing to his heart while saying, “Ouch.” The complication between the two has never been clearer.
Final Image: After a final hug, E.T. boards the ship as it streaks into the night sky, leaving Elliott behind, broken, but more whole than before.
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