E.T. revisitedAugust 23, 2009
“He’s got DNA! He’s got DNA! But he doesn’t have four nucleotides like we do; he has six!”
I didn’t recall E.T. as being a movie with much to say about science, but it actually explores the topic in some depth. For starters, did you know that E.T. was a botanist? That reviving-the-flowers trick wasn’t magic; it was the subject of his dissertation!
During much of the movie, human scientists seem to be cast as enemies of E.T. and the people who care about him. In school, Elliott’s biology teacher introduces a frog dissection exercise with dry disinterest, and Elliott seems downright heroic when he frees the frogs (and then kisses the prettiest girl in the class). Meanwhile, the government scientists who capture and experiment upon E.T. are shown in perpetual darkness, with dark and foreboding music to match.
But then E.T. dies (or seems to), and the scientists take off their helmets and we can finally see their faces and the disappointment and pain that is written on them. We realize that these people are not evil after all; they cared about E.T. and tried hard to save him, however ineffective their methods may have been.
Yes, it turns out that the human scientists are much like E.T.: frightening and easily misunderstood until you get a good close look at them. This isn’t exactly a philosophical breakthrough, but it’s a more nuanced view of scientists than you get in most films, where they are often portrayed as brilliant heroes or as megalomaniacal villians.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to my underground lair and put the finishing touches on my battalion of cyborg zombie warriors.