40 years ago | *ABC Cinema, Wigan, UK | 9th January 1983
Forty years ago, we went to the cinema. It doesn’t sound that big a deal now. It wasn’t really that remarkable then, If I’m honest – except for the fact that it was only my second-ever trip to ‘the pictures’, to watch the film that everyone was talking about: ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’.
In spring 1981, I’d had my first cinema experience, watching ‘Superman II’. I remember being wowed by the action on screen and bitterly disappointed by the taste of the exotic hot dogs served in the foyer. The experience had clearly stuck with me because I distinctly remember giving the same counter a wide berth, this time.
The other difference this time was that I was very aware that this was not just a film but a major event. That the mere fact I was going to watch it carried its own level of kudos. The film had been hyped for weeks and radio, television and even daily conversations seemed to consist of very little else. It was probably the first blockbuster film release that I was old enough to understand as such.
Predictably, I loved the film. At the age of nine, I was probably in the ideal demographic for it. Looking back, there was something else that may seem largely superficial now but at the time felt hugely profound: the chase scene at the end involved BMX bikes, something most school-age kids were very impressed by, in the early 1980s.
By embracing something that was so clearly part of the zeitgeist, Spielberg was able to make his story all the more compelling to his target market. It felt to us as if the conversations we were having on our playground were actually shaping Hollywood films. It may not be too much of a stretch to say that they were – in a way. Although we, like everyone else, thought it was just our school that was so ‘influential’, when, by definition, it was every school.
I remember getting the novelised version on E.T. in paperback from the school book club, not long after and devouring the written story. I think I still have it. It’s still one of a small number of films that, if I happen upon it while flicking around the channels, I will feel the urge to watch it to the end, every time. ‘Jaws’, ‘Educating Rita’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ being other notable holders of that particular accolade.
It also imbued in me a love of cinema itself. Even the grotty old Wigan ABC fleapit (where twenty years previously, my Dad had watched Roy Orbison and The Beatles) was enough to light a passion which still burns today. Only years later did I learn that my Grandad, great-uncle and great-Grandad owned a cinema in Standish (‘The Palace’) for 30 years so it kind of is in my blood.
A pandemic and home streaming have reduced my cinema-going in recent years but I’d still rather take in a quirky movie in a theatre than watch a so-called ‘must-see’ series. Unlike E.T., ‘Home’ is not my preferred venue, when it comes to film consumption. Given the chance to go to a cinema any day – and ‘I’ll be right there’…