The work of Steven Spielberg, perhaps the most popular director of all time, can be split into two categories.
Dramatic, heady films — in large part historical pieces such as Schindler's List (1993) and Lincoln (2012) — make up a large portion of Spielberg's most recent output. But in the 1970s and '80s, he doled out spectacles more concerned with the fantastical aspect of cinema than the realism of it; so much so that some of his earlier, more overtly "serious" efforts such as The Color Purple (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987) were met with some skepticism.
The quintessential film of that early period is 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, this week's installment of the Kentucky Theater's Summer Classics Series.
E.T. is arguably Spielberg's best film, and it's the only real coming-of-age story in the director's canon.
It's a kids movie on its surface, described by Columbia Pictures as "a wimpy Disney movie" before passing on it, a move the studio soon regreted, as E.T. became the biggest grosser of all time to that date.
But beneath its adolescent exterior there are real, substantive themes such as loneliness vs. companionship and humanity vs. ineffability.
As the movie opens, 10-year-old Elliot's dad has just left — a storyline Spielberg employs a lot due to his relationship with his own father — and it's the first time in his life that he feels truly alone.
But Elliot discovers E.T. in his backyard and a friendship blooms.
Spielberg has long billed this film as a rescue film. Sure, Elliot rescues E.T. when he helps him get home. But E.T. also rescues Elliot from despair over his recently torn family.
The inspiration for E.T. came when Spielberg was in Tunisia filming Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
He was searching for fossils in the desert between shots when Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), another Spielberg great, came to mind.
He said he was thinking about the part at the end when Richard Dreyfuss's character goes into the mother ship and the alien comes down to Earth. He then began to consider, what if the alien never left?
"Suddenly this whole story hit me like a ton of bricks," the director said in a video interview with the American Film Institute.
From there he put the story together within a couple of days and just needed a screenwriter to put it all on paper.
Enter Melissa Mathison, who had just finished writing her first screenplay, 1979's The Black Stallion, and was on set already with her then-husband Harrison Ford.
Spielberg offered her the chance to write it, and after some convincing on the part of Ford, she signed on.
In addition to being a cultural icon, E.T. remains one of the most lovable characters in cinema history.