National Bike to Work Week. Here's Lynn.
It’s fun to zip around on a bike, but who among us hasn’t dreamed of having a bike that can literally fly? If The Wizard of Oz engraved the image of a flying bicyclist into our brains as the ultimate nightmare (that moment when the mean neighbor turns into the Wicked Witch of the West still sends chills down the spine), then E.T. replaced it with the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy for legions of ’80s kids everywhere.
In a movie filled with memorable images, this one (which Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment would later adopt as its logo) remains the most iconic. Separated from the film, there’s something haunting, even melancholy, about the sight of that tiny silhouette suspended against the giant, low-lying full moon – a hint, maybe, that E.T. must wane before he waxes again. Yet the memory it evokes is Elliot’s incredulous joy as E.T. lifts his bike into the night, accompanied by John Williams’ soaring strings. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, it still feels like the first time. Never mind that the scene was shot against a blue screen, with cranes, and the footage of the forest and moon added in post-production. It’s still magic.
The second liftoff comes at a much tenser moment, following an emotionally draining sequence in which E.T. dies and is brought back to life, and a white-knuckle bike chase – a standout scene in itself – in which E.T. and the boys are almost cornered several times by the authorities. The suspense is surprisingly drawn out, as the viewer knows by now that E.T. has the power of flight at his fingertips and can’t help wondering, What’s he waiting for, why doesn’t he do it?
The moment he finally does, taking the boys with him, brings as much relief as exhilaration. It also marks a brief return to the joy and wonder of the first half of the film before the imminent four-hankie farewell. Once again, we have the image, now expanded, of a whole row of bikes against a large bright orb. This time it’s the sun—a setting sun. E.T.’s time on earth is drawing to an end. But we’ll always remember when he made our bikes fly.