Friday, January 7, 2011

Elliott, I Hardly Knew Ye

Last night, my family and I enjoyed some uncommon free time together with a pizza in front of the television. Flipping through channels while considering an On Demand movie rental, we happened to find E.T. in its early scenes. My sons had seen parts of it, probably most of it, over the years, but never from quite this close to the beginning.

My wife and I, being children of the eighties, had, of course, seen the movie about eight hundred times…each. But some movies you never grow tired of and it had been some time since either of us had seen it, so we found ourselves provided with dinner theater.

I remember watching E.T. during its original theatrical release. I was spellbound then, my five-year-old eyes were locked on the screen. I recall that at the time I first saw the film, I felt a deep sense of connection with the main character, Elliott. Being young, I never considered why, I just knew he was a kid and kids identify with other kids.

But as I enjoyed the movie with my family around me this time around, nearly thirty years later, I found myself noticing things I had never noticed before. There was a box of Lego bricks on Elliott’s shelf. An X-Wing fighter, the same one I flew around my basement for hours on end, hung from his ceiling. He excitedly explained Star Wars characters to his newfound alien friend. The light switch in his room had an Incredible Hulk cover plate. E.T. discovered Elliott’s Speak & Spell and experimented with it. His older brother teased him as did the other, more popular kids at school.

It dawned on me, suddenly, that Elliott was the original eighties nerd.

Go ahead and check it and give me another example if you will for me to consider, but as far as I can tell, Elliott marked the first documented appearance of an eighties nerd (defined as an intelligent, socially ostracized person whose formative childhood years took place in the decade from 1980-1989 per the TGD glossary) in the motion picture industry. No disrespect to Robert Carradine of Revenge of the Nerds fame who is likely the most well recognized nerd from the eighties, but he was already entering college in that film and it was released two years post-E.T.

Just to save you some time, Lucas and The Boy Who Could Fly were also done a few years after E.T. River Phoenix’s character in The Explorers and Wil Wheaton’s portrayal of Gordie in Stand By Me also came after Elliott.

I was a nerd back then and didn’t know it. While it was something that I soon became aware of (as did others), I had never appreciated the strong nerd role model I had in the form of Elliott from E.T.

So allow me to tip my cap to Henry Jackson Thomas Jr. for his role in subconsciously allowing me to see that being a nerd as a kid was ok. I didn’t realize it way back then. Your groundbreaking eighties nerd role will forever be remembered in the halls of nerd-dom. I think I speak for my fellow now thirty-something nerd when I say that I salute you.

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