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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #24
September 12, 2007

Phone Home

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial + Planetarium Visit

Lured by a bowl of popcorn laced with Reese's Pieces, our kids were riveted to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and its premise that life may exist beyond our solar system. Kids easily relate to E.T. because the movie is told from a child's (or perhaps an alien's) point of view. Imagine being left alone on another planet where you didn't speak the language or look like the other kids. Imagine having to make contact with your own planet just to carpool home. Imagine if you met the best friend you've ever had, one who understands you so completely, it's as if you share the same heart. This blockbuster touched viewers the world over and established Steven Spielberg as America's premiere storyteller.

Spielberg's interest in extra-planetary idea life intrigued our whole family. Our kids were intent on figuring out how E.T. found his way to Earth without an interplanetary map quest in his spaceship. We discovered a planetarium in a local college and took our children to a one hour star show. Our kids learned to spot the North Star and the Big Dipper. They discovered that the Milky Way is much more than a candy bar and is the cosmic signpost that ET probably used to identify our solar system from innumerable others. The greatest lesson; however, was the feeling of awe we felt contemplating our little planet orbiting through an expansive universe. In fact, it was the same awe that Spielberg achieves when Elliot's bicycle leaves terra firma at the end of the film. Lost in a black hole of wonder, our kids were ‘star struck' in the original, and best, sense of the word.

Film Title: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
1982, Rated PG, 115 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:
  • Why This Film Is Worth It: There is nothing like tripping down memory lane with your kids, while watching a film that has reached classic status. E.T. was reissued in 2002 with few changes. Spielberg digitally removed the guns that were pointed at E.T. and Henry.
  • Red Flags: Some children may find it scary when E.T. gets sick; however, it helps to remind kids that heroes usually make it to the end of the film. It's worth a little nail-biting along the way to see the kids flying on their bicycles at the film's end. There is some minor language (like "penis breath") but by today's standards, these lines seem quaint.
  • Memorable Score: Composer John Williams and Steven Spielberg have successfully collaborated for over twenty years. Help your kids try to predict what might happen in a scene from the music cues. Let them guess, midway through a scene, if something scary or funny is coming up. Hum a few lines from Indiana Jones' theme song and most kids will recognize the catchy tune. John Williams composed the scores for all the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies and received Oscar nominations for both Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha in 2006.

Our tips for talking with your kids about this film:
  • Cinema Savvy:  Film critic Vincent Canby called E.T. an upside down Wizard of Oz.  Ask your kids to compare Dorothy and E.T. and they'll be thinking like film critics.


Visit a local planetarium or star gaze in your own backyard

Time Allotment: 2 hours
Age Recommendation: For planetarium visits, as long as a child is old enough to stay quiet, all ages.

Our Buttery Bits Of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What Worked For Us: Before you visit a college planetarium, keep in mind that star shows can be popular, so it's a good bet to reserve your family's tickets before you arrive. Beware, college hours are often erratic, so call before you show up, just to be sure school is in session. We took our kids to a one hour family show, and it was the perfect amount of time for young stargazers. Little ones may need a reassuring hand to hold when the planetarium darkens.
  • Your Backyard is a Planetarium: We invited grandparents to join us for a nighttime star search in the backyard. We were a little shaky about constellations beyond the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt, so we checked our local paper for star charts. We also downloaded a weekly sky map and reviewed maps of the constellations. It's fun to keep an eye out for seasonal celestial events, like the Perseid meteor showers. Brew up some hot chocolate, grab some cozy blankets and wake your kids for a middle-of-the-night viewing.
  • Kids Can Get Night Sky E-mails: Regular updates about meteor showers and satellite sightings were available from the planetarium we visited. These reports are often available through a local university or college. Some larger observatories may even offer sky reports available by telephone.
  • Find the tallest building in your city and ride the elevator after dark to get up close and personal with the stars in your neighborhood firmament.
  • Before You Go: Consider a book, puzzle or toy about outer space before visiting a planetarium. Also, for little kids, it helps to warn them that it gets really dark, but nothing scary will happen. We had a tots snuggle on our laps.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: Google your city + planetarium or find planetariums listed by state at Go Astronomy.
  • Boston: To view extra-terrestrial worlds, there is no greater place than the Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Science. Check out the multimedia, interactive dome to see actual images of cosmic phenomena in universes we can still only imagine. As an added bonus, nightly laser shows combine light and music in an extra-ordinary way.
  • Chicago: While it is an obvious choice, the best place in town for a star show is Adler Planetarium. The StarRider theater includes a virtual-reality tour of outer space, the Sky Theater provides visitors with a guided exploration of the clear night sky, and the Doane Observatory is home to the largest public telescope in the Chicago area. For a special event, check out the Adler’s Far Out Friday program. View the night sky using either Planetarium or personal telescopes, watch unlimited shows in the theaters, and participate in educational family activities. Hosted the first Friday of every month from 4:30-10pm, for ages 7 and up.
  • Houston:  Head over to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and catch the Burke Baker Planetarium's Passport to the Universe, narrated by Tom Hanks and playing daily at 12:30.  Kids love the surreal feeling of flying through space as the film projects across the entire domed ceiling.  The shows normally last around 20 minutes.  Other exciting space themes include Starry Night Express and Black Holes.  Let this educational and fun experience spark your child's interest in all things E.T.
  • New York: The Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History is home to the Hayden Planetarium. Shows can be pricey so go for Super Saver admissions.
  • San Francisco: Chabot Space and Science Center, in Oakland. Not to be missed! Planetarium shows, MegaDome Theater, Observatories and hands on science! Friday & Saturday night time telescope viewing (weather permitting).
  • Washington, DC: At the The Planetarium at Rock Creek Park's Nature Center you'll find star shows for all ages. On Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 the shows are recommended for ages 4 and up. Kids ages 7 and up will gain more from the show that begins at 4:00. The Maryland Science Center in Baltimore houses the Davis Planetarium and includes a Mister Roger's star show especially for pre-schoolers.

  • Find the stories behind the stars by checking out a book on Greek Mythology. Most constellations were named after a Greek or Roman God, and they'll be able to find their zodiac signs, as well.

  • To get kids excited about astronomy, log on to NASA and JPL's cool site for kids. Their project, Constellation in a Canister, is easy to make and can help kids find constellations in the sky.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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