LOS ANGELES -- How old is too old to sob like a little girl at "E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial"? Not 40, apparently.

The Steven Spielberg film that would become a 1980s pop-culture phenomenon is coming out on Blu-Ray for the first time Tuesday – 30 years, four Academy Awards and nearly $800 million after its theatrical release. To commemorate this, theaters across the country recently showed a digitally re-mastered version of the film for one night only.

Being a total geek for "E.T.," I jumped at the chance to see it again in a theater. And yes, I dug up my old red hoodie and bought some Reese's Pieces for the occasion.

Having worked as a film critic for a while now – and with a child of my own – I wanted to find out whether the movie would still have the same emotional impact on me as it did when I was a kid. I wondered whether I looked back fondly at it as a piece of nostalgia, or if the film itself truly was as original, well-made and heart-tugging as I remembered.

Thinking about the movies I watched repeatedly growing up – "The Wizard of Oz," "The Karate Kid," "The Breakfast Club" – it's always "E.T." that stirs something deeply within me. I recall experiencing an aching sense of longing when 10-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) says goodbye to the best friend he'd ever had – this impish, inquisitive alien from far away – knowing he'd never see him again. I wanted to see whether I'd feel that again – and I was far from alone. My theater was packed with viewers of every type. Some came in groups while others sneaked in alone in the dark; still others brought their own children to share this movie they loved.

Once the film began, I realized pretty quickly that it wasn't a question of whether I'd cry, but rather how many times. The answer is four:

_ When the spaceship takes off and E.T.'s heart light goes out at the sad realization that he's been left behind on this strange planet. Alone. In the San Fernando Valley.

_ The first time E.T. makes Elliott's bicycle fly across the sky, with John Williams' iconic score soaring in the background; people in my audience erupted into spontaneous applause.

_ When E.T. is dying. We all know E.T. doesn't die, but it reduces me to a puddle every time.

_ Finally, when E.T. says goodbye to everyone, waddles aboard his spaceship and flies away. Tears just streaming down my face. No shame.

Seeing "E.T." again also made me noticed things about it from a professional standpoint that I hadn't before; like the fact that most of the film is shot from either Elliott's or E.T.'s perspective, or from their eye level. The only adult's face we see for about 80 minutes is that of Elliott's mom (Dee Wallace); other grown-ups are faceless or shrouded in darkness. Elliott's science teacher is just a torso and a voice, while Peter Coyote's character, who eventually reveals himself to be a sympathetic, kindred spirit, for a long time is little more than jangling keys on the waistband of a pair of jeans.

Fundamentally, though, there's a great authenticity to the kids in "E.T." that makes it so universal, and that comes from the honesty and purity of Melissa Mathison's script. There is zero irony here; they wholeheartedly goof on each other. They don't have cellphones. They're not overscheduled.

Elliott, his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore, displaying impeccable comic timing at age 6) truly believe in this creature. It makes absolute sense to them that he'd show up and be their friend. Why shouldn't he be able to cobble together a phone using a Speak and Spell, a coat hanger, a record player and a fork? This was the childlike wonder of early Spielberg. This was the optimism of the decade. Anything seemed possible.

"E.T." similarly looks very of-its-time technically – and that includes some forgivably cheesy green screen during the flying scenes. As in Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the effects have a quaint tangibility. Today, E.T. would be rendered with CGI or performance capture. It would probably be in 3-D.

Thomas himself told me recently that only now, at 41 with three kids of his own, can he finally appreciate the film's enduring nature.

"It's my great hope that the message of compassion and friendship, and that kind of being a universal thing that crosses all boundaries – that, to me, is the great thing about the film and the reason it's stuck with audiences for so long."

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  • Drew Barrymore (Gertie)

  • Drew Barrymore (Gertie)

    While Drew Barrymore starred in "E.T." at the tender age of seven, it was not her first time in front of the camera. Born into a family of established American actors, she was already a pro at 11 months old, having appeared in a commercial. "E.T.," however, rocketed Barrymore to superstardom. Her role as Gertie, a cherubic sidekick who helps her brother, Elliott (Henry Thomas), keep his extraterrestrial friend under wraps, brought about years of childhood fame. This precipitated Barrymore's early life of drug and alcohol abuse; by the age of 14, she had been to rehab twice. In the mid-90s, the actress re-emerged as a bankable romcom star. She has since founded a production company, which has produced some of her biggest hits:"Never Been Kissed" and "Charlie's Angels." Barrymore most recently starred in the whale-saving film "The Big Miracle," which reflected her involvement in environmental issues.

  • Henry Thomas (Elliott)

  • Henry Thomas (Elliott)

    At Henry Thomas's audition, the 11-year-old thought back to when his dog died. The performance, which brought tears to director Steven Spielberg's eyes, was powerful enough to land him the lead role in "E.T." Since his breakout role, Thomas has gone on to star in over 40 films, such as "Gangs of New York" and "All the Pretty Horses." He is also a musician (one of his own songs ended up on the soundtrack for "Niagara, Niagara"). Thomas will next appear in Michael Polish's big-screen adaptation of "Big Sur."

  • Dee Wallace (Mary, Elliott's Mom)

  • Dee Wallace (Mary, Elliott's Mom)

    Before she was cast as Elliott's mother in the 1982 classic, Dee Wallace had already made her mark on the cult horror film genre, having appeared in 1977's "The Hills Have Eyes" and 1981's "The Howling." These roles seemed to pick up steam after "E.T." Today, Wallace capitalizes on her celebrity status in the horror community by traveling around to various conventions, signing autographs and connecting with fans. She has several upcoming films listed, from Rob Zombie's puritanical turn "The Lords of Salem" to the rumored "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2."

  • Peter Coyote (Keys)

  • Peter Coyote (Keys)

    Peter Coyote began doing play work at San Francisco's Magic Theatre in 1978, "to shake the rust out." After a few supporting parts, he landed the role of Keys, the mysterious scientist in "E.T." His character name -- which is never revealed -- is listed as such because he is wearing a keychain in first half of the film. In addition to being a committed practitioner of American Zen Buddhism and publishing articles in "Mother Jones," he continued to act after "E.T.," with credits including "A Walk To Remember" and "Erin Brockovich." (He's also done some voiceover work.) Coyote most recently appeared in the HBO movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn."

  • Robert MacNaughton (Michael)

  • Robert MacNaughton (Michael)

    After playing Elliott's older brother Michael, Robert MacNaughton went on to star in the Robert Cormier adaptation "I Am the Cheese," alongside Cynthia Nixon. His theater background also played a big part in his professional life, pre- and post-"E.T." (He worked with Kevin Kline during the production of "Henry V" at the New York Shakespeare Festival.) Robert also starred in a number of TV movies before giving up acting for good in 2002, after which he worked as a mailman in Phoenix, Arizona before transferring to New Jersey.

  • C. Thomas Howell (Tyler)

    (Far left)

  • C. Thomas Howell (Tyler)

    Unlike Michael's other friends -- Steve and Greg (played by Sean Frye and K.C. Martel) -- C. Thomas Howell parlayed his childhood fame into an adult career. (He was originally only supposed to be a child stuntman on the film, but got a small role instead.) After his performance, he would go on to play the lead in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders" alongside a bevy of '80s hunks (Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise). He later reunited with Swayze in "Grandview, U.S.A.," and "Red Dawn." Howell will next appear in 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man."

  • Erika Eleniak (Pretty Girl)

  • Erika Eleniak (Pretty Girl)

    Playing the object of Elliott's affection would turn out to be prophetic for Erika Eleniak. After portraying the labeled "Pretty Girl" in "E.T.", her looks would come to define her career. Like Barrymore, Eleniak struggled with drugs and alcohol, but kicked the problem in the late '80s. In 1989, she decided to pose for "Playboy." Soon after, Eleniak was cast in "Baywatch" as the lead female role for three seasons. In film, she put her magazine past to good use, portraying a Playmate in "Under Siege" with Steven Seagal. Years later, Eleniak's struggle with weight issues would earn her a spot on 2006's Celebrity Fit Club. She will next appear in the religious indie "Meant to Be."

  • Melissa Mathison (Writer)

  • Melissa Mathison (Writer)

    Melissa Mathison received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for her work on "E.T." After "E.T.," she went on to pen such films as "Twilight Zone: The Movie," "The Indian in the Cupboard" and Martin Scorsese's "Kundun." In 1983, Mathison wed Spielberg-muse Harrison Ford; they were married for 21 years before divorcing in 2004. The couple had two children together, Malcolm Carswell Ford and Georgia Ford.