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Bikes in movies have long been a staple. They can reveal a quirky character trait or hint at a philosophy or be the mechanism for some fun. Sometimes they are the whole focus of the film, such as Breaking Away and Quicksilver. This week, we take a closer look at two movies and one moment where a bike ride suddenly becomes the most memorable part of these films.
Film Summary: A boy named Elliott befriends an extra-terrestrial (E.T.) who was left behind when his spaceship came to earth. The two develop a strong bond as Elliott does everything he can to help E.T. get home.
The Moment: Elliott (Thomas) and his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) have just saved E.T. from the hands of the government agents. E.T. was on the brink of death but came back when he sensed that his friends were coming back for him. After stealing a medical van to escape, Michael and Elliott join up with some of Michael’s friends and they all get on their bikes and work together to make sure that E.T. can make it back to his people. After ditching the government agents at a couple different turns, the boys think that they are in the clear. At the last moment more agents show up to block their path and the boys are sure that they’re done for. Right before they ride into the police cars that are blocking the road, E.T. uses his telekinetic powers to lift all the bikes and the boys fly over the police cars and into the safety of the forest.
Why It Matters: This movie is one of the best movies for depicting a story from a child’s perspective. Elliott is so innocent in life and firm in his convictions. There’s such a strong dividing line between good and evil; things are still black and white for him, there is no such thing as “complicated circumstances”. That’s why, when he decides to help E.T. get home, there is no option to give up, there is no way he will abandon his new friend. He knows what the stakes are and he is willing to risk it. Because movies are made by adults, there are very few that create such a strong world for children characters to live in. Steven Spielberg does just that in this movie. It’s simultaneously a great movie for kids to relate to and for adults to watch and become nostalgic over. I wish my convictions were as strong now as they were when I was ten. This scene is so important because it brings all of these elements together: the themes of good versus evil, the unrelenting beliefs that the boys have in what they are doing and the willingness to stop at nothing (literally) to help their friend. Elliott does not slow down when he approaches the police barricade, even though he is clearly afraid. He keeps going, bringing the level of tension and suspense to an all time high in the movie. When E.T. uses his telekinetic powers to levitate the bikes, it’s such a triumphant moment that all you want to do is throw your fist in the air and yell alongside the boys as they make their way across the sky.
Although this isn’t the first moment that we’ve seen a bike fly in the film, it’s certainly the most exhilarating moment where the stakes were the highest. In an earlier scenes, Elliott is taking E.T. out to the forest to try and communicate with his friends so they can come back and rescue him. It’s dark and there is a level of peril for Elliott so it is still a great moment when his bike flies into the air and is taken to a clearing. This is the iconic bike in front of the moon scene and it encapsulates all the awe and wonder that make this movie so endearing. I prefer this second scene though just because of what it means for the characters involved and the incredible sense of triumph for overcoming all the odds. This is an undeniably iconic scene filled with so many emotions. It’s an incredible moment overall and definitely one of the best scenes that involves a bicycle. Ride on!
David’s Take: I am old enough to actually have been in the theater when this movie was released. As a kid, it was a movie unlike anything I’d seen and filled me such great ideas and imagination. I remember being scared when E.T. first shows up when Elliot discovers him but then feeling so sad when he went away. This bike ride, the second time E.T. has Elliot fly, is the ultimate leap and as Melissa writes, provides a great sense of triumph. Spielberg knows how to make films for children (with enough fun for adults) and while watching E.T. as a grow up may lack some of the magic, for children, it is a beautiful, wondrous journey.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Melissa Mathison
Film Summary: Two outlaws in the old west are on the run after a train robbery goes wrong and a ruthless law man chases them cross country and into Bolivia in this 1969 George Roy Hill classic starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
The Moment: After a night of drinking in a favorite tavern, and witnessing a salesman introduce a new-fangled mode of transportation, Butch and Sundance go their separate ways with Sundance claiming he’s off to find a woman who is smart and pretty, and sweet, and gentle, and tender and refined, lovely, carefree . . . while Butch is approached by a saloon girl. Sundance spends the night with Etta, a school teacher who is involved, at least physically if not a little emotionally with Sundance. The next morning, from outside their window, a Bowler hat glides by with the voice of Butch teasingly goading the fair Etta that she in fact will be his. His playful calls get her to the door where she sees he is riding a bike. He invites her to hop on the handlebars and go for a ride.
Why It Matters: The film is a Western at heart and while it has some comedic undertones, plays it serious. The two charismatic stars are so fun to watch, that we forget they are in fact, the bad guys. When the bicycle scene starts, it doesn’t seem to fit, and even more jarring, a contemporary tune beings to play, B. J. Thomas’ Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. It’s irreverent and unrelated to the story but that is why it is as memorable as it is. The film was scored by Burt Bacharach, who had been working on a music score that was thematically driven but not of the time period, but it was this tune that caused the greatest concern. Robert Redford, after seeing a rough cut of the movie, voiced his dislike, saying he hated it. B. J. Thomas thought his career would be over. At the time, George Roy Hill, the film’s director, took a big chance on this sudden musical interlude, but it paid off, and became one of it not the most memorable moments in the movie.
But why? First, it’s a wonderful image. After gunfights and robberies, we take a break and watch a man and woman drift around a pasture on a bike with the morning sun basking them in gold. Second, while it may say nothing about the plot, it speaks volumes about the characters. We now have something in common, if not bike riding, then romance, fun, happiness, and a joy in the sudden moments that come unexpected. With the dashing and charming Newman performing all the stunts (except the final fence crash) and the simply stunning Katherine Ross alluringly holding her flowing dress up around her legs, the scene is timeless. It’s remarkable how impactful the moment is considering how well the rest of the movie is made. It gives these people a humanity that would surely have weakened the film it left out. We see trust and compassion, and most especially a great fondness if not real love between characters that are not lovers but life-long friends. Butch is a bit of a clown throughout the film, but here he shows real talent for physical comedy and timing, giving the girl a show as she climbs into the loft of the barn, set to a shift in music that is circus-like as if he’s performing under the big top. It all ends with a gentle embrace as they walk the bike home and a magnificent pull back as we watch them from a far crossing a meadow for the start of a new day. A truly touching movie moment and one of the best scenes with a bicycle in cinema ever.
Melissa’s Take: This is a great movie moment. As David points out, it is a perfect break in the action of the previous scenes and it is a beautiful moment in which we see so much character development for Butch. In this scene, we see a much softer side to the rough outlaw and come to recognize that he is just as much of a romantic as Sundance is. This scene develops our emotional attachment to Butch and our desire to see him succeed, even though he is an outlaw. David also makes some great points about the music used in this scene. It really does enhance the moment and makes it more memorable for the audience. Overall, I couldn’t agree more with David’s observations about this great bicycle movie moment.
Director: George Roy Hill
Writer: William Goldman
Melissa is a contributing writer to TMI. Visit her Homepage for Movie Reviews and More.