Directed by Stephen Spielberg starring Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Robert McNaughton and Dee Wallace.

No other filmmaker has left his mark on childhood quite like Stephen Spielberg. He is the director kids could name long before they knew what a director did and the one millions will always associate with their first trip to the cinema.

Those who sat petrified with their feet up on the seat during 'Jaws' were followed a few years later by the ones who've watched the skies ever since seeing 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. Then came the droves who demanded a bull whip and stubble for their birthday after 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and finally the generation who sat, gulped, cried and begged their parents to hook up some contraption so that ET could visit them for Christmas.

'ET' helped bring BMX's to Ireland, fuelled the pirate video phenomenon (is there anyone who didn't see this film surrounded by 20 others in someone else's living room?) and through onscreen mom Dee Wallace convinced many boys that there really was nothing wrong with fancying someone's mother. Those who saw 'ET' in 1982 left a little bit of themselves behind in Spielberg's vision of suburbia and took a away a lot more than the director could ever have imagined. Now 20 years on, those kids probably have their own kids and ET has returned to a very changed planet. The irony is we need his story of tolerance and hope more than ever.

Spielberg has described 'ET' as his most personal film and it still sparkles with that magic dust that many spend entire careers trying to conjure up: the gift of being simple but deeply moving at the same time. Three kids (Thomas, Barrymore and McNaughton) and their uninvited guest on one side, life's big questions of love and loss on the other. Watching it is like taking a time tunnel back to when you knew less but probably understood more. And somehow the feeling is more than just nostalgia.

Given that so many have the original's grainy, home movie feel etched on their souls, it's difficult to see why Spielberg felt the need to gloss it up for the re-release. 'ET' may now have better effects, a restored soundtrack and extra scenes, but the five-year-old who can appreciate an improved audio mix should probably be in college and not the cinema. More galling is the fact that Spielberg has wiped the word 'terrorist' from the dialogue (replacing it with 'hippie') and also transformed the cops' guns into walkie-talkies. Anyone reliving this film knows that childhood doesn't last forever, but trying to shield children from the real world isn't a good plan either.

Still, such quibbles will only come to you when you've left the cinema. The technical end of the movies has moved on a long way since the first coming of 'ET', but there's something so satisfying in knowing that a rubber shape can mean more to people than a lifetime of computer generated imagery.

If this reissue seems like a cash-in, then the next generation is getting a whole more in return. You may wonder why Spielberg couldn't have waited until the little guy turned 21 to throw the party, but you know that by the time he turns 50 he – and hopefully you – will still be young at heart.

Harry Guerin