Early in 1982, word began filtering out in Los Angeles about an unusual film by one of the world's most successful moviemakers. After his smash "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (a spectacular rebound from "1941"), Steven Spielberg, had shot, under the cover name "A Boy's Life," an atypically intimate fantasy that was said to be extraordinary. Because I had covered "Raiders" exhaustively and enthusiastically for Rolling Stone (at a time when "1941" had temporarily soured the media on American movies' great prodigy), I was invited to a very early screening.

The movie was "E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial." I called the Rolling Stone editors in New York to tell them I loved it, that it would never stop running, and that we had to cover Spielberg again.


The response was, "It's too soon. We've been very good to Steven."

I was sure they'd change their minds when it was screened for them. But the reactions got even more peculiar. Beyond the usual editorial second-guessing ("liked the first half, hated the second" --or vice versa), the movie provoked a hilarious box office prophecy: "It celebrates kids who still ride bicycles. Teenagers drive to the movies. They won't go to see their younger brothers glorified."

A week or two later, I discovered the editors' underlying rationale. "There's only room for one sci-fi smash per summer. This summer it's going to be 'Tron.'"

And they had already locked up special cover art with Jeff Bridges in his "Tron" outfit.

Now, labeling "E.T." a sci-fi movie is a tad reductive, like calling "Grand Illusion" a war movie.  At any rate, the mass audience that summer wound up embracing not only "E.T." but also a sci-fi epic called "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

Not "Tron."

By May, the buzz for "E.T." had grown so loud that my editors couldn't ignore it. I flew to New York to interview Spielberg in a hotel room when he was on his way back from showing the film at Cannes.

The piece was delayed another two weeks so the magazine could run a Sylvester Stallone cover story ("Rocky III" had just enjoyed a huge opening).

Spielberg and Rolling Stone ultimately came up with the memorable image of E.T. reading news of his success in the trade paper Variety. That cover, and the movie, became classics.

As for "Tron": like another summer of '82 also-ran, "Blade Runner," it acquired a slow-building but fervent cult. (I am not a fan of either film, or of the "Tron" sequel.)

In an interview with Jerry Stahl for Rolling Stone's "Tron" cover, Bridges quipped, "I just hope the movie doesn't turn out to be just an ad for a video game."

Bridges also said, "I took the film seriously because I saw that it was breaking ground, as far as state-of-the-art special effects. That was the most exciting thing for me."

That's the true legacy of "Tron."