E.T. The Extra Terrestrial Review
The story:Forgotten on an interstellar trip to earth, E.T. finds himself hunted down by the governmental agencies eager to put him into a wooden crate in Area 51. Thankfully ET manages to elude his pursuers and finds refuge in a backyard. Meanwhile, Elliott (Henry Thomas), a 9-year old middle child discovers the existence of something strange in his garden and decides to investigate it. After a series of fruitless attempts, his perseverance finally pays off when he manages to coax E.T. into coming into their house. The government still hasn't given up searching for the alien and they are doing their utmost to track down this unwelcome visitor.
Back in 1982, this was the hottest ticket in town - 20 years later though, the revamped E.T. was a relative flop at the box office taking just a bit more than $30 million at the box-office - hardly a loss but not the money making machine Universal were hoping for. Maybe this flop was due to the fact that E.T., unlike the Star Wars franchise, was rarely released on video due to Spielberg's reticence about the format - he felt that having the film there to be viewed over and over again made it lose it's magic. Still that didn't prevent E.T. being used to advertise the likes of British Telecom (demonstrating that BT's monopoly also extends to inter-galactic transmissions). So is E.T. a film that may have not survived too kindly the passage of time or was this failure a mere marketing mishap?
As a film, E.T. does seem to have lost less of its original freshness than the likes of Back To The Future ("who was ZZ Top? Huey Lewis? Van Halen?"). This is probably at least in part thanks to the excellent acting found in it - as most of the action focused on Elliott's mono-parental family, the cast had to work well as a on-screen family and Spielberg achieved that perfectly. All the children gave in great performances with Drew Barrymore giving her first (and arguably last) perfect performance of her career. Spielberg also did his best to make E.T. as believable to the cast as possible: he went so far as to completely seclude the puppet operators from the actors to prevent them from thinking of him as a piece of latex. You can see how imitated Allen Daviau's cinematography has been especially when you compare with the likes of the X-files (flashlights, woodland, smoke) and the low-lit inside sets give the film an eerie quality all of its own. As an ensemble, it remains as effective as ever and probably helped to make E.T. standout from your average children's movie.
Returning to almost the same setting as Poltergeist, Spielberg playfully toys with the audience leaving the central character's intentions unknown for the first 20 minutes until finally letting us into the secret. His use of suspense probably helped the film have such a large crossover effect as well as the universal issues that the story tackles. In a way this could be seen as an antidote to Poltergeist: E.T. is riddled with religious overtones - everything from the score to the film's poster point towards the messianic parallel; E.T. arrives in a world accidentally abandoned by his "family", he then makes "disciples", heals them, performs miracles (replacing walking on water with a BMX ride through the air) and is finally killed by the rest of humanity. Nevertheless he returns to life and then leaves into the heavens promising to remain with them always... Not that this was the only theme looked at - Spielberg has since admitted that a great deal of the feeling of abandonment and absentee father that permeates E.T. stemmed from his parents' divorce. Still E.T. does try to go further than your average children's movie and thus managed to connect to a much greater audience through it.
There was always bound to be controversy when Spielberg chose to recut the original and of course most purists will be furious that we have not got the original release on this DVD. The original low-budget values of E.T. (it only cost $10 million) however have been erased in this re-release - computer technology has been called in to rescue some of the technical limitations of the time - such as E.T.'s run in the opening sequence. This does remove some of the charm of the original but doesn't really denature the film. There are some extra scenes inserted which all seem to fit in quite nicely but more controversially there has been the removal of the government official's weapons (see above) and the changing of "terrorist" to "hippie" - of course these would have hardly been noticed had they not been hammered on about by some but they are not in the least bit noticeable. Spielberg has kept the spirit of the original and managed to not lose it through excessive digital wizardry and this release can't really be flawed. Whether it was necessary is another question but this version is just as acceptable as the original unless you're a rabid NRA supporter...
When all the dust will have settled over this new version, there is little doubt that E.T. has lost little of its charms over the years. As long as Spielberg doesn't try to make a sequel (or a prequel!), we can expect this film to remain a classic in the years to come.
The DVD is dual encoded R2 and 4. It comes in a Fight Club style cardboard box lodging both discs. This 2-disc boxset unlike the R1 does not contain the original 1982 release but the 2002 re-release.
The image is pretty nigh perfect: there's some evidence of excessive edge enhancement in some scenes but this is hardly detectable to the naked eye. The anti-aliasing that plagued low-lit scenes in Elliott's bedroom on VHS have now almost entirely disappeared and artifacting is virtually undetectable. The smoke filled opening scenes often quite difficult to encode onto DVD are dealt with well. The print seems pristine and demonstrates the amount of money that was poured into the transfer of this title. One bad point is the layer change which is very badly timed to occur in the middle of an important scene - the length of this change depends on your DVD player of course. All in all a great transfer than can hardly be flawed.
We get the choice between the DTS soundtrack or the DD EX mix. Both of them are outstanding with a good use of the surround effects without denaturing the film. The score comes through perfectly and the dialogue is crisp and clear (this was also tinkered with in the revamp). The DTS doesn't seem to be as markedly different from the EX although it is difficult to compare as we are not able to switch channel on the fly. DTS does however come through as quit a bit louder but that seems to be a constant with DTS. We also get a live version of John Williams score which can only be selected after viewing Spielberg's introduction to the film - this comes complete with sound noises (they cheer every single name that appears on the opening credits!) but is a great addition for the fans of the original score. Top stuff.
Although these are animated, they are a little disappointing - maybe I was expecting much more from them but they are hardly as groundbreaking as I expected them to be. They do have nice CGI parts between menus but globally they remain quite old school and don't really push the envelope in the way Star Wars or Fight Club did.
Disc one:We get a brief 2 minute introduction from Spielberg which then leaves us with the option to listen to the film with the live John Williams score from the 2002 re-release premiere (this seems to be the only way to get this option!). Spielberg doesn't "do" commentaries so of course we don't get one. However, the rests of the extras are on disc 2 make up for this.
Disc two:Evolution and creation of ET (50 min, 4:3): Filmed by Laurent Bouzereau, this documentary mixes together a great deal of archival footage along with recent cast interviews and does so quite successfully. Spielberg talks at length about various aspects of the film from the casting and filming to the 20th anniversary restoration. We get a rapid viewing of a deleted scene with Harrison Ford as the school principal (annoyingly not featured in full), plenty of on-set footage and the secrets of ET's puppetry. All in all an excellent addition to the film though maybe a little overlong.
The reunion (17 min, 4:3): A look at the cast's and crew's memories of making ET - despite being at times self-indulgent and treading the same ground as the previous documentary, this gives us a good insight into the memories of each cast member 20 years on. Interesting although not absolutely necessary.
The music of John Williams (10 min, 4:3): A brief look into Williams' and Spielberg's collaboration for ET, this features some rare footage of Williams playing the flying theme for Spielberg (who likes it so much he decides to sing along) alongside recent interviews with both parties: - a thoroughly enjoyable extra although it leaves one wishing it were a little longer.
The 20th anniversary premiere (17 min, 4:3): A behind the scenes look at the relaunch of the revamped ET at the Shrine Auditorium in LA - what makes this premiere so interesting is that Spielberg managed to coerce John Williams into conducting the film's score live with the film's dialogue playing over it (the recording of this screening is included on the film's DVD - see above). Thankfully, Bouzereau manages to avoid focussing too much on the A-list celebs attending the ceremony and moves swiftly on to the highlights of the orchestra's performance. A tremendous addition to the DVD and a worthy extra although ideally I would have liked to have had the entire performance here!
Designs, photographs and marketing(anamorphic): This is a set of photo galleries where we get to see two different sets of ET designs (Ed Verreaux's character design (42 images) and Carlo Rimbaldi's puppet design (10 images), spaceship designs by Ralph McQuarrie (8 images) and various other designs by Ed Verreaux including security cards (8 images). Added to the design galleries we get a gallery of more than 120 on-set stills (featuring photos of props, special effects and deleted scenes) and a merchandising gallery (62 photos - ranging from paraphernalia to a letter from Lucas to Spielberg - demonstrating that Lucas has completely lost the plot ). Although there's no denying the wealth of details contained within these galleries, they are sadly quite ill designed - putting 120 photos in one group that can only be accessed by repetitive pressing of next is plain stupid - and at times of quite low quality particularly the Carlo Rimbaldi sketches that are excessively blurry making it impossible to appreciate the finer details. Still this is a good extra but it may take more digging than necessary to find some of the images.
Space exploration (anamorphic): What is this rubbish? By clicking on any planet from our solar system, we get a brief audio description of the planet from ET in his agonisingly slow speech. I can't see children being interested in discovering the names of Jupiter's satellites nor was I able to put up with ET's boring presentation - completely and utterly pointless but nicely presented...
Trailers: We get a non-anamorphic transfer of the 2002 release trailer but no original trailer. Added to that we get a trailer for ET computer games and for the Back to the Future DVDs. A little meagre in comparison to the rest.
DVD-rom: The DVD-rom feature gives us a selection of ET Wallpaper, drawings to print and a ET computer buddy. Apart from that we have a relatively easy ET trivia game, a dress ET game which is exactly as it sounds and a free the frogs game which is just a pacman clone. So all in all the DVD-rom features are relatively meagre (unless I've failed to find some of them!) and not too likely to set new standards in this area. Still if you want to rediscover the joys of pacman I recommend the free the frogs game!
If one is ready to go online and register, access will be given to exclusive extras namely photos and videos. Annoyingly despite registering, they don't recognise me so I haven't yet gained access to this area yet. One can only hope that this is not going to become a growing trend by studios forcing people to register their details with them to have access to what they have paid for...
Aside from the annoyance felt that R2 is not going to get a release of the original release despite Spielberg insisting that it be made available in the 2-disc release, this is an extra packed set coupled with an outstanding soundtrack as well as an excellent image transfer. Aside from a few ergonomic problems, this is a great DVD set and is thoroughly recommended.
The original cut will be made available on a 3-disc set so some may choose to wait for this release before parting with their cash (check out the details and the furore here).