E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Length: 1 hr 55 mins
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (@ an average 5.5 mbps, up to 6.9 mbps), French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1, English DTS Digital Surround 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG (Mostly very family friendly – a few bits of profanity and a couple of scares here and there)
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Starring: Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas as “Elliott”, and E.T. as himself
Screenplay by: Melissa Mathison
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Film Rating: 5/5
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is possibly the most well-crafted movie of Steven Spielberg’s long resume. I’m not saying it’s his very best movie, but it’s up there. The movie tells a very simple story, distilling story elements from Spielberg’s earlier Close Encounters of the Third Kind into an encounter between two similar boys, both misunderstood and lost in their own ways. The trick is that one of them is an alien stranded here when his ship leaves without him. Without spoiling the many gentle pleasures of this movie, I’ll say in short that the movie really does work on all levels. It gets the viewer to believe in the little guy, in the very same way that a childrens’ storyteller can entrance the listeners into believing that if they really believe in fairies and clap their hands, Tinkerbell will live after all. (It’s no accident that Spielberg makes a nod to this along the way…) Using every tool at his disposal, from the acting to the puppetry to the magnificent score by John Williams, Spielberg will have any viewer believing in E.T., even if they know in their heads that he can’t possibly be real. This is one of those movies that probably comes along once in a generation. It’s worth seeing again to remember how good it is, and if you haven’t seen it, please stop reading this article and see it yourself.
SPOILERS: The origins of the movie were a combination of factors. The first piece of the puzzle was Spielberg’s personal background as a son of a divorced couple – a situation that he had long wanted to present on film in a way that would allow viewers to feel the loneliness he had endured as a boy. The second piece of the puzzle came with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which Spielberg presented an epic story of humans around this world coming together to meet with friendly aliens at a musical summit. I believe that the third piece of this puzzle came when Spielberg, in the midst of his preparations for Raiders of the Lost Ark with George Lucas, was able to see the realistic puppet of Yoda created for The Empire Strikes Back. (Again, it’s no accident that a nod to Yoda happens at an appropriate moment in the movie…) The final piece of the puzzle came when Spielberg combined his initial plan to make a movie about a young boy with a simplified, human-sized version of Close Encounters. Making the film on a smaller scale and budget would allow him to keep the costs from escalating as they had done on Jaws, Close Encounters and 1941, and would allow him to make the movie free from interference. Working with writer Melissa Mathison, with whom he was in contact while making Raiders of the Lost Ark as she was with Harrison Ford, Spielberg was able to distill several of the big ideas from Close Encounters down to the simple story presented here. (This allows for a few neat reversals of ideas seen first in Close Encounters and then in the beginning of this movie. In Close Encounters, the aliens invade an Indiana house to the accompaniment of strange lights and music – in this film, the same devices are used to herald US government forces invading a house, to the same effect. In the beginning of this movie, strange organ music accompanies the alien spaceship laboratory at work, and when the government forces take over the boy’s house, that same music returns for an ironic statement.) The final result of all the elements combined together is the tale of a small alien who is left behind on Earth and is taken in by a lonely boy in suburbia. The boy and the alien bond with each other while the boy helps the alien find a way to call home and have the ship come back to get him. Things are impeded by the usual unnamed government forces, but every viewer will know instinctively that the story is designed to see E.T. get home. And in the end, it’s very satisfying to see the story complete itself in such a triumphant manner.
MORE SPOILERS: Spielberg initially titled this movie “A Boy’s Life”, and I believe this is still appropriate today. Because that title isn’t just about Henry Thomas’ character of Elliott. It’s about E.T., who is presented very much as a lost little boy himself. The early shots of E.T. wandering in the forest, accompanied by heart-rending swells of John Williams’ music, clearly evoke the image of a small child. There’s even a POV shot looking up at the trees where the perspective is that of a child, as the tree trunks all seem to converge toward each other in the way that a child would see them. And while E.T. has a very carefully designed face with wizened, sad eyes, he experiences life on Earth as a child, learning to speak through little Gertie’s books and TV shows. He and Elliott link to each other in a way where each feels what the other feels, sometimes with disastrous results – as when E.T.’s beer-drinking binge at home results in drunk Elliott getting in big trouble at school. When the ship finally returns to get E.T. (and unlike the giant mothership of Close Encounters, this one is really more of a little egg), as E.T. is saying his goodbyes, we can clearly see the silhouette of his mother standing in the doorway waiting for him to come in for the night.
STILL MORE SPOILERS: Even within what is a fairly small canvas, with a small story being told on a small scale, Spielberg still uses every tool he has to tell the story in the grandest fashion possible. The multiple components to create the character of E.T. himself are arranged in such a masterful way that it’s easy to believe in the puppet – which is no mean feat, given that the alien is onscreen for much of the movie. A combination of designers, puppeteers, voice artists, little people, a talented hand mime artist and a legless boy all worked together to create the illusion of E.T. actually walking, talking and emoting. The resulting creation, sprung from Carlo Rambaldi’s designs, is totally convincing, even after being seen in close-up for what should have been a punishing amount of time. A big part of the reason this all works is because of the acting. We believe in E.T. because the actors do – particularly the child actors. Henry Thomas gives a truly raw performance in the role of Elliott, while Robert MacNaughton is totally convincing as the older brother and Drew Barrymore as Gertie nearly steals the movie with several of her line readings, ad-libbed and otherwise. Again, the real power here comes from their belief in the alien. The best example of this comes when E.T. is dying in the makeshift hospital and the real doctors used in the scene are ad-libbing all the various methods they would use to try to keep him alive. Inevitably, the defibrillator paddles are wheeled out and they apply the electrical shocks. At the moment that they hit E.T. with the electricity, Gertie reacts with such shock and horror that it’s genuinely painful to watch. It’s hard to remember at that moment that you are watching a scene about a latex rubber puppet, and that’s the mastery of Spielberg’s work. (Judging from the behind-the-scenes material available, it’s obvious that each of these moments was very specifically and intentionally arranged by Spielberg for maximum emotional impact.)
FINAL SPOILERS: The final masterstroke of the movie isn’t the effects or the staging or even the fine camera work of Allen Daviau. It’s the music of John Williams, who deservedly won his fourth Oscar for his contribution. The movie may be a small, simple story of two lost boys who find and help each other, but Williams’ music presents it as an epic tale. There is a very small theme on flute for E.T., but it’s surrounded by much grander motifs in brass and percussion, and giant swells of strings that literally pick the viewer up out of the seat. Williams even takes the time to work in a harp where he can literally pluck the strings of viewers’ hearts. It’s in the final 15 minutes of the movie that the score completely takes off with the movie, covering the complete escape of the boys with E.T. through the goodbyes and liftoff and the final shot of Henry Thomas watching his friend leave the planet. It’s a virtuoso piece that hits every moment perfectly, segueing into a series of ascending string motifs that are a kind of classical answer to the Jackie Wilson classic “Higher and Higher”, and as E.T. boards the ship and the ship leaves, the music peaks in volume and power, in much the same manner as the famous Throne Room heroic ending of Star Wars. The music literally soars – and again, this is a specifically designed moment, not a happy accident. There’s a great story told by John Williams about the recording of this 15 minute cue, where the sheer number of specific accents made it impossible to get anything that could precisely line up with the movie without edits. When told of this, Spielberg made what I believe was the smartest decision of the entire project – he told Williams to turn the movie projector off and simply conduct the best performance of the music he could get. With the best musical take in hand, Spielberg and editor Carol Littleton then re-opened the sequence and did several small edits to their own timing to get the picture to perfectly sync with the music – resulting in one of the most satisfying combinations of movie and score I’ve ever seen and heard.
I should note that the version of the movie on this Blu-ray is the original 1982 theatrical cut, not the 2002 DVD edition. Footage from the 2002 edition can be seen in the extras, but the movie being shown is the original one.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial will be released on Blu-ray on October 9th. The new Blu-ray arrives, like Jaws did in August, with an excellent new AVC transfer, a solid DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix of the sound, and the extras from the 2002 20th Anniversary DVD. To this has been added a brief new interview with Steven Spielberg and a compilation of John Toll’s on-set footage, including around 20 minutes of material that hasn’t been seen before. The packaging also includes a new 2012 DVD and instructions for downloading a digital copy. As with Jaws, given the quality of the movie, and given the quality of the work done on the Blu-ray, a review is practically superfluous here. This release is Very Highly Recommended, for much the same reasons that this rating was given to Jaws two months ago. Buy it, and then see if you can resist the storytelling here. I’ve tried, and it never works – after about 10 minutes, you get sucked into the movie all over again.
VIDEO QUALITY 5/5
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 picture transfer that presents the film in the best fashion it has ever been offered for home viewing. Watching the movie literally brought me back to the New York movie theater where I first saw it in the summer of 1982, complete with the Dig Dug machine in the lobby. There is a fairly pleasing quality to the picture here – grain is visible in a manner that makes even an HD presentation on a plasma screen appear to be a movie projected in a theater. We should keep in mind that the higher level picture quality makes many of the imperfections more visible – matte lines and VFX shots in general are more obviously what they are. In high definition, it’s plainly obvious that the spaceship is landing in an empty field rather than one where a few humans are waiting. But this is an honest and accurate presentation of what this movie looked like in 1982 and how it really should look when displayed in the best possible situation.
AUDIO QUALITY 5/5
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that improves on the prior 5.1 Surround EX mix available on DVD. Dialogue is clear, and the atmospheric effects echo through all the speakers. The opening shots of the forest and the aliens are a great example of how the sound effects are effectively placed around the room. The score in particular gains from the mix, driving the bitrates a lot higher in the closing moments of the movie than they normally hit throughout.
SPECIAL FEATURES 4/5
The Blu-ray presentation of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial comes with the same special features as the 2002 20th Anniversary DVD, with a new interview and a compilation of John Toll footage added in for good measure. The packaging also includes the new 2012 DVD, as well as instructions for accessing a digital or ultraviolet copy. One of the special features dates back to the 1996 Signature Laserdisc, but it makes some curious omissions that have had many people scratching their heads.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
pocket BLU – The usual Blu-ray functionality of pocket BLU is present here.
D-Box – This functionality is present for viewers who have this capability.
Steven Spielberg and E.T. (12:31, 1080p) (NEW FOR THIS BLU-RAY) – This is a new interview with Steven Spielberg, in which he discusses his feelings about the movie, and recounts the experience of screening the movie first for viewers in previews, then at Cannes, and then for Ronald and Nancy Reagan. There’s a bit of a time capsule effect from seeing the current interview in conjunction with the other materials here – in that we see Spielberg on the set in 1982, in 1996 interviews, in 2002 interviews and now in a 2012 interview.
The E.T. Journals (53:38, 480p, Anamorphic) (NEW FOR THIS BLU-RAY) – This is a compilation, in film scene order, of the footage shot on set by John Toll as this movie was being made. Much of the footage will be familiar to fans, as it has been used in all the documentaries made about the movie. But there’s at least 20 minutes of new material here, and plenty of additional moments around the material we’ve already seen. In many ways, this can be seen as a kind of companion piece to the on-the-set compilation put together for the Raiders of the Lost Ark Blu-ray, albeit without the deleted footage from various unused scenes. The compilation is presented in two parts, which can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.
Deleted Scenes (3:40, 1080p) (FOOTAGE FROM THE 20th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – Two deleted scenes restored and reinserted into the 2002 20th Anniversary DVD edition are included here. In one, Elliott and E.T. deal with a bath, and in the other, Mary (Dee Wallace) finds two of her kids on the street on Halloween night. Unfortunately, three other scenes known to exist are not included here. One of these scenes is a famous one with Harrison Ford playing the principal of Elliott’s school, another is a smaller affair with Elliott getting caught writing technical designs on the wall of the school nurse’s office, and the final scene is an alternate ending, in which Elliott has become the dungeon master of his brother’s D&D games, and in which the camera pulls through the ceiling to show that Elliott has set up E.T.’s communicator on the roof in case his friend should ever want to return. I have no explanation for why these scenes weren’t included even as deleted footage, other than that it was a choice of the filmmakers not to include them.
A Look Back (37:43, 480p, 4x3) (FROM THE 20th ANNIVERSARY DVD, ORIGINALLY FROM THE 1996 LASERDISC) – This is a reduced version of the 90 minute Laurent Bouzereau documentary made for the Signature Laserdisc, about a year after his famous Jaws documentary. Much of the core material is included here, but there’s a lot of stuff missing. Most famously, the above-referenced three deleted scenes are left out, where in the original version of this documentary, they were examined in depth. (At no time have the complete scenes been available to my knowledge – even in the original version of the laserdisc documentary, they were only presented in snippets. Personally, I would have preferred to see the full original documentary here.
The Evolution and Creation of E.T. (50:16, 480p, Windowboxed) (FROM THE 20th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – This documentary is partly about the original production of the movie, and partly about the 2002 edition and changes. About halfway through, the emphasis shifts to the new work, including the CGI augments done to E.T.’s facial expressions and movements. Three deleted scenes are examined – two of which were included in the 2002 edition and on this Blu-ray. The third scene discussed is the Harrison Ford principal’s office scene, which is only presented in the barest of snippets, with Spielberg speaking over the footage. Made by Laurent Bouzereau, the documentary includes then-current interviews with the cast, with their looks matching to the other featurettes on the disc other than the 1996 piece.
The E.T. Reunion (17:56, 480p, 4x3) (FROM THE 20th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – A gathering and group interview with the cast and Spielberg is presented here. It’s not exactly the most natural or relaxed get-together one could imagine, but they each offer a few observations about the movie and their part in it.
The Music of E.T. (10:04, 480p, 4x3) (FROM THE 20th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – This is mostly interview material with John Williams, intercut with John Toll footage of his meetings with Spielberg and the scoring sessions. Williams is a font of information about the music, including his recounting of that story about how the final long cue was established.
The 20th Anniversary Premiere (17:49, 480p, 4x3) (FROM THE 20th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – This featurette goes over the 2002 presentation of the movie at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles with John Williams conducting a live orchestra performance of the score. Most of the time here is spent dealing with the difficulty of playing a score live to a fixed movie. My initial apprehension about this idea was eased a bit when I remembered that the movie was actually recut to conform to the music, so what’s really called for here is simply a good performance and the rest should come naturally. I should note that the 2002 DVD included an option to listen to the live performance of the music as a separate audio track.
Designs, Photographs and Marketing (FROM THE 20th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – This is a series of stills sections, each including material about design work, production photos or advertising. The sections are: “E.T. Designs by Ed Verreaux”, “E.T. Designs by Carlo Rambaldi”, “Spaceship Designs by Ralph MaQuarrie”, “Designs by Ed Verreaux”, “Production Photographs” and “Marketing”.
Theatrical Trailer (1:57, 480p, Windowboxed) – The movie’s original theatrical trailer is presented here. The trailer is clearly designed to show as little of E.T. as possible, while emphasizing the danger and mystery elements of the movie. Watching this trailer, one would expect a movie about the government agents chasing the alien, rather than one about the boy befriending him.
Special Olympics TV Spot (1:02, 480p, 4x3) – A vintage Special Olympics commercial featuring E.T. is presented here.
SD DVD – (1.85:1 Anamorphic Letterbox) – As a bonus, the package also contains a new 2012 DVD edition of the movie, containing the new transfer downrezzed to standard definition, along with the deleted scenes from the 2002 DVD, the “A Look Back” and “The E.T. Reunion” featurettes.
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy or streaming an Ultraviolet copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device. The instructions include a deadline of April 30, 2017 for activation.
The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.
IN THE END...
E.T. continues to demonstrate the same storytelling power and effect it had on me 30 years ago. I really debated what level of rating to give the movie, knowing how deliberately it pushes my buttons. And then I surrendered to it again. How do you argue with a movie that is put together this efficiently, this strongly and with this level of genuine emotion? It really is like being a kid again to experience the movie. The new Blu-ray presents the 1982 theatrical cut in all its glory with a fine new 7.1 mix and a good compilation of extras, mostly from the older releases. I wish they had included the other deleted scenes and the full laserdisc documentary, but there’s so much good here, it’s hard to complain. This release is, for obvious reasons, Very Highly Recommended.
September 28, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at ISF Night picture mode
-Set Professionally Calibrated by AVICAL in June 2012
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer
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