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If you have ever listened to Steven Spielberg talking about films he has made, you will notice that he always singles out one of them as being his most personal movie. It might come as a surprise to find out that the movie he refers to as such is E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial. Released in 1982, the film appealed to audiences young and old and was an instant success worldwide. However, Spielberg was never completely happy with the final cut, insisting that if he had more time he would have changed certain scenes. In 2001, having seen what George Lucas had done with the SE versions of Star Wars, Spielberg decided that it was time to revisit his favourite movie and touch up what he considered to be the ‘rough’ edges. He considered the improvements he made to be minor, but some fans didn’t agree and criticised him for altering the movie they loved. The 20th Anniversary re-release of E.T. passed through cinemas in a blink of an eye, notching up a poor box office taking in the process. Had the magic of E.T. finally worn off, or had audiences had enough of reissues? Now with the release of everyone’s favourite alien on region two DVD, audiences have the chance to revisit the movie in the comfort of their own homes.  

E.T. Special Edition (2 Disc)
In this review I am not going to concentrate too much on the story of E.T., as most people will have seen it, and if you haven’t then I suggest you make this DVD an essential purchase! E.T. follows the abandonment of a small alien, who manages to get left behind on Earth while collecting information for research purposes. Intrigued by the planet, the alien sets off to see what he can find. That search leads him to the home of Elliott (Henry Thomas), a young boy who stumbles across the alien in his back garden. At first the rest of the family do not believe that Elliott has seen an alien, but soon they have no choice but to accept the truth when they get a close-up view for themselves. Elliott befriends the alien, who he later names E.T. What ensues is a race against time as Elliott helps his new found friend get home. However, Elliott is unaware of the fact that the FBI know of the alien landing and are closing the net on him.

Well that’s E.T. in a nutshell. There is no doubt that the reason behind the success enjoyed by E.T. over the years is the relationships built up in the film. The friendship between Elliott and E.T. is intriguing and heartfelt. Add to that the last half hour, which in my opinion is one of the most emotional endings ever brought to the big screen, and there is no doubt of the film’s qualities. I can still vividly remember seeing the movie when I was ten, and the final quarter of the movie had me in tears because it was so sad. I am glad to say that on my recent reviewing I wasn’t so emotional, but there is still something about the ending which definitely takes hold of your emotions. E.T is a loveable film which hasn’t dated, and should take a proud place in your DVD collection.

Just a quick note about this special edition 2 disc set. There has been a lot of confusion prior to this worldwide DVD release. Originally the 2 disc set was not going to contain the 1982 cut of the movie, but region one fans were recently delighted by its inclusion. Unfortunately that luck didn’t make its way over the pond, and with this release only the special edition is included. However, recently Universal have announced a 3 disc collectors’ set due for release in December which will include both versions of E.T., so that is an options for purists of the movie. If you are wondering what the differences are between the versions, most of them are CGI enhancements which in my opinion strengthen the movie. The transfer has also been digitally cleaned up and a remixed soundtrack added.  E.T.’s movement in a few scenes has been improved, and there are also a few deleted scenes which have been edited back into the movie. The most controversial change which will determine which release of the DVD you will purchase is the removal of the FBI agents’ guns. Spielberg always considered the guns unnecessary, and for the special edition release he replaced them with radios. Personally I consider this change to be trivial, but I can also understand people who want to see the movie as it was originally released. If you fall into that category then it is best to ignore the 2 disc release and purchase the upcoming 3 disc version.

The special edition digitally enhanced transfer has been converted onto this DVD and is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I haven’t seen the original 1982 version for a while, so cannot compare this transfer to that. However, what I can say is that this transfer is amazing. E.T. has no right to look this good! The print is clean, with no signs of damage and fading. The image is also immaculate, with E.T. looking as clear has he has ever done. The sharpness of this transfer is spot-on too. Probably one of the most remarkable parts of this transfer is the black levels which are very impressive. The movie was shot largely in dark lighting, but impressively the black levels appear solid and true throughout. When it came to the daylight scenes I was expecting the transfer to suffer a little from grain levels, but once again this is not the case. Grain is kept to a minimum, and in fact is largely unnoticeable. Gradually some of my favourite films from the eighties are making their way onto DVD. I was a little disappointed by the region four transfer for Back to the Future, but the transfer for E.T. is breathtaking. E.T. has never looked so good, and this transfer is worth the purchase price alone.

E.T. Special Edition (2 Disc)
There are four soundtracks provided on this disc. For novelty value Universal have included the John Williams live performance at the Shrine. This is described in detail later on in this review, but was performed for the 20th Anniversary concert. You can listen to it (audience claps included!) while watching the movie. Also included for audio purists are English and Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, and the crown jewels…an English DTS track. I listened to the DTS track while watching the movie, and my overall impression was very favourable. From the opening scene where a spacecraft whizzes past you, through to the impressive musical score from John Williams which plays throughout the movie, this soundtrack uses the full range of speakers to great effect. There are times when the rears don’t get much action, but the fronts are used well throughout so that is not an issue. E.T. is not a particularly loud movie, so dialogue is one of the key components, and it is clear and defined throughout. I had a quick listen to the 5.1 track as well, so that I could compare the two English tracks. Honestly speaking I noticed very little difference between the two, and both make good accompaniments to the movie.

Subtitles for the movie are provided in English and Dutch, which is a little strange considering that far more languages are covered on the extras disc. The menus are made up of still images taken from the movie. When a particular option is selected, an animated sequence occasionally begins, for example when you choose the movie you get to see E.T.’s spaceship taking off.

The extras for E.T. are spread over the two discs, but the majority of them are found on the second one. However, the first disc also features some worthwhile content. On this disc you will find an introduction by Steven Spielberg. As part of this he talks about the movie with great fondness and mentions that in his opinion the film hasn’t aged. He also goes on to talk about some of the cringe-worthy scenes within the movie, (e.g. E.T. not moving properly and his facial movements) and that fact that he saw the 20th Anniversary as an ideal opportunity to tweak the scenes. He also talks about E.T. as an escapist movie which will allow people to forget about their worries and the troubled times they live in. The introduction lasts for about a minute and a half, and during that time the viewer also gets to see behind the scenes footage. The only other extra on the first disc is the premiere music by John Williams. I will explain about this later on, but it involves watching the movie with the specially recorded backing music by John Williams and his orchestra.

Onto the second disc which is packed full of delights. The first extra in the menu is called Evolution and Creation of E.T. Any fans of the movie will have seen this documentary before, as it was broadcast just before the special edition was released earlier this year. Steven Spielberg has most of the air time, but there is also input from all the cast and crew associated with the movie. The director talks about his love of the movie and stresses that it is his most personal film. It is also interesting to hear that the movie was inspired by the divorce of his parents, but don’t ask me how this relates to the film as Spielberg doesn’t explain! Between the chit-chat the viewer gets to see behind the scenes footage as well as amusing photographs of a young Spielberg while he was filming the movie. Melissa Mathison (Screenwriter) also talks about the ideas they had before she started writing the screenplay, for example E.T. was meant to be an alien interested in farming and that is why at the beginning of the film he is seen to be collecting plants.

This documentary also shows the original screen test by Henry Thomas who played Elliot in the movie. His performance was so impressive that he was offered the job instantly. A brief section with input from various cast members follows, where they each describe their own experiences of the auditions and their memories from the film. Also included in the documentary is a sweet interview with Drew Barrymore who talks about E.T. and how she thought of him as a guardian angel even though he wasn’t real. What makes this documentary interesting is the vast amount of footage we are shown from behind the scenes, for example we get to see Drew Barrymore crying on set while she is watching some of the footage of E.T. shown towards the end of the movie.

The documentary concludes with a detailed discussion about the changes that went into the special edition of the movie. Steven Spielberg talks about the various scenes which were edited back into the film, and speaks openly about the reasons behind the changes. It is apparent that he wanted to avoid an excessive revamp that would make E.T. into a completely different movie. There are some scenes which were left out even from the new version because they would have changed the flow of the movie. Fans of the original will be interested by the section explaining why the gun scene was altered for the special edition. When the movie was originally shot guns were not a big issue, but Spielberg believes that in today’s society it is completely unacceptable to have the weapons in a children’s movie, and for that reason decided to replace them with walkie-talkies. This documentary runs for around fifty minutes and offers one of the most detailed insights you are likely to find about the movie.

E.T. Special Edition (2 Disc)
The next extra that can be found on the disc is called The Reunion. This is basically a chat between the cast of E.T., who met up for the 20th Anniversary. Each cast member talks about their experiences from the movie, with most of the information having already being divulged in the earlier documentary. Interesting chats include Henry Thomas talking about the first time he saw E.T., and Drew Barrymore mentioning how much time she spent with E.T., even though she knew he wasn’t real. This statement leads to some interesting lines about having affairs with aliens, and Drew seems embarrassed at this stage! This featurette lasts for around seventeen minutes, and features footage from the movie and older footage from behind the scenes of E.T.

Next up is a featurette called The Music of John Williams. This is a ten minute featurette which includes discussions with John Williams and Steven Spielberg. John Williams starts by talking about the expectations that they had for the movie. Originally Spielberg and Williams had both thought of E.T. as a good weekend movie for children, but never imagined it would be as successful as it was. The viewer is also shown footage between John Williams and Steven Spielberg when the pair were listening to the theme music for the first time. Spielberg immediately liked the music and the rest progressed from there. This featurette also shows footage from the recording stage where John Williams is conducting his orchestra for the bike flying scene with Elliot and E.T. We also get to see recording of the footage from the other bike scene from later on in the movie. This featurette concludes with a discussion about how difficult it was to create the music for the final scene. In the end Steven Spielberg told John Williams to play the music as it flowed, and then the director would cut the film so that it fitted the music. This is a very novel way of creating a movie and I am sure it would not happen these days!

Fans of John Williams will also be interested by an extra called The 20th Anniversary Premiere which can be found on the second disc. This focuses on the live performance that John Williams conducted for the 20th Anniversary film premiere. This event took place at The Shrine in Los Angeles which seats between 5-6,000 people. For the premiere it was decided that John Williams would play the E.T. musical score in line with the movie, and the dialogue would be added as well. Therefore John Williams is seen conducting his live symphony orchestra while the film is being played to an audience of celebrities. This featurette highlights how gifted John Williams is, and the fact that it was certainly a difficult task for everyone involved. This section lasts for over seventeen minutes and culminates in footage from the premiere where the viewer is shown split screens (three parts of the screen showing the orchestra and one showing the movie).

The next section is entitled Design, Photographs and Marketing. Here there are various options to see design work from Ed Verreaux, Carlo Rambaldi and Ralph McQuarrie. This includes designs of E.T. and the spaceship. Also found in this section are production photographs and images from the marketing of E.T. Kids will find the next extra of particular interest. It is called Space Exploration, and shows a map of the solar system. You can then select a particular planet which sparks off a quick description from E.T. about the planet selected. This is a novel idea for getting children to learn about the solar system.

E.T. Special Edition (2 Disc)
Heading up the disc is the trailer section. Within this you can find the theatrical trailer, which advertises the special edition movie. The trailer is actually very good, but it would have been nice if the original trailer had been included as well. The theatrical trailer lasts for about two minutes. Being a trailer section you would expect trailers advertising the movie, so I was a little surprised to find an advert called Ubi Soft E.T. Game. This is the first time I have come across a games advert on a DVD! The E.T. game doesn’t actually look that good, but seemed to have quite a lot of areas which would be aimed at children and appeared educational. This advert lasts for about a minute and a half. Universal have also manage to sneak an advert for the Back to the Future DVD onto the disc. This is the first time I have seen the advert and I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed. There is no mention of the extras contained on the disc, which is strange considering that this is supposed to advertise the DVD! Also included on the disc are tons of DVD Rom features which will appeal to kids and adults alike.

Just for reference all extras are also subtitled in nine different languages.

Love it or loathe it, E.T. is one of the most successful movies of the past couple of decades, and has finally arrived on our favourite format. In one of the documentaries included with this release, Steven Spielberg talks about the fact that the movie allows audiences to forget about the troubled times we live in and enjoy some innocent fun. In my opinion, that’s exactly what E.T. does so well. It has a loveable story which makes you really care about what happens to the characters, and best of all it doesn’t feel dated even twenty years on. Your purchase of this 2 disc release will depend greatly on whether you agree with the 20th Anniversary edition of the movie. This 2 disc set is packed with extras and includes the impressive fifty minute Evolution and Creation of E.T documentary. The digitally re-mastered transfer and soundtracks are also contained within this release. In my opinion E.T. looks and sounds as good as it will ever do.  Slowly all my favourite movies are getting DVD releases and thankfully this is a release worth phoning home about!