E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: 2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition (US - DVD R1)
Chris Gould takes a trip down memory lane as he reviews childhood favourite
As a reviewer you might expect me to be getting review copies left, right and centre, but this is not the case. The majority of discs I review come from my own collection, and obviously I don’t waste money on films I don’t like. This can lead to reviews that may seem to be a little biased on the whole, especially when dealing with personal favourites such as Fight Club, Robocop, Reservoir Dogs or Manhunter. Another trap that is all too easy to fall into is that of the ‘rose tinted spectacles’ variety, whereby a film, no matter how ancient and feeble, can do no wrong in the eyes of the reviewer. When dealing with E.T. I have tried to detach myself somewhat, so as not to deliver an overly sentimental load of nonsense, but if I do start to over-romanticise the proceedings you’ll have to forgive me.
E.T. is a film that had a profound effect on me as a child, and although I hadn’t watched the movie in its entirety since the original theatrical release I still had very fond memories as I sat down to watch this 20th Anniversary edition. E.T. was one of those rare films that transcended the silver screen and became a cultural phenomenon, surpassing even the mighty Star Wars in terms of box office takings. E.T. was without a doubt one of the biggest films of the 80s, and one of the biggest of any decade for that matter, so people have every right to expect something special from the DVD release. This two-disc edition features both the original theatrical cut and the 20th Anniversary edition, which contains never-before-seen footage, all-new CGI effects and a couple of other changes (more on these later).
The film opens with the arrival of a group of alien botanists, who are visiting Earth in order to gather specimens of flora (and I’m not talking about the margarine). As the aliens go about their business, one of the group wanders just a little too far into the forest and is separated from his companions. When a team of government agents arrive on the scene the alien ship has to make a speedy getaway, and although they wait until the last possible second for their absent friend to return, the ship is forced to leave without him.
Stranded alone on an alien world the small extra-terrestrial creature makes his way to the suburbs, where he hides out in the back yard of a house occupied by a young boy named Eliot. Alien and Elliot soon meet, and an extremely strong bond develops, one that goes beyond mere friendship. Enlisting the help of his brother Michael and sister Gertie, Elliot decides to take care of the creature, whom he calls E.T. However, it’s not long before sinister government agents begin the hunt for the missing alien, and their search brings them ever closer to Eliot’s home...
By all accounts this 20th Anniversary edition was originally going to be similar to the region two release, carrying only the revised version of the film and the extras. We have none other than Steven Spielberg himself to thank for the inclusion of the original theatrical release in this set, and I’m extremely grateful that he intervened. I’ve had quite enough of revisionist directors butchering their work after twenty years, claiming ‘this is the way I intended it to look all along’. If they must do it then they should at least provide the paying public with a choice between the original and updated versions (as Spielberg has done here), so we can form our own opinion as to which is better. With that said some of the additions, such as E.T.’s escape from the agents near the beginning of the film, make for interesting enough viewing. In the original release E.T. was little more than a red light pulled through the bushes on tracks, but in the 20th Anniversary edition we get to see a CGI E.T. running full tilt through the undergrowth. Unfortunately, as tends to be the case with CGI, those responsible don’t seem to know when enough is enough. In my opinion far too much of the little alien is revealed early on in the proceedings, lowering the emotional impact of seeing E.T. later on in the film.
Now to the thing that makes my blood boil: political correctness. In the original film there is a line about one of the children not going out dressed, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘like a terrorist’. In the special edition ‘terrorist’ has been changed to the far less controversial ‘hippie’ (unless you happen to be a hippie of course). The second moment of politically correct madness comes during a scene near the end when E.T., Eliot, Michael and their friends are escaping from government agents on their BMX bikes. In the original release the agents had shotguns, but in the revised edition these have been digitally altered to walkie-talkies!!! Why??? If this kind of politically correct stupidity goes on the 30th Anniversary edition will portray E.T. as a female, lesbian, single parent alien (no offence intended to female, lesbian, single parent aliens of course).
The cast, particularly the children, play their parts wonderfully, but it is E.T. who is the real star of the film. In this day of CGI and advanced special effects it is sometimes hard to believe that people were ever able to suspend disbelief long enough to accept a puppet as an integral character in a film. Still, it worked for Star Wars’ Yoda, and it certainly works in E.T. At no point during the film did I stop to think ‘that’s a puppet’, because the creature direction is so perfect. Scenes between E.T. and Eliot (Henry Thomas) are, at times, genuinely heart wrenching, and I defy anyone not to well up during the film’s emotional climax.
When you look at this release of E.T. it’s immediately apparent that a lot of care has gone into the restoration of the print. Thankfully both the original and anniversary versions of the film are impressive, although each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Both the 1982 and 2002 editions are presented in their original ratios of 1.85:1, and both are anamorphically enhanced. When I first began watching I was astonished by the quality of the transfer, especially considering the age of the film. Then again, when films such as Superman can be restored and presented on DVD looking better than they did theatrically, I guess it should come as no surprise at all that E.T. looks this great. Residing on dual layered discs, both cuts also maintain a significantly higher bit rate than one might expect, which is no bad thing.
For the most part the 1982 release looks superb. There are a few instances when grain becomes more than a little apparent, but I do not believe this to be the fault of the transfer. The image is also a little soft throughout, but again this is more to do with the way E.T. was filmed than with the digital transfer. On the positive side, colours are vibrant, with accurate fleshtones, and blacks are nice and solid throughout. The film has a very ‘contrasty’ look, which is especially evident during the nighttime scenes, but the transfer handles this very well. All things considered this is an superb transfer, and it’s certainly the best looking presentation of the original cut you’re likely to see for a long while.
The 2002 edition is equally impressive. Differing from the original theatrical cut in a number of ways, most obviously with the introduction of a digital E.T, it’s generally a bit brighter and sharper than the 1982 version. On the whole the additional footage and CG blends quite well, and while I’m against tampering for tampering’s sake, it’s nice to have both versions in this package to enable a comparison.
For your listening pleasure, E.T. is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS ES 6.1 matrix. There’s very little to choose between the tracks, but for reviewing purposes I plumped for the DTS effort.
Thankfully the all-important dialogue is clear throughout, and there are a few nicely implemented instances of discrete surround usage. In particular the opening scenes of the film provide a nice moment, as the alien spacecraft takes off and flies over your left shoulder with a very satisfying ‘whoosh’ and a roar from the subwoofer! However, while there are a few nice effects moments, surround usage is primarily limited to John Williams’ amazing score.
The score is possibly the most impressive element of the mix. It’s simply phenomenal. I know I gush about Williams’ music every time, but the man is an unquestionable genius. I adore his work in the Star Wars films, not to mention Jaws, Superman and all the others, but E.T. still manages to hold a very special place in my heart. This score holds so much emotional resonance for me that I find it almost too difficult to listen at times. Thankfully the multi-channel remix at last gives the score the presence it deserves.
Unlike the region two release of the film, this version of E.T. spreads the supplemental material across both discs. Appropriately, disc one contains the material relating to the 2002 re-release. After a short introduction by Steven Spielberg we get to the features proper, beginning with ‘The 20th Anniversary Premiere’. Running for a little under eighteen minutes, the featurette takes us behind the scenes at the Shine Theatre in Los Angeles on the eve of the premiere of the anniversary edition. The focus of the featurette is musical maestro John Williams, as he prepares to conduct a live orchestra that will play the entire score in synchronicity with the film. After a look at the rehearsal process, which features interviews with Williams, Spielberg and members of the crew, we’re treated to a lengthy sequence of the live orchestra doing what they do best. The piece culminates with Spielberg welcoming selected members of the cast and crew to the stage to share in the fantastic achievement, and all in all this makes for a very entertaining bit of viewing.
Following neatly on from the first featurette is the option to listen to the film with the aforementioned live orchestral track from the 2002 premiere. The track is delivered in full Dolby Digital 5.1, and for once it’s nice to see a disc with a genuinely original extra. Still, the track isn’t without its problems. Firstly, I don’t quite understand why it was included in the special features section instead of under the audio options. Secondly, as previously mentioned, you can’t flick between the audio tracks on the fly, making it next to impossible to compare the track with the Dolby EX or DTS ES. Some may consider this a minor point, but it annoyed the hell out of me.
Finally on disc one is ‘Space Exploration’, which is a nice little feature for the kids or the young at heart. The menu contains an animated representation of the solar system, which just begs you to select one of the planets. On doing so a fairly poor E.T. impressionist gives details on the various characteristics of the stellar body you selected. This was interesting enough the first time through, but I very much doubt that I’ll return to it.
Moving on to disc two we have yet more material focusing on the 2002 re-release, as well as a couple of features relating to 1982’s original theatrical release. First up we have a twenty-four minute ‘Making of’ featurette, which contains present-day interviews with the cast and crew, interspersed with behind the scenes footage from the set. This is apparently a shorter version of the documentary that can be found on the three-disc edition of the release, but I haven’t seen that particular set so I can’t comment. The featurette on this disc covers the all-new CGI E.T. from the special edition, casting, conceptual artwork, additional scenes, screenwriting, animatronics and more. We’re also given a look at one of the more obvious changes to the film: the substitution of the police’s guns with walkie-talkies. On the whole I found this featurette more interesting than most, and I’ve actually watched this on more than one occasion since receiving the disc.
‘Designs, Photographs and Marketing’ features a series of still galleries containing dozens of pages of conceptual art from the likes of Ed Verreaux, Carlo Rambaldi and Ralph McQuarrie. In addition to the E.T. designs we get spaceship designs, production photographs and marketing paraphernalia. If you were a youngster back in the early 80’s it’s highly likely that you’ll recognise some of the items in this gallery, especially the Speak ‘n’ Spell, stickers, badges and figures.
‘The Reunion’ is a seventeen-minute featurette that contains interviews with all of the principal cast and crew. A fair amount of the material here overlaps with the ‘Making of’ featurette, but there’s also a lot of interesting and informative stuff to be found from behind the scenes in 1982 and in the present day interviews.
‘Trailers’ is a little misleading, if only because I was expecting a number of E.T. trailers. What we actually get is the trailer for the 20th Anniversary release, and a trailer for the Back to the Future trilogy on DVD (no mention of the misframing issues that plague that release though). Where are the original teaser and theatrical trailers for E.T.?
‘Cast and Filmmakers’ is a reasonably detailed set of biographies of the still variety, and it was nice to find out that Henry Thomas actually did have a career after E.T., albeit a less auspicious one than Drew Barrymore. Around seventeen pages of ‘Production Notes’ follow, as well as an advertisement for Universal’s ‘Total Access’ DVD-Rom features. Finally we have a section entitled ‘Special Announcements’, which are a series of trailers for the Special Olympics, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Universal Studios them parks.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, it had been a long time since I watched the film in its entirety. Even so, E.T. is just as enchanting today as when I was a child, and this two-disc set represents fantastic value for money, especially when compared to the region two release. I applaud Mr. Spielberg’s decision to step in to ensure that not only the 20th Anniversary edition, but also the original theatrical release made the package. While it’s true that this set doesn’t feature the most exciting or plentiful extras ever, the inclusion of both versions of the movie can be seen as a big plus for movie fans. When added to the impressive audio-visual presentation you have a very attractive package, one that I wholeheartedly recommend to ‘children’ of all ages. To put it simply, if you remember the phenomenon that was E.T. buy this disc and just allow yourself to be swept away in the memories; if you don’t, buy it now and you’ll soon understand exactly why it became one of the highest grossing films of all-time.
Review by Chris Gould
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 22nd October 2002
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English, DTS 6.1 ES Matrix English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: 20 Years Later with Steven Spielberg, Isolated John Williams Live Score, Space Exploration (interactive 3D Guide), The Evolution and Creation of E.T., The Music of John Williams, The 20th Anniversary Premiere, The Reunion, E.T. Archives, Trailers, Total Access DVD-Rom Feature
Easter Egg: No
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas, Robert McNaughton
Genre: Family, Fantasy and Sci-Fi
Length: 121 minutes
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