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Always in strong standing on the most wanted list of DVDs, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial has finally made its way to the consumer. The confusion has been tumultuous and the marketing for this disc has been anything but finely tuned (read: idiotic), but at least it’s finally here with a DVD package that is just shy of living up to what it deserved.

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial: Limited Collector’s Edition
Released just over two years before I was even a twinkle in my mother’s eye, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial is one of those films that I am just now catching up with. I have fond memories of the shriveled little space penis. In a box in some far off dark corner of my storage space lays a well-worn E.T. doll that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had a soft spot for the little ‘Gardener across the Stars’.

While visiting our planet one night, E.T. gets left behind mistakenly by his family and is forced to seek refuge from the ominous character named only ‘Keys’ who is apparently with the icky U.S. Government. E.T. ends up befriending Elliot, a savagely cute young kid who is in fact very much in need of a friend after his father left his mother, brother and younger sister behind. E.T. becomes first to Elliot then his siblings a sort of ray of hope, teaching them to never stop loving and always believe. Just believe. Sounds quite hokey, no? Yeah, it is. But the film is beautifully crafted and touching in a way that is hard to describe and I can only say that I’m glad I have rediscovered it at a point in my life in which I’m more mature and capable of receiving the film for its deeper meaning.

I missed the 20th Anniversary re-release of E.T. last March and at the time was thankful, judging by its opening weekend box-office return which was just over $13 million on something like 3,000 screens. Ouch. Regardless, I was eager for the film’s release on DVD and just like many others was saddened to hear that we could only get the original version in the costly box-set and was eager again when we all found out that the marketing misstep was corrected last minute, as both versions of the film were to be made available for all three releases, completely negating, of course, all of the controversy, leaving a few tougher to please fans steaming.

This leads me to address an issue that is awfully touchy and has many a fan-boy crossed-eyed and red in the face. Strangely enough, there are only two men suspect and only one of them is doing things that are really, for lack of a better word, dumb. The men are, of course, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. They have been prime suspects in what has been called the butchering of the classics. Lucas went back to the well and changed three of the greatest American films, much to their detriment I might add. I speak of the Star Wars Trilogy.

It’s not so much that he changed the films as not all of the changes were totally horrible; it’s that he has said flat out that we will NEVER see the original versions of those films again. Honestly, I rather like the changes as I am in support of filmmakers bettering their films as they see fit. More power to them in fact. I do not however, support the blatant disregard and lack of respect for the best Sci-Fi films to ever grace the big screen. It just doesn’t seem right.

In comes Spielberg, a la Lucas, deciding that he wants to make E.T. just that much better. In comes the obligatory hail-storm of insults and fan-boy rhetoric. Sheesh, you celluloid Romans, don’t crucify the man before he commits the crime. Should have Steven even bothered to mess with his already great film? Or was it a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,”?

The answer is a little from column A, and a little from column B. No, the film wasn’t broken per se, not by any means, but it was decaying. Spielberg wasn’t in the wrong fixing up some of the film, which had effects that in all honesty, were pretty horrible in places. Steven Spielberg altered the narrative flow in no harmful way and only made a beautiful film better.

Better, of course, for those who find “Special Edition Re-Releases” their filmic cup O’ tea. Well, I don’t, and am glad Spielberg made the right decision (i.e. not pulling a Lucas) by including the original unedited 1982 theatrical release of his masterpiece E.T. The Extra Terrestrial separately within the same package. Special Edition or not, E.T. is a wonderful, touching piece of magic that all who come across it will benefit from and love.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is twenty-years-old, and for it to look this good is quite remarkable.

For both versions of the film, presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, the picture is very strong. Blacks are very deep and all colors are well-defined with no sign of bleeding. Here and there is a bit of grain, but not worth writing home about. The film is appropriately soft, holding true to the way it was shot. There are no artifacts to speak of and no major flaws of any kind. There is a bit of edge-enhancement in a limited number of scenes and my only major complaint is the way in which some of the digital restoration sticks out. Since this is a digital representation, the digital effects can be quite noticeable at times.

Essentially, the prints for both versions of the films are identical, and are equally good-looking.

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial: Limited Collector’s Edition
Both versions of E.T. are presented here with an English 5.1 DTS ES track as well as an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Track. I’m cursed with not having a system to critique any DTS tracks. I apologize for this, but I’m sure one of my editors can tell you whether or not it’s of particular note. :) [Ed - don't ask me, I know nothing hehe]

I can say that 5.1 tracks are both very good. As near as I can tell, the tracks are identical. On a strange note, no new sound effects were created for the scenes that were altered, so the sound there seems a bit off. E.T. screams, but the newly animated mouth does not reflect that particular scream, so the scream itself seems a bit unnatural.

Apart from being very good, the separation is quite natural. E.T.’s ship sails off over our heads and behind us and it sounds great. Scenes that take place outside have a great sense of environment and John Williams moving score really works the speakers out. Bass is strong, never overdone. The mixes are nothing really spectacular, but are impressive nonetheless.

This release is essentially the watered down version of the Gift Set. Since at the 11th hour Spielberg came in and had the 1982 Theatrical Edition added to both the full-screen and widescreen versions, some changes were made. Firstly, both the 1982 and 2002 version are placed on separate discs and as such, the extras have been shifted, spanning across both of the discs so as to allow the two versions of the film room to breathe. Secondly, the main documentary was supposed to be just under an hour in length, but due to space restraints has been cut down to just under thirty. A small concession, really.

Other than that, everything seems to be in order (just don’t trust the packaging- it’s incorrect) and what we do have for extras are decent enough.

Other than the 2002 cut of E.T., disc 1 holds a small smattering of extras that open with an introduction by Steven Spielberg. This little piece has him discussing the reasons for changes made to the film, which coming from him, are rather touching when you consider his motivations.

The first dedicated program is a look at the 2002 premiere at the Shrine Auditorium. This feature goes into detail with the preparations made to host the event, such as the assembly of the giant screen as well as the set up of the orchestra section which would later be used by John Williams to conduct the music for the film live as it ran through the projector. Also there are some random interviews and some footage of Spielberg complimenting everyone. This program is all right, especially if you weren’t privileged enough to attend the premiere, but it didn’t really do much for me.

Next up is a first, as far as I can tell. More of an alternate audio track rather than an extra, John Williams Live at the Shrine Auditorium is a recording of the music he played live along with the film back in March of this year. This is very cool, as the music sounds very crisp and fresh. However, this track does have a slight echo whenever there is dialogue, as it was recorded in a cavernous auditorium. Even cooler is the way in which the audience can be heard laughing and cheering as the film progresses. Makes you feel as though you’re there. This extra is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and is every bit as good as the mixes for the films themselves.

Lastly on disc 1 is a rather stupid extra, a space exploration hosted by E.T., or rather a crappy impersonation of him. He gives facts about all of the known planets in our solar system. This piece gets old really fast, as the voice is extremely annoying. Pass...

Moving on to disc 2, more film-oriented extras can be found. The first is The Making of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. This documentary is the shortened version of a longer program and it shows. The whole affair seems rather hap-hazard and rushed and I mean more than it should have been. It contains interviews with all of the cast members, appropriate crew and so on. It even shows some footage of the changes the film underwent in mid-creation. All good stuff, but very disorganized.
Next is the Stills section. Here, in several categories, a whole multitude of photographs can be found ranging from production drawings to on the set pics. This is a very nice presentation.

Follow the photographs is a fun little short called The Reunion. Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Dee Wallace Stone, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Henry Thomas, Robert McNaughton all are present and discuss and reflect upon the film. All are rather chummy and prove that good relationships never really deteriorate. This piece is nice, if only for its sentimentality.

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial: Limited Collector’s Edition
Trailers: here we get the 2002 trailer for E.T. and the trailer for the upcoming three disc release of the Back to the Future Trilogy on DVD. Sorely missed are the original trailers. They should have been included, for a release like this, seeing as though releases much lesser than this get every trailer and a billion T.V. spots. Cast and Crew biographies: Some short if not detailed write-ups on the major players. These are nicely detailed and worth at least one read. Then there are the throwaway production notes and some DVD-ROM stuff such as web links and access to further material.

Lastly, there is a section titled Special Announcements. Included here is a bizarre commercial for the Special Olympics, in which E.T. telepathically encourages a young handicapped kid. Then there is a message to adopt foster children. A bit of out of place, no?

Special mention must be given to the packaging...  how stupid it is, rather. It folds out unnecessarily and takes away the option to view the film title from the side. The only way I can describe it is melodramatic. At least the cover’s shiny.

It’s about damn time that E.T. The Extra Terrestrial made its way to DVD. The set isn’t bad, but it is unfortunate that the average consumer is kind of getting the shaft unless they purchase the Gift Set. I would say that having both versions of the film is a proper price to pay, but I won’t, as it shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place. A worthy buy, but Universal’s sloppiness dragged down a bit what could have been a spectacular release, as opposed to an okay one.