Review by C.J. Bunce
He is afraid. He is totally alone. He is 3 million light years from home.
So says a series of smartly crafted marketing images in a slide show in the special features of the new anniversary edition of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, now available here at Amazon, in 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats. And what could be more endearing than a lost alien needing help from a group of kids? The years are clipping by, and it’s hard to believe it’s been five years since I sat in the theater for the 35th anniversary screening of the film, but here we are now at the 40th anniversary of the landmark Summer of 1982 and the latest celebration of this incredible, magical Steven Spielberg creation. Universal Pictures has given the film a worthy edition, complete with more than 4 hours of special features. This is the original version of the movie as seen in the theater subject to cleaned up image and sound, not the modified version with universally derided altered scenes that Spielberg locked back in the archive.
Owners of the 35th anniversary have the bulk of this issue already, other than 50 minutes of new features. The best features from the past are the two half-hour segments called The E.T. Journals. These consist of truly eye-opening vintage footage taking viewers chronologically through most of the scenes of the film–behind the scenes with writer Melissa Mathison, producer Kathleen Kennedy, and Spielberg directing the actors, the E.T. hand-double, cinematographer Allen Daviau, and the crew. Don’t let kids under 50 see this because it may ruin some of the magic. If you’ve heard that Spielberg shot many scenes off the cuff, you’ll see him do it here, along with several times he succeeded in getting a scene in only one take. Audiences will be surprised by the film magic here–so many “outdoor” scenes show the ceilings of the sets afterward.
The vintage footage reflects sets that were non-stop chaos with the kids’ scenes, yet everyone is smiling throughout the shoot like they really were having a good time working–except the careful (or not so careful) handling of the sadder scenes. The visual effects artists running E.T. are hidden so well and work so efficiently it looks like the production incorporated him seamlessly. Viewers will also notice how loud all the sets are, with crew and the director talking through every scene–the sound would all be edited in later. I’ve never seen any film record this kind of access to a director filming basically the entire movie–by the time it ends you’ll feel like you were actually there. This more than makes up for the small number of deleted scenes (it doesn’t include the Harrison Ford deleted scene for some unknown reason), although one scene with E.T. is cute and shows the state of special effects in 1982–today it would all be done with CGI.
Of the new material, 40 Years of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has J.J. Abrams, Ernest Cline, Chris Columbus, and Leonard Maltin recount their reactions when seeing the film in 1982, interspersed with clips from other features seen on the disc. It’s probably the least interesting of the features. The second new feature is Ben Mankiewicz interviewing Spielberg for the Turner Classic Movies 40th anniversary screening in L.A. of E.T. earlier this year. It really brings the film and footage of Spielberg full circle. The features are one giant album of the many haircuts and growth of the director over 40 years.
A dated vintage marketing “slide show” includes many art designs and product items many may not have seen before, if at all. This edition also includes the rather awkward– hindsight–original movie trailer, and a goofy Olympics TV spot. Other vintage features include Steven Spielberg & E.T., A Look Back, and The Evolution and Creation of E.T., shorts with Spielberg discussing the creation of the story, with some repeated commentary by Spielberg at different times since the movie’s release. Other bits from past releases are here like an E.T. Reunion, scenes from the 20th Anniversary Premiere, and The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams. The best of the very short bits of contemporary John Williams discussing the music is footage of him presenting Spielberg with the main theme on piano in his home, which is included in The E.T. Journals second segment. Williams had made so many movies by the time the features were done, he really only has that recorded meeting with Spielberg to refer back to, along with his memories of the audience reaction at the first screenings.
As for the film itself, it’s the best possible way to see the movie–better than it looked in the theaters in 1982. Mathison masterfully blended a science fiction, a fantasy adventure, and a coming-of-age story all in one package, and Spielberg captured it on the screen filming in continuity in a very seat-of-the-pants style. If you missed it, check out my full review of the movie here at borg. The film only gets better every time you see it.
For those who can’t get enough of one of Williams’ best scores, a remastered 35th anniversary edition of the film is available here at Amazon.
It’s as heart-warming, exciting, and fun a combination of science fiction with a fantasy movie feel, all bundled in a coming-of-age movie with Spielberg’s signature charm and Williams’ spectacular music. Don’t miss this great film in the best edition yet. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital is available here at Amazon.