Tag Archive: John Williams


Happy Star Wars Day 2018! 

It’s May the Fourth again, and this year we’re taking a look back to 1977, but not to the movie itself.  Back then, before home video, you watched the movie and that was that.  Someday if the movie was a classic it might end up on one of the three networks on a Sunday night at the movies special.  Otherwise you relied on books like The Star Wars Storybook, which was released through Scholastic book orders in grade schools.  Books like this featured key photographs from the film.  The Star Wars Storybook sold so well it seems it will always be available if you want to track down a copy.

But it wasn’t the Storybook that kept the excitement of Star Wars in the minds of moviegoers after the film left theaters.  The film actually stayed in the theaters from May 1977 and played in at least 60 theaters in the U.S. for more than a year.  It returned nationally in 1978, 1979, 1981, and 1982.   So if you weren’t around then, but hear about fans who saw the film ten or more times, know there were plenty of opportunities to catch it again and again.  But they also had another way to revisit the film, only from home.  And that’s where The Story of Star Wars LP comes in to play.

To this day when thousands of fans see the words “Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” they hear in their mind those words spoken in a distinctive voice, and they hear the rest of that sentence as if that is the way it aired in theaters: “Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a great adventure took place.”  The words are from the opening line from Emmy Award-winning actor Roscoe Lee Browne, narrator of an LP album called The Story of Star Wars The LP was a benchmark for movie fans, released along with the movie and in advance of all the action figures and playsets that would change how we think of tie-in products from 1978 forward, the record album was produced by George Lucas himself (along with record producer Alan Livingston).  Incorporating the actual soundtrack, dialogue, sound effects, and John Williams’ score, plus several pages of photographs, it was an abridged version of Star Wars, but close enough to provide a near-theater experience when a visual version wasn’t yet in the cards.  Browne filled in the blanks as narrator, and the result was a major success, reaching Gold Record status as it eclipsed the 500,000 sales mark.  It was also released on cassette, 8-track, and 4-track reel-to-reel audio tape.

If you want a trip back to 1977, have a listen to The Story of Star Wars, long out-of-print, it’s available online from several locations on YouTube, including here:

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We knew from early trailers and buzz going back literally years now that Syfy’s new series Krypton was going to cover Superman’s family’s distant past.  Even back here at borg.com in 2014 we previewed the first plans for Syfy’s series, wondering how close the DC writers would stick to the known backstory from the comic book pages, asking “Will they keep the character’s original name Seyg-El?”  Answer: Yes, with a slight change in spelling to “Seg”.  And “Will they bring in an Eddie Haskell neighbor as a young Zod?”  Answer:  Not quite, but the Zod family is going to be well represented in the series, which premiered this week with a pilot that should far surpass fan expectations.  In fact Krypton’s production values, writing, and actors are so well put together the show has the potential to equal the DC Comics adaptations on the CW network, and ten minutes into the pilot it already seemed more grounded in the comic books than any of the DC movie adaptations going back to Superman II.

The previews for Krypton failed to convey the actual scope and solid space fantasy framework the series is built on (and the epic scope that goes beyond Superman lore, but more on that below).  It looked like it was going to be like Marvel’s Inhumans–another odd, fringe fantasy show.  So don’t let the trailers mislead you.  The acting ranks are excellently cast–the show’s lead, British actor Cameron Cuffe, plays Seg-El.  The actor is a bright, knowledgeable fan of Superman in his own right, as conveyed as the host of the after-show.  Seg-El’s family grounds the series instantly with genre gravitas: first, Sherlock’s Rupert Graves plays his father, then Paula Malcomson–who portrayed moms in both The Hunger Games and Caprica–plays Seg’s mother, and General Dodonna himself, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Horatio Hornblower, and Game of Thrones actor Ian McElhinney, plays Seg’s own grandfather.  From the beginning the women take on a fierce role in the show, with the house of Zod represented in warrior Lyta Zod, played by show co-star Georgina Campbell (Black Mirror, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Broadchurch).  Ann Ogbomo, who portrayed an Amazon warrior in the big screen’s Wonder Woman and Justice League plays her mother, Jayna Zod.  While fans are still on a fantasy superhero high from this year’s Black Panther movie, the military guild with the fierce Amazon-inspired Zod warrior-in-charge is well-timed.

The surprise from the pilot is how much Krypton seems to have the potential to be the next big Syfy series, like Battlestar Galactica came out of nowhere to reinvigorate science fiction television 15 years ago in 2003.  The show pulls from several science fiction and space fantasy realms, but the space fantasy potential is most interesting, with Stargate, John Carter, Valerian, Riddick and more as possible inspiration.  Pinar Toprak’s musical score, with appropriate John Williams Superman movie theme cues, has a pulsating Daft Punk Tron: Legacy vibe, with brightly neon-lit ships also borrowing some of that film’s more familiar visual elements.  Add in the visuals you can find late artist Michael Turner’s Krypton and great costume styles from designers Varvara Avdyushko (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Bojana Nikitovic (Underworld: Blood Wars, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance).  Story elements can be found in Logan’s Run, Flash Gordon, THX-1138.  Even parallels to scenes from Batman’s backstory come into play.  The story in the first episode plays like one of the better episodes of Star Trek’s Enterprise series, the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, incorporating the beginnings of political tangles like those in The Dead Zone.  Krypton is also cool and cocky in its sets, style, writing, and acting, much like one of Syfy’s best recent series, Killjoys.  As fulfilling as the CW Network’s worldview of the DC Universe has become with the Arrowverse, Krypton is different, with none of the pop culture reference-heavy chatter, or that soap opera vibe of Smallville.  It’s a promising pilot–this looks like a most welcome Syfy channel space show.

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The biggest news of yesterday’s Oscar nominations was in the adapted screenplay category.  Writers Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold were nominated for their script for Logan, the film borg.com picked as last year’s best picture in our annual wrap-up last month.  Never before has a comic book superhero story been nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best screenplay.  The closest was a nomination in the original screenplay category for Brad Bird for The Incredibles, a superhero story not adapted from a comic book property, plus graphic novel adaptations for films History of Violence and American Splendor.  But that puts Logan–an X-Men story starring Wolverine and a film that was the pinnacle of the Marvel franchise–right where it belongs, a film on equal footing with classic screenplay nominees featuring strong character development, including the likes of High Noon, Citizen Kane, Rocky, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Shane, The Grapes of Wrath, Sergeant York, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The writers adapted their story from no specific Marvel Comic series, instead pulling together ideas from several series, citing Craig Kyle’s X-23 series as a key influence.  Unfortunately actors Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart did not receive a nomination in the acting categories.

But the progress of Oscar doesn’t stop with Logan.  A creature feature, the supernatural fantasy The Shape of Water took a whopping 13 nominations, including best picture, best director (Guillermo del Toro), and best actress (Sally Hawkins) and supporting actor (Richard Jenkins).  Get Out, which is something more than just a horror genre movie (that also made our top list), is nominated for four Oscars, including three for first-time director Jordan Peele, for best picture, best director, and best screenplay.  That’s one heck of an introduction to Hollywood, and ties Peele for the record of most nominations in a single year (along with Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait and James L. Brooks, who went on to win all three categories for Terms of Endearment).   The film’s lead actor Daniel Kaluuya will be a big contender for the top spot in the best actor category.

Another film we loved, the riveting historical drama The Post (sometimes historical dramas get it right), received two nominations, including nods for best picture and actress Meryl Streep‘s compelling performance (her 21st nomination, breaking her own record for most nominated actor of all time), but unfortunately Oscar ignored one of the best Tom Hanks performances of his career and Liz Hannah’s exceptional screenplay.   For one of the four nominations for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the beloved composer John Williams garnered his 51st Oscar nomination (he’s won five) for best score, besting his own record and hot on the heels of Walt Disney for most nominations ever (Disney was nominated 59 times).  But was this a missed opportunity, when even Williams seemed impressed with himself for the unique work he’d created for his striking soundtrack for The Post?  As he told Variety in a recent interview, “I’ve never done anything quite like it.  There are three or four montages—the press-rolling montage, the extended review of the former presidents, waiting for Justice Black’s decision—with various degrees of intensity, speed and the like.”  In our borg.com review we correctly predicted nominations for best picture and sound for the war genre movie Dunkirk, which was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture and best director (Christopher Nolan).  Hans Zimmer was nominated for his musical score, which was key to the film’s success.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When the worst of us does its best to silence the rest of us, you get a story like 1971’s Pentagon Papers bombshell.  When a voluminous, decades-in-the-making, confidential government report that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents from Truman through Johnson is leaked to the press, The New York Times first reported on it, and the Nixon administration sought and was granted an injunction preventing the Times from publishing further articles on the subject.  Director Steven Spielberg focuses his new expertly crafted biopic The Post on The Washington Post as it decided whether to publish excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in the face of the Times injunction, primarily through the eyes of newspaper owner Katherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and managing editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks. For the average moviegoer, Spielberg takes a rather mundane footnote in American history and makes it completely engaging and entertaining.  Carefully re-creating the early 1970s more than 45 years later with everything from the annoying mishandling of coins as you tried to make a payphone call, to the rotary phones we all used, to the weekly ritual of the family newspaper strewn across the living room, to costume designer Ann Roth’s hand-sewn vintage wardrobe re-creations, eyeglasses, jewelry, and hairdos of the era, to old technology and random items on shelves (that might prompt you to think it’s time to get a new iced tea pitcher), to the thankfully bygone days of women sitting in one room at a party and the men in another, to board rooms completely devoid of women (although today there is still rarely more than one or two), Spielberg makes the best use of the film medium, sharing a timely and important story for a new generation of moviegoers.

Filmed in the same 1970s noir style as Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (and using a newsroom set that is almost as accurate as that film’s 1975 California movie set version of the real thing), The Post might as well be a prequel.  It’s almost as good, lacking some of the more heart-pounding, real-life thrills of Watergate, like the mysterious informant Deep Throat, the uncertainty of whether someone in the government was going to think The Washington Post’s press coverage was worth killing over, and the perceived nature of the stakes (the executive branch vs. the Fourth Estate).  To his credit Spielberg had the more difficult task of re-creating an era and a newsroom in 2017, when Redford was filming his movie only three years after the events took place (and Spielberg is also certain to illustrate the stakes to both the players and the nation of this earlier event).  From the opening scene Spielberg traverses familiar territory, opening with an embedded government wonk in a warzone in Vietnam, as believable as his earliest team-up with Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan.  Seamlessly composer John Williams rejoins his long partnership with Spielberg in this scene, offering one of his best scores in years, alternating within the film an intensity that rivals his Raider of the Lost Ark compositions with the contemplative import of the moment realized in his Schindler’s List soundtrack.

Yesterday is today, as scene after scene attests to the same corporate deal making, the same roadshow investors, the same IPO efforts, the same boardroom antics, the same misogyny, the same shuffling of blame, and the same indifference to the public good permeates the nation and the news.   Convincingly selling us on the gravity of the story is the best ensemble cast put together in the past year.  Streep plays a surprisingly layered Katherine Graham, a socialite who would become the first woman Fortune 500 CEO and first woman to helm a major newspaper, best known for her role in the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.  Streep never ceases to amaze as she creates yet another character as believable and authentic as any of her past award-winning performances.  The Tom Hanks that won best actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump is also back, playing the strident editor Bradlee for all it’s worth, complete with the editor’s accent, brusque language and bravado, equal to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning take on the same man in All the President’s Men.  The rest of the cast is a virtual Who’s Who of the current top genre actor scene.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you will no doubt hear as moviegoers walk out of theaters this holiday season, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a very “different” Star Wars movie.  That said, despite writer/director Rian Johnson’s assertions to the contrary, it is very much an echo of the second film of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, with several parallel elements you’ll encounter along the way.  Picking up where director J.J. Abrams left off two years ago in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Johnson seems to take the bits and pieces of questions raised in Abrams’ film, answers a few, dismisses a few, and ignores the rest, perhaps for Abrams to pick them up again as he re-takes the reins in two years for the final film in the Skywalker family saga.  So many questions seem to have been definitively tied up by the end of The Last Jedi, moviegoers are now left to ponder for the next two years, “What could Episode IX possibly be about?”

The Last Jedi is most intriguing when it emulates some of the surprises and emotional impact of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story–a bold, unique film that falls outside the three trilogies of franchise films, but provided a fantastically gritty, nostalgic, and heart-pounding story that put the “war” back in Star Wars.  An opening scene in The Last Jedi featuring the heroic death of a new character made me sit up thinking another gritty war movie was coming (only swap a guerilla land war for World War II-inspired bombing runs).  Heroism is the theme of The Last Jedi, and every character gets a chance to be a hero, but the damage is not as gut-wrenching as Rogue One.  Yet, depending on who your favorite character was in The Force Awakens, every fan should find something in The Last Jedi to be happy about.  Even if it might not offer up the excitement of the original trilogy, the third of the new annual holiday Star Wars adventures will be a great excuse to get together with family and friends for the event itself–annual Star Wars movies are becoming what the annual Christmas Special has become for Doctor Who fans, an event that for many will be bigger than whatever you think of the film.

The actors are top-notch in The Last Jedi, including Carrie Fisher in her final performance as General Leia Organa, although Hamill’s work stands out and could easily merit an Oscar nomination.  Alec Guinness’s genius as the similar Jedi wizard Obi-Wan Kenobi of the original Star Wars was in his reserved performance and iconic utterances of wisdom.  Here Hamill shows that Hollywood has missed the boat for 40 years by not featuring him regularly in mainstream films, bringing a powerful and emotional performance from beginning to end.  And gone are the days of Star Wars’ clunky dialogue–Johnson’s success is pulling out the stilted exchanges Star Wars had began to become known for.

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It was only back in 2015 that the fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, premiered its first trailer, and a rather bad one at that.  Now as 2018 approaches we have a trailer for the fifth film in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  And the latest trailer reveals yet another rehash of the original, brilliant, Steven Spielberg adaptation of Michael Crichton’ fantastic novel.  As with Jurassic World, the effort is not entirely futile, Jurassic World was simple entertainment on a big scale–a feast for the eyes.  But for some of us, for all its incredible special effects and fantastic futuristic technology, Jurassic World proved the maxim George Lucas laid out in reference to the success behind the original Star Wars–“Special effects are a tool, a means of telling a story… A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  And that summed up Jurassic World–the umpmillionth variation on the Frankenstein how-not-to-build-a-monster story, and the latest twist on Crichton’s original look at a theme park gone haywire in his movie Westworld.

Yet if every other blockbuster that takes the leap into Sequel World is able to continue forward with more and more and more and pulls audiences into theaters, why not Jurassic Park?  For those that want to reclaim even a spark of the original in the theater again, maybe it’s enough.  So what does the trailer tell us that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has going for it?

First off, Chris Pratt is back.  Audiences like Pratt movies in part because they simply like Pratt’s charm.  He has the same brand of star power as John Wayne, who always appeared to be playing John Wayne in all his movies.  Like Schwarzenegger, Willis, Van Damme, etc.  It must be an action star thing.  So if you’ve watched Pratt (like we have) in everything from Everwood to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, we’re wagering you’re going to like Pratt returning as dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady.  Bryce Dallas Howard is an equally good if not better actor, with less of a fan following, and here she and Pratt are back again being snarky with each other (snore) in a Jurassic World preview.  If they didn’t have chemistry in the first film, why would we expect it to surface in a sequel?  Maybe what we need is the return of Jeff Goldblum in his best-loved role as Dr. Ian Malcolm?  His performance in 1993 was so well-received that Crichton, who killed off Malcolm in the original novel, resurrected the character for the sequel.  Did Goldblum’s return help The Lost World: Jurassic Park?  Not really.  But it’s been twenty years since we last saw Dr. Nature… Finds… a Way, so maybe enough time has passed so we can love him all over again.

And there are dinosaurs.  We’ll never get tired of more dinosaurs.  I want to see a triceratops racing a stegosaurus on the big screen.  How about you?

Check out this new trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s just what fans of DC Comics have been begging for.  Finally, a Batman portrayal worthy of Adam West and Michael Keaton.  The complete membership of the classic Justice League as fun as we all remember them from the comic books.  Homages to famous artists adapted to the big screen from the best of DC Comics, like cover artist Jock, plus throwbacks to the campy series of the 1960s.  And more homages to the musical scores from the best of the DC Comics cinematic adaptations of the past, including callbacks to Danny Elfman’s score to the 1989 Batman movie and John Williams’ Superman theme.

What was your favorite DC Comics adaptation before 2017?  How far back do you go?  Most superhero movie fans seem to agree upon the original Superman starring Christopher Reeve as the modern rebirth of the superhero film, and count Reeve among the best embodiments of a superhero on film.  But after Reeve, fans begin to disagree as movies based on DC Comics are concerned, and usually turn to the CW Network television series for the next best DC iterations of comic book adaptations.

So when all of it finally comes together, it finally comes together in 2017, after the likes of misfires including Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, we finally have an exciting and worthy DC Comics outing that is fun for the entire family, and best of all, it is all heart.

And as a bonus, it features villains worthy of a movie from the DCU.  Sure, you might expect a pantheon of villains like The Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Egghead, Scarecrow, Bane, Clayface, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, Captain Boomerang, Crazy Quilt, Eraser, Polka Dot Man, Mime, Tarantula, King Tut, Orca, Dr. Phosphorus, Killer Moth, Magpie, March Hare, Frank Miller’s Mutant Leader, Dr. Hugo Strange, Zodiac Master, Gentleman Ghost, Clock King, Red Hood, The Kabuki Twins, Calendar Man, Kite Man, Catman, Calculator, Zebra-Man, and Condiment King.  But all in one movie?  And battling some of fiction’s other greatest supervillains, like Dracula and the other Universal Monsters, The Daleks, Lord Voldemort, Jaws, King Kong, Gremlins, velociraptors, the Wicked Witch of the West, Agent Smith from The Matrix, and Sauron?  Wait–was Darth Vader tied up in some other project?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Timed for release as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, fans of Close Encounters finally get one of the most eagerly awaited, behind the scenes looks at the quintessential UFO film as Harper Design releases its hardcover chronicle this week, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History.  And it’s everything fans of the film could hope for.

Known for his work as a publicist on more than fifty films, author Michael Klastorin worked with Sony Pictures and Amblin Entertainment to unearth rare and never-before-seen imagery from their archives.  The book is a stunning collection of on-set photography, concept art, storyboards, and recollections of the cast and crew to create a visual narrative of the film’s journey to the big screen and through the entire production process.  First created as a story idea by Spielberg in his twenties, Close Encounters is still considered by Spielberg as one of his most personal projects.  Spielberg recounts his efforts to sell the film, his attempts to get a known screenwriter to write it only for him to finally decide to write it himself, and his original story synopsis, which remained hardly altered.  Spielberg initially wanted to reflect Watergate in his film to reflect the current zeitgeist, something of a government trying to cover up the aliens like Project Blue Book, but by the time the film was far along in pre-production it was determined audiences were tired of conspiracies as the sole defining theme.  Spielberg’s discussion of his early vision seems very similar to what Chris Carter would develop more than a decade later in his television series The X-Files.

Except those who are no longer with us, all of the players you’d expect provide contributions in the book.  Actor Bob Balaban provides some of the most interesting stories from the set, including his casting process for the film and development of his working relationship with internationally known director and film co-star Francois Truffaut.  Richard Dreyfuss’s recollections focus on his campaigning Spielberg to be cast for the role, the difficulty in the Nearys’ location shoot for the family home, and his realization from his very first discussions about the project with Spielberg that Close Encounters would stand up as a noble film pursuit.  Melinda Dillon’s role changed throughout the shoot, cutting one scene for financial reasons and adding the scene where she has the revelation that Devil’s Tower is the image in her dreams.  She also filmed much of the movie with a broken toe, followed by another leg injury caused on-set jumping from a helicopter.

The most fascinating behind-the-scenes effects discussion comes from Doug Trumbull.  His UFO storm development effect work was extraordinary.  You’ll find location photographs, visual effects explanations and process development discussions, photos of the Mother Ship model and other set models, concept art from Ralph McQuarrie, and many views of the film’s extra-terrestrials.

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Don’t those pumpkins look like they have seen better days?  This weekend Netflix released the final poster (above) for the second season of Stranger Things, on its way to Netflix this Friday.  Last year’s blend of 1980s sci-fi and horror returns one year later, and as the poster suggests, a focus of season two will be young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who was absent for most of the first season, sucked away into the “Upside Down.”  And Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) looks… angry.

Netflix also added two new features on the Web to help fans of the show get ready for the season premiere.

A retro-style free Stranger Things video game is available now for download.  You can find it on both Google Play here and via iTunes here.  Here’s the description from game creator BonusXP:  It’s 1984 all over again. Stranger Things: The Game is an action adventure game true to the games our heroes would have played back in the day.  Explore Hawkins and its surroundings. See your favorite locations like Mirkwood Forest and Hawkins Lab.  Uncover exciting areas you’ve never seen before!  Solve puzzles with the unique abilities of each character.  Lucas can nail anything with his Wrist Rocket.  Nancy has a whole set of bats to swing this time.  Collect all the Eggos and Gnomes you can lay your hands on.  You never know what they might unlock.

You can look forward to some new, driving beats, along with some haunting sounds from the Stranger Things season 2 soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.  As with last year’s soundtrack, the duo provides funky techno arrangements in the style of John Carpenter.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

I can’t hazard a guess as to how many times I have watched E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Probably a handful of times in 1982 and 1983, and at least once during a return to theaters in the past 35 years, plus a few times on VHS.  What stood out today, watching the film as part of the Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies 35th anniversary re-release screenings, is how ageless the film is.  A teenager sitting behind me caught every single joke.  In a time when parents don’t think to take their kids to classic film opportunities like this, the kids are truly missing a great experience.  The film is a giant adventure story set in the backyard of a boy and his brother and sister.  It’s relatable.  Just check out Elliott’s room.  There’s a toy Star Destroyer on the table.  A TIE Fighter across the room.  He carefully explains who Greedo, Hammerhead, Walrus Man, Snaggletooth, Lando, and Boba Fett are to E.T.  And that advance LEGO builder set on the shelf.  How many kids’ homes today, after all these years, still look so similar?  And someone nearby is getting ready to dress up as Yoda, or a character from his neighborhood, in only a few weeks, much like the kid E.T. tries to run off with on Halloween.

It’s not only relatable, it’s about that subject that sci-fi does best when done right:  Communication.  Last year’s acclaimed sci-fi film Arrival was all about it, but does it reach into each of us like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has?  We celebrated one of the best episodes of television this year here at borg.com, discussing the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest of all Star Trek episodes, Darmok from The Next Generation, a story entirely about the practical, real-world difficulty of communication.  Elliott, played so well by Henry Thomas, and later Gertie, played equally well by the younger Drew Barrymore, each use what knowledge a little kid has to try to relate to an outsider.  And we immediately see the problems–the barriers–that get in the way.  Elliott tries to convey to the very curious new alien visitor so willing to learn that this giant object is a peanut.  “You eat them, only you can’t eat this one because it’s not real.”  He’s describing a bank that was made to look like a peanut.  He then puts money in it.  And the result: E.T. next tries to eat a toy car.  Just as Dathon and Picard found, communication isn’t all that easy.  Only when Gertie gets her only one-on-one opportunity, of the three kids she is the one who helps E.T. gain his vocabulary.  The innocent and the youngest and the most awestruck.  And she’s also the first to understand he is trying to phone home.  Communication is difficult sometimes, but if kids can figure this out, what can adults do?

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This week’s release was the original cut, as seen in theaters in 1982, not with any modifications.  This is the first time the film has screened in theaters since the death of writer Melissa Mathison in 2015 (you might not have seen the laserdisc version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the only version ever released to feature Mathison’s then kinda-sorta well-known boyfriend Harrison Ford in the shadows as Elliott’s principal, meeting Elliott’s mom Mary (Dee Wallace) after his frog rescue–a bad scene, justifiably deleted).  I did not recall how much we see E.T. in the film’s first scene as he and other botanists search out samples.  E.T. carefully digs up what appears to be a Redwood sapling.  But I now understand what Spielberg was thinking in his later re-cut version.  As a kid I thought the humans were the enemy and yet this time I found no evidence of the humans trying to do anything other than learn about E.T.–much like the humans in Close Encounters of the Third Kind were scientists attempting to communicate.  In Close Encounters, the presence of weapons are to scare the public from the faked quarantine area.  Maybe that was the purpose of the weapons in the original E.T. cut.  But somehow the rifles seemed out-of-place when the kids were escaping on bikes, after E.T. dies, after showing all the adults desperately try to help, to save E.T, some even in tears.  This was the differentiator of Spielberg’s alien films from those that came before–the same spirit that only a few years earlier guided scientists to launch a couple of records into space hoping to communicate with someone out there.  So swapping out car phones or walkie talkies for rifles actually is consistent with the actions of the adults in the rest of the film.  I also can understand why so many little kids look back on the film as scary.  There’s plenty to scare little kids–those same things that scare E.T. throughout the film, as well as what might be many kids’ first introduction to death.  But the scene is gracefully done, and three decades later it’s great to hear that the adults are clearly heard attempting all those real-world, life-saving techniques to save our new alien friend.  Mathison masterfully blended a science fiction, a fantasy adventure, and a coming-of-age story all in one package.

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