E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial became the highest grossing movie off all-time when it was released in 1982, so you would think there would be no reason to change it. Still, director Steven Spielberg decided to enhance the outdated special effects, add deleted scenes and replace the guns of the adults with walkie-talkies for the film’s 20th Anniversary edition that was released into theaters last March. Personally, I still like the original version better, but now you can decide for yourself because the film has just been released in a 2-disc DVD set that includes both versions. Either way, it is still a magical film.
E.T. opens with an alien spaceship landing on Earth while its occupants investigate the local plant life. Scared off by the arrival of humans, the spaceship takes off, leaving one of its own behind. We move from there to a suburban house where we meet Elliott (Henry Thomas), a young boy coping with the separation of his parents. When he hears a sound in the backyard, Elliot goes to investigate.
Elliott and E.T., both lonely and struggling with the loss of their families, form a mystical bond. They share the same feelings and when E.T. experiments with some beer, it is Elliott who feels the effects. But E.T. longs to go home and with the help of Elliott, his older brother Mike (Robert MacNaughton) and his younger sister Gertie (cute as a button Drew Barrymore), he builds a radio for communicating with his home planet. But time is running out. The separation from his family is causing E.T.’s heart to fail and with it, Elliott’s. Also, the scientists that chased E.T.’s family away have learned of his new home and it won’t be long before they come to take him away.
Steven Spielberg has often said that E.T. was the story of his parents’ divorce. He himself longed for someone to connect to, and E.T. was the realization of his childhood fantasies.
He shows the entire story from a child’s (or a small alien’s) point of view. Rarely (if ever) does the camera ever rise above the height of actor Henry Thomas. During the thrilling opening scene we never see a full shot of the adults. Instead, we see them mostly from the waist down, with keys dangling from belt loops (if you look at the film’s credits, the Peter Coyote character is simply called “Keys”). This is just how E.T. would have experienced it, and therefore we as an audience connect emotionally with the alien. We also connect with Elliott and our hearts break when the time comes for E.T. to go home. But E.T.’s parting words: “I’ll be right here” reassures us and it is at this moment that John Williams’ brilliant score takes over the movie. The orchestra lifts our hearts and reminds us that the bond between Elliott and E.T. will live on forever. It is one of the best musical cues in movie history.
Like the 1997 re-release of Star Wars, the 2002 edition of E.T. has been overhauled with digital effects. It is a matter of opinion whether these new effects work or not. Personally, I like the smaller touches—the more dynamic facial expressions, the improved spaceship—but for some of the larger touches, I prefer the original version. For example, I was distracted by E.T.’s first reaction to Elliott, simply because it was different than what I remembered. I also did not like E.T.’s hopping escape from the humans at the beginning. I much preferred the original with the bright red light simply moving through the bushes. I thought it was more creative. I did enjoy the added scene—a longer version of Elliott’s sick day alone with E.T.—and thought it fit nicely in the film.
As well as both versions of the film, the new DVD also includes footage from the 2002 premiere (in which John Williams conducted a live orchestra performing the movie’s score), a short making-of documentary and interviews with the recently reunited cast and crew. But who needs all that! This is E.T.! Still one of the best movies ever made and the movie alone is a welcome addition to any DVD collection. I give it an A.