Premiering a little over thirty years ago on May 26, 1982 at the Cannes Film Festival in France, the popularity of “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” in this blogger’s opinion, continues to bring out the inner child in anyone who sees it, no matter what their age is. Directed by Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and written for the screen by Melissa Mathison (The Indian in the Cupboard), the 115 minute (there is an extended version which is 120 minutes) film has something for everyone – – adventure, drama, family entertainment, fantasy and science-fiction. Despite the film’s age, a first for the movie will take place this October when it arrives on Blu-ray to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its release.
The anniversary edition Blu-ray combo pack will contain not only a new digitally remastered picture with 7.1 surround sound, but also the original 1982 theatrical release, UltraViolet, a DVD and digital copy of the film which can be used with iTunes, iPad, iPhone, iPod, iPod Touch as well as Android. In addition, there will be a cornucopia of extras including, but not limited to, the following: “The E.T. Journals,” which offers academy award winning cinematographer, John Toll’s (Legends of the Fall) behind the scenes footage allowing a viewer to experience the day in and day out process of what went into creating the movie; Two deleted scenes from a 2002 release of the film; There is an E.T. reunion where both Spielberg and the cast discuss their thoughts on the impact the film has made; A segment called “Steven Spielberg & E.T.” where the director gives a brand new interview offering his current day perspective on the movie, reflections back on the filming, and his dealings with the actors in the film; An original theatrical trailer, as well as a conversation with composer John Williams, (The Star Wars films) regarding both the music from “E.T.,” and his relationship with Spielberg.
Made for an estimated budget of ten and half million dollars, the film has gone on to gross a little under eight hundred million worldwide. In fact, “E.T.” was the highest grossing movie of all time worldwide until Steven Spielberg topped his own box office supremacy with the release of “Jurassic Park” in June of 1993. Making the adjustments for inflation for today, it still would maintain the spot for the fourth highest grossing movie of all time.
The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, as well as Best Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects. Composer John Williams won a much deserved Oscar for Best Original Score; the film also won three additional Oscars: Gene Cantamessa, Don Digirolamo, Robert Glass, and Buzz Knudson for sound; Ben Burtt and Charles L. Campbell for sound effects editing; and Dennis Murren, Carlo Rambaldi, and Kenneth F. Smith for visual effects.
Trivia buffs take note: Harrison Ford was supposed to have a cameo appearance in the film as Elliot’s teacher, but the scene was cut. The movie marks the feature film debut of actor C. Thomas Howell (Red Dawn). Designed by Howard Scott Warshaw in December of 1982, an Atari game based on the film was released for the Atari 2600 video game console. The last name of Elliot, his siblings and his mother is never mentioned during the movie.
Many of the cinematic elements one has come to expect from a Steven Spielberg film are all present in “E.T.” – captivating visuals, a troubled family, laughter, tears, plenty of action and a musical score that lines up perfectly with what is transpiring on the screen. Accompanying those particular elements are emotions that run the gamut from desperation and fear to adulation and exhilaration. Special credit must be given to cinematographer, Allen Daviau (Van Helsing), who masterfully expresses high concept ideas on an intimate, human level.
The movie opens with a scene of a peaceful alien race who are on Earth collecting samples of plant life. Suddenly, they are scared away by a group of government scientists led by actor Peter Coyote’s (A Walk to Remember) character of Keys, (his character’s name is not mentioned in the movie, but is listed during the ending credits). All of the aliens minus one of their party, who will come to be known as E.T. manage to avoid being captured. Making his way from the woods where his ship has left him to a tool shed in a California suburban neighborhood, E.T. is soon discovered by the film’s lonely, main character, Elliot. Playing the role of Elliot is Henry Thomas (Gangs of New York), who gives a nuanced performance that is emotionally honest. Upon discovering the alien being, Elliot is determined to keep him for his own, however, his efforts to hide E.T. are short lived.
Soon the circle of Earth bound friends E.T. has is extended to include Elliot’s sister, Gertie, played by a seven year old Drew Barrymore (Fever Pitch), and his older brother Mike, a role acted by Robert MacNaughton (I Am the Cheese). The trio does a good job of keeping the existence of E.T. a secret from their stressed out mother, Mary, until they can figure out a way to help E.T. return home. Mary, portrayed by Dee Wallace (Critters), is dealing with a difficult separation from the children’s father.
There is no dispute that “E.T.” was, when it first debuted, and still is, a blockbuster. But when examined through the lens of film critiquing, it is interesting to note how quiet the film is. The movie is devoid of heightened sound and overblown sequences, which is a direct result of the plot. For example, most of the exchanges of dialogue amongst the trio of young leads are spoken in low tones. As an aside, the dialogue the way it is written by Mathison, is the way I actually remember speaking as a child and not some adult’s ideal of how I should have conversed during that time in my life. Staying with the theme of the importance of childhood perspective as it relates to the film, Spielberg advances the narrative though Elliot’s eyes. Even though this is done, the film never descends into sentimental schmaltz – instead the poignant moments are spot on.
E.T. learns how to communicate in English, and, shortly thereafter, Elliot realizes that E.T. wants to construct a communication device to call his home planet and the iconic line of dialogue “E.T. phone home” was born. E.T. gathers odds and ends from around the house, and once these items are combined with a speak and spell, E.T. has what he needs to make his phone. Constructing the phone is only part of the problem; in order for E.T. to communicate with his ship, he must return to the woods in order to use the phone. The young trio decide that the perfect time to take E.T. out in public is on Halloween night where they can disguise him as a ghost and no one will think anything of it. Elliot will then travel with E.T. by bike to the woods. Afterwards, Spielberg takes the viewer on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and plucks at the viewer’s heart strings by making one ask the question will E.T. or won’t E.T. make it back home? Many of you who are reading this already know the answer to that question, and for those of you who don’t know, next time you’re staying in to make it a movie night, watch the magical masterpiece and discover why the film continues to endure three decades after its initial release.