What? No, Judge Clark Douglas hasn't been crying. It's, uh, allergies and such.
Our review of Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray), published November 26th, 2012, is also available.
He is afraid. He is totally alone. He is three million light years from home.
"I'll believe in you all my life, everyday. E.T…I love you."
Facts of the Case
Elliot (Henry Thomas, Gangs of New York) is an ordinary 10-year-old boy living in California with his mother Mary (Dee Wallace, The Howling), older brother Michael (Robert McNaughton, I Am the Cheese) and little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore, Big Miracle). One day, something astonishing happens: Elliot encounters a small, leathery extra-terrestrial who has been left behind by his fellow interplanetary travelers. Elliot hides "E.T." in his room and determines to find ways to communicate with his new friend. After a while, it becomes clear that E.T. needs Henry's help in making contact with his own species. Can this unlikely duo complete their mission before a group of curious government officials discover the whereabouts of the gentle alien creature?
Considering that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is one of the most beloved films ever made and was something of a global phenomenon during the 1980s (fueling tons of merchandising and breaking home video rental records), it can be easy to forget what a small, personal effort it really is. After such large-scale endeavors as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941 and Raiders of the Lost Ark, director Steven Spielberg was eager to tackle something a little more intimate and low-key. The film was made for the relatively modest sum of $10 million and featured no big-name performers. It was rooted in memories of an imaginary friend Spielberg had created during his own childhood as a way to cope with the divorce of his parents. It was a family film made during a period in which family films were generally stirring up very little noise at the box office. And yet, the film was yet another early Spielberg effort that struck a chord with viewers to a degree that few really expected.
E.T. is such a simple story, and yet it does so much. It's a satisfying piece of science fiction, it's a playful comedy, it's a gut-wrenching drama, it's a thriller, it's a thoughtful exploration of the manner in which children attempt to process complicated emotions, it's a love story, it's a special effects showcase, it's a character-driven film, it's designed to enchant children and to resonate strongly with grown-ups. It's an emotional powerhouse because Spielberg is speaking from the heart, but it works as well as it does because the director never permits the tale's overwhelming emotions to get in the way of the humor, scares and nuance running throughout the movie. Spielberg claims it's his most personal film, and it's clear that he poured his soul into it. I never find myself placing it at the very top of my list of Spielberg's best films, but none of his other movies can so effortlessly melt my heart. There's so much unfiltered goodness running through the veins of this gentle story; it's the kind of movie that leaves you feeling a little bit better about life.
Spielberg is at the peak of his powers as a visual storyteller in E.T., as he trusts the audience to discover things for themselves rather than forcing awkward expository dialogue into the mix. There's never an official explanation of how the telekinetic relationship between E.T. and Elliot works, but the images offered are so much more powerful than words could have been. Just observe the scene in Elliot's school, in which the boy finds himself inspired to act out a passionate romantic sequence from John Ford's The Quiet Man (which E.T. has been watching on television back at Elliot's house). It's an enchanting moment, made all the more effective by the fact that it's the emotional capper to a sequence that moves deftly from cheerfully goofy comedy (as E.T. chugs some beer and Elliot finds himself experiencing the physical effects of drunkenness) to melancholy tenderness (as Elliot suddenly begins to feel enormous sympathy for the frogs that his class is about to dissect). The construction of this scene—and so many others—is so clear that even a young child will immediately pick up on what's going on, but it's nonetheless considerably subtler than most family films are willing to be.
The delicacy with which the film underlines its most powerful moments is a large part of why I suddenly find myself surrounded by a puddle of tears each time I watch it. This is never more evident than in the film's final conversation between Elliot and E.T., comprised of just a few simple words and gestures. With clarity and empathy, Spielberg strips a profoundly complex friendship down to its very core. Add one of John Williams' finest scores into the mix (Williams carries the film's final act as much as any of the actors), and it becomes nearly impossible to resist getting pulled into the movie's emotional current.
Watching the bonus features offered on this Blu-ray release, it's easy to see why Henry Thomas was cast as Elliot: his audition is among the finest I've ever seen ("You've got the job, kid," says a delighted Spielberg). He fulfills the promise of that audition on numerous occasions throughout the film, selling difficult moments with aplomb and offering a naturalism that prevents his performance from slipping into Precocious Movie Kid territory. Drew Barrymore is simply adorable as young Gertie, and Robert McNaughton is effective as Elliot's obnoxious older brother. The grown-ups certainly take a backseat to the kids, but Dee Wallace does good work as the oft-distracted mother and Peter Coyote has a couple of lovely moments as a surprisingly empathetic scientist.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Blu-ray) has received a gorgeous 1080p/1.85:1 director-approved transfer that should delight the film's large fan base. Only the theatrical version of the film is presented on the disc, as Spielberg has essentially disowned the ill-advised 2002 special edition (which offered some ungainly digital tweaks, added unnecessary deleted scenes, removed some of the saltier language and transformed firearms into walkie-talkies). The level of detail and depth is spectacular considering the film's age; the transfer is comparable to the work done on Jaws and the Indiana Jones flicks. There's some softness present, but that's built into the film itself. There's no evidence of noise reduction anywhere, and the movie has retained its appealing filmic look. Beautiful. The DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track is just as awesome, with John Williams' rich score getting a fantastic mix (listening to his powerhouse concluding cue is an enthralling experience). The tiny atmospheric details are well-captured, and dialogue is clear throughout.
The supplements offered by the release are an appealing mix of new and old material. The first new item is "Steven Spielberg & E.T." (13 minutes), a new interview with the director that offers a few interesting anecdotes and observations. Even better is "The E.T. Journals" (54 minutes), which is comprised entirely of behind-the-scenes footage. There's a ton of fascinating material to dig through, and watching Spielberg coax great performances out of his young actors is a real treat. The scenes that had been added back into the 2002 edition are now presented as deleted scenes (4 minutes). All of the new stuff is in HD, but the older supplements are in lowly standard-def: the documentary "The Evolution and Creation of E.T." (50 minutes), the featurettes "The E.T. reunion" (18 minutes), "A Look Back" (38 minutes), "The Music of E.T." (10 minutes) and "The 20th Anniversary Reunion" (18 minutes). Plus, you get some image galleries, a trailer, TV spot, a DVD Copy, a Digital Copy, My Scenes, BD-Live, Pocket Blu and D-Box Capability (in case you want to be both emotionally and physically moved).
It's true that E.T. is one of the all-time great family films, a tale that will resonate with grown-ups and youngsters on rather different but equally powerful levels. The Blu-ray release offers a beautiful transfer, a terrific sound mix and a very satisfying mix of supplements. It's a must-own release.
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