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Reviewed October 21st, 2002 by Brian White


Has there been a picture that made a bigger splash than E.T.? Certainly Titanic made more money, but E.T. was a movie that everybody went to see. You could not look anywhere in the summer of 1982 without tripping over this movie. Kids loved it, parents had to take them, and science fiction geeks everywhere ate it up. It is not even a science fiction flick at heart. E.T. is a fairytale. It does not teach us any lessons; it just makes us feel good.

For the uninitiated, or the young, E.T. is the story of a boy who befriends a stranded alien. There seem to be two fish out of water stories going on. The obvious is E.T. trying to live in our world. The less obvious displaced soul is Elliot. He is the middle child in a broken family. He goes from being invisible to the center of a very significant event. It is interesting to see this story unfold through a kid’s eyes. There are questions that remain unanswered: Why does E.T. physiologically and emotionally link with Elliot? Why does he regain health when the ship comes to pick him up? We do not know. That is just the way things are.

The 2002 special release of E.T. keeps up with the trend, begun by Spielberg friend George Lucas, of revisiting a film and improving its special effects with current technology. Spielberg calls this fixing his “pet peeves.” What this involves here for the most part is the replacement of E.T.'s face with a CGI face that is more expressive. The puppet used in filming had many limitations. The CGI E.T. has no limitations. The effect is quite seamless, and does not stand out, or take away from the experience. A scene has been added with E.T. in the bathtub. The strangest change is the removal of all guns from the movie. They have been replaced with walkie-talkies. Spielberg wanted this cut to purify his fairytale according to his own values.

Many film purists balk at this tinkering. But aren’t films like E.T. and Star Wars supposed to be fun and cool? I can live with Greedo shooting first if the movie looks better as a whole. The no-guns thing is a little kooky, but does it affect the experience of the film? No.

The video on the Anniversary Edition is very good. Films from the late seventies and early eighties often look quite dated as a result of cinematic styles of the time. Luckily, there are no crazy filters or funny lighting here. Spielberg seemed to be going for a realistic look. The print is very clean, and clear. Color and contrast are good. In addition, the special effects have been replaced or cleaned up. Super impositions have been re-matted, and effects are more timeless. The original cut of the film is predictably a bit softer and a grainier than the newer edition. There is a little dirt and damage visible, but all in all the 1982 theatrical version of the film is much more watchable than I expected. I had to look for the differences when comparing the two. Certainly, the new version is best, but the original release looks very good as well. Both are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). The two versions are on different discs, so there are no compression issues from lack of space.

For audio, there are DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on both versions of the film. Certainly, the DTS mixes have more oomph that the Dolby Digital mixes, but both formats are quite active. I compared the two cuts of the film, and both surround mixes are equally active. The DTS mix on the Anniversary edition seemed warmer to me than the Dolby Digital mix, or either mix on the original cut. This is an active and rich surround mix. It is obviously new, and compliments the film, without being gimmicky. Also of note, this is the first time that a multi-channel version of the score has been available, according the Spielberg. Perhaps the most striking thing about any of the mixes is the music.

Despite being the standard DVD release, this two-disc set boasts an impressive list of extras. You get a behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film and the work that went into creating this special edition. This featurette contains some really cool footage, such as screen tests for the young actors. An impressive amount of footage from the making of the film is included. You also see “The Reunion,” which has the cast sitting down together after twenty years, discussing their memories of the film, and the impact that it has had on their lives. You can hear E.T. tell you facts about planets in the solar system, and watch some PSAs (including an ad for Universal Studios?). There is plenty of footage from the big 20th Anniversary Premier, where John Williams conducted an orchestra that played the score to the film. This is a most rare occurrence, if it has ever been accomplished before, and it is a technical feat.

Which brings me to what I believe is the coolest extra: you can watch the film, listening to the score performed during the Premier. This is not an isolated track, but an alternate music score. You still hear the dialogue and the sound effects. This score is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. I compared the DD mixes, and you get all of the surround effects of the regular mix. You can even hear the audience at the premier clapping in the background. Very cool.

Spielberg, of course, provides no commentary track. It is something he refuses to do, as he believes it alters your perception of the film.

And to the most surprising extra: apparently Spielberg insisted that both cuts of the film be included on the standard release. You do not have to cough up for the collector's edition just for the theatrical release, which was suggested when the DVD was announced.

The packaging is quite cool, with a little window on the front, showing the moon silkscreen on Disc 1. After viewing the extras on this DVD, I have to wonder what value of the more expensive set provides.


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