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E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
   20th Anniversary Edition
Director: Steven Spielberg

review by Gary Couzens

Twenty years is a long time in film-going terms. With a long string of box-office hits (and one deserved flop, namely 1941), Steven Spielberg was allowed to make his small-scale film about a little boy who befriends an alien left behind on Earth by his kind. We all know the rest. E.T. became the largest-grossing film of all time. (It is no more, but even with inflation taken into consideration, it's still in the top ten.) E.T. also kickstarted the video piracy industry, due to the six-month gap between its original American and British cinema releases. It's one of those films that has passed into popular culture � and anyone who has any interest in late-20th century western culture, not to mention the SF/fantasy genres, or even the career of one of the most significant film directors of our times, has to see it or else their knowledge is incomplete.
   Significant certainly in box-office terms, and no one can sensibly deny Spielberg's enormous technical ability. Sentimental he can certainly be (though I doubt he's cynically pushing buttons, he does know what connects with a mass audience), and in some of his films egregiously so. However, in E.T. he stays (at least for me) on this side of the line: very moving without being too manipulative. Possibly because this was such a personal project: it's notable that he has resisted all attempts, as with his other SF project close to his heart, Close Encounters, to cheapen it with a sequel. E.T. is childlike without being childish: although Dee Wallace and Peter Coyote put in sterling performances (in the latter case despite being filmed from waist downwards for half the running time), the film belongs to the three young leads. Although Henry Thomas and Robert MacNaughton went on to make other films, you can tell who would have the longest career: six-year-old Drew Barrymore steals every scene she's in. If the film were made now, E.T. would no doubt be an all-CGI creation. I'm not sure that would work better: somehow it helps that the children are clearly interacting with something real, even if we know it's a mechanical model or a little person in a suit.
   Twenty years on, and E.T. is back in the cinema. Restoring the picture and remixing the sound into all three theatrical digital formats is par for the course. Allen Daviau's cinematography uses a lot of backlighting, and has to be seen on a cinema screen for its best advantage. John Williams' score is the main beneficiary of the audio upgrade. No one can argue about a few CGI touch-ups to slightly wonky early 1980s' special effects. Five minutes of footage has been retrieved from the cutting room floor, most notably a scene with E.T. in the bathroom. More contentious though are a couple of substitutions: Wallace's line "You're not going out dressed like a terrorist" has 'hippie' substituted for the last word, and in the climactic chase the policemen are carrying walkie-talkies instead of guns. Whatever you may think of these changes � and I think they're more a question a taste rather than political correctness � they're pretty minor and to be honest you wouldn't notice them if you weren't looking out for them, and they don't detract from the film. Two decades after its initial release, E.T. is shaping up quite nicely as a classic.

Related pages:
tZ  E.T. - From Concept To Classic - book review by Donald Morefield
E.T. The Extra-terrestrial
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