Without question, Steven Spielberg has directed some of the most beloved films of all time. From rousing adventures like “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Jurassic Park” to captivating dramas like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Schindler’s List,” and “Saving Private Ryan,” his is perhaps the single most recognizable name in the history of cinema. Even with this sampling of his filmography (all six of which won Oscars), it’s quite something to be able to say that there’s another film of his that’s loved perhaps even more than these, that film being “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” This unusual film about a young boy’s relationship with an alien stranded on Earth has endured strongly ever since its release back in 1982, and now that it’s celebrating its 35th anniversary with a brand new Blu-ray release, it’s time to go back and see why this little film captured the hearts of the millions who fell in love with it over the years.
The film begins with a group of aliens exploring a forest in California, but soon they are set upon by several humans, causing the aliens to flee back to their ship and depart. However, one of the aliens is unable to make it back to the ship in time and is left behind. Shortly after, he makes his way into the local town, where he takes refuge in a storage shed that belongs to a family of four: Mary (Dee Wallace), her two sons, Elliott (Henry Thomas) and Mike (Robert MacNaughton), and her daughter Gertie (Drew Barrymore). While investigating strange noises that night, Elliott discovers the alien (eventually named “E.T.”) and reveals him to his brother the next day (accidentally revealing him to Gertie shortly after). As the young boy forms a very special relationship with E.T., he does his best to keep him hidden from his mother and everyone else, all the while not even knowing that the government has people out looking for his new friend. Meanwhile, E.T. has one simple goal in mind: To contact his people and return home, and Elliott’s determined to help him do that any way he can.
In interviews over the years, Spielberg himself has admitted that “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” is probably his most personal film to date, arising out of his desire to combine a story of a boy’s relationship with an alien and a family dealing with the aftermath of a divorce. Obviously right off the bat, the latter is going to be a fast way to connect with these characters for anyone who’s gone through such a situation and had to deal with those changes, but even though Spielberg wanted to tell this side of the story too, he doesn’t allow the film to get overly bogged down with it, instead putting the major focus exactly where it should be: on a young boy making a new friend and helping him return home.
It’s this relationship at the heart of the story that drives the film, that grabs viewers’ attention and garners their sympathy pretty much from the very start. Granted, it’s not any kind of normal relationship, but the somewhat incredible thing is that the film basically treats it like any kind of friendship a young boy would have, not really going out of its way to make it seem any different. Over the course of the film, their relationship builds and builds until they are able to sense how the other feels, and while this is taken somewhat literally in the film, is this also not how human relationships evolve? Even though they end up not getting very much time together, the strong connection is made regardless, demonstrated perhaps the most in Elliott’s willingness to not only help E.T. get all of the equipment he needs to build a communicator, but also risking his life to help him escape from government custody.
While Elliott and E.T.’s friendship is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the film, there are also other elements that certainly add to its status as a beloved family classic, elements such as John Williams’ brilliant score. If Spielberg is the most iconic household name among directors, then there is little doubt that John Williams holds the same status among film composers. Of all the films that are synonymous with their score, it shouldn’t surprise you at all to find that Williams is responsible for the biggest chunk of them (including many mentioned at the start of this review). When it comes to “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” all you have to do is hum/whistle a few notes and pretty much everyone in the room will recognize it instantly. It’s hardly a shocker that this score earned Williams one of the five Oscars he’s won thus far in his remarkable career.
There are also the film’s intriguing special effects to consider. While they may have been state of the art back in 1982, they do look a little dated now, but they still manage to offer a little nostalgic value as we watch Elliott and his friends fly through the air on their bikes. The film also took the Oscar for visual effects, though it was somewhat surprising that it did, mainly because it was up against Sir Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” which contains a multitude of stunning special effects throughout. Perhaps the Academy simply felt that Spielberg’s film had more heart, while Scott’s film was just a little too cold, despite having the clearly superior effects.
When it comes right down to it, there are several reasons that kids and adults alike have continued to enjoy “E.T.” in the 35 years since its original release. It does indeed have a lot of heart to it, and the characters are very easy to relate to, sympathize with, and care about. You could also just say that it’s a pretty entertaining story. Just the idea of a boy becoming friends with an alien sounds like it could be fascinating, but in the hands of a master filmmaker like Spielberg (and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melissa Mathison), it becomes something a little more emotionally rich and narratively satisfying. What they ended up with was a classic that has lasted decades, and will no doubt last for many more to come.
“E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” returns to Blu-ray for its 35th anniversary in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. This new transfer makes the film look as good as it ever has, presenting a beautifully sharp and clear image that does a great job of highlighting its Oscar-winning visual effects. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is just as impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, Oscar-winning sound, and John Williams’ brilliant, Oscar-winning score in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given a marvelous restoration, ensuring that this classic will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
Steven Spielberg & E.T. (13 Minutes): A fascinating retrospective in which Spielberg reminisces about “E.T.”
The E.T. Journals (54 Minutes): An incredible collection of vintage interviews and behind the scenes footage shot on the set of “E.T.”
A Look Back (38 Minutes): Another featurette featuring vintage interviews and behind the scenes footage.
The Evolution and Creation of E.T. (50 Minutes): Another featurette that takes a look back at the making of the film.
The E.T. Reunion (18 Minutes): A neat little featurette that has some of the cast and crew reuniting for the film’s 20th anniversary.
The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams (10 Minutes): An excellent featurette that has composer John Williams reminiscing about the film.
The 20th Anniversary Premiere (18 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look behind the scenes of the 20th anniversary screening of “E.T.,” which featured John Williams conducting the score live.
Deleted Scenes (4 Minutes): A pair of deleted sequences that were easily cut from the film.
Designs, Photographs, and Marketing
With a touching relationship at the core of its compelling narrative, along with a brilliant score and nostalgic special effects, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” remains one of director Steven Spielberg’s most beloved films, and with his astonishing filmography, that’s really saying something. The new 35th anniversary Blu-ray comes not only with a great transfer of the film, but also over three hours of fantastic extras that delve into its making via interviews and behind the scenes footage. If you’re one of the many fans of Spielberg’s classic, then this edition is most definitely worth adding to your collection.