Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial makes its Blu-ray debut on October 9 with a near-perfect visual restoration and a robust DTS-HD audio mix. Thankfully, Spielberg has continued to make good on his vow to never again go the route of his friend, George Lucas, when it comes to digitally “enhancing” his back catalog. In 2002, the E.T. DVD featured both the original 1982 theatrical cut and a horrible “special edition” that added previously deleted footage boasting a tacky, computer-generated E.T. Aside from a few brief appearances of the CG E.T. in carried-over supplemental features, that lapse of judgment has been ignored.
I suppose there’s very little to say about E.T. that hasn’t already been said at least a hundred times. The film has long been accepted as a classic, and I have no opposing viewpoint to offer. In fact, the movie seems to have a deeper effect on me every time I see it. Not that I revisit the film very often. My original viewing, when I was a young kid in ’82, was a rather traumatic experience. One of Spielberg’s best decisions was to not pull his punches in the film’s final act. When E.T. lies pale and dying before the team of doctors and scientists, Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison convince us that the gentle creature really might not pull through.
Of course, right from the top the film carries a vaguely ominous feel, cluing us in that this isn’t going to be a typical, cuddly family film. After establishing that a nameless alien visitor has missed his flight home (as well as the fact that some Earthlings are well aware of his presence), Spielberg plunges us into an accurately realized middle-class household. As he explains himself in the included interview footage, Spielberg always saw this average, single-parent family as the emotional core of the film. We meet Elliot (Henry Thomas), his older brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton), and his younger sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore). Even before Elliot befriends the wayward alien, who he calls E.T., we are treated to a remarkably realistic depiction of the bond between the three siblings and their struggling mother, Mary (Dee Wallace).
Hardly a minute is wasted throughout the two hour running time. The story proceeds in a no-nonsense fashion as Elliot and his siblings slowly realize their new “pet” is an intelligent being that desperately needs to find his way home. The government, represented by a team of adults who remain largely faceless until “Keys” (Peter Coyote) outs himself as sympathetic to E.T.’s plight, eventually intervenes. Though this turn of events has been foreshadowed all along, it’s still quite intense seeing Elliot—locked in a symbiotic relationship with his alien friend—on the verge of death.
The only area I think Spielberg falters, just a bit, is in his characterization of Mary. It’s one thing to show her as borderline neglectful, leaving five year old Gertie home alone, for instance. But the scene in which a drunken E.T. shuffles around behind her back without her noticing is a rare indulgence into cutesy farce. Mary just comes across as a clueless idiot at that point. By no means does it negatively impact the movie in any significant way. But honestly I think the cutting of this sequence might have strengthened the otherwise impeccably tasteful film.
To her credit, Wallace is excellent in the role, as are the young actors portraying the siblings. Actually the strength of the kids’ performances is one of the film’s most valuable assets. It’s amazing that Spielberg was able to draw such a nuanced, unaffected performance from Henry Thomas alone. The fact that the three leads were all children and are all so good is a minor miracle. Drew Barrymore was such a natural at just six years old, she delivers her lines as if she’d come up with them on the spot. If any of these performances failed to ring true, it could’ve easily sunk the movie.
The restored E.T. looks great on Blu-ray in 1080p high definition, framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Again, it utilizes the original 1982 theatrical cut. Allen Daviau’s cinematography, always a little soft and foggy, has been faithfully reproduced. Detail manages to come through surprisingly well despite the intentional haze. Some of the outdoors scenes, such as when Elliot takes E.T. into the woods late in the movie, look as if they could’ve been shot this year. The drab, suburban color palette is also accurately presented. There aren’t any issues to detract from what is a sterling visual presentation.
The audio is equally impressive, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack that makes the most of John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score. In a way, the music is the dominant element, effectively conveying so much of the story’s emotional impact. It was important for the score to be featured as prominently as it is. Effects are well placed in the surrounds, never overwhelming what is, all things considered, a relatively simple audio presentation. All channels spring to life at appropriate times, especially early on when E.T.’s spaceship rockets away with impressive directionality and rumbling LFE activity. Dialogue is crystal clear at all times. It’s hard to imagine a 30-year-old movie sounding better than this.
In the special feature department, there are a couple of new pieces. “Steven Spielberg & E.T.” is a recently taped interview with the director that runs about 12 minutes. Spielberg mostly covers topics that have been discussed in previous featurettes and interviews, but it’s still nice to have. Much more exciting for fans of the film is “The E.T. Journals,” a two-part featurette that totals 54 minutes. This is similar to the new two-part piece included on the recent Indiana Jones Blu-ray set in that it is entirely vintage, on-the-set footage. It really offers an interesting glimpse into Spielberg’s process as a director. A bunch of pieces are ported over from the 2002 DVD, including more than two hours of featurettes. A standard DVD and codes for digital and UltraViolet copies are included.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial may be the most perfect movie Steven Spielberg has ever made. Though that particular designation could be debated until the cows come home, it would be hard to argue that Spielberg was not working at the very top of his game with this timeless classic.