Worth A Look: 17.76%
Pretty Bad: 4.67%
Total Crap: 11.21%
2 reviews, 95 user ratings
|E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
by Scott Weinberg
First, the easy part: E.T., the immortal classic and worldly beloved family flick, is finally available on DVD. This is, of course, a cause for rejoice, as the movie is as wonderfully entertaining as its ever been. I’m one of those 30-year-old movie animals who saw this movie probably five times during it original theatrical run, and time has not sullied the film one iota in my eyes. E.T. should be considered annual family viewing (much like The Wizard of Oz), and I suspect it’s a movie that will be adored 150 years from now.OK, now that I got that out of the way, I have a whole slew of minor complaints (minor in that the numerous things irritating me in no way damage the experience of the film). I’m not about to broach that whole ‘special edition’ debate that everyone loves to argue about. Masters Spielberg and Lucas have the right and the power (and the money) to ‘facelift’ their own films as much as they see fit. I (and millions more) don’t have to like it, but that’s just life in the big city. (The big city being Hollywood, where old product sells just as well as new product... sometimes better!)
"A close-up look at Spielberg's Classic in its new DVD form."
But here’s what bugs me: the changes stink. Sure, they’re totally unnecessary to begin with, but they also just stink. The entire presence of the titular alien shifts in the new version; in an effort to make the creature more lifelike, the director has also (ironically enough) made him more cartoonish. Like many old-time fans, I know this movie right down to E.T.’s facial expressions... all of which are completely jumbled in the enhanced version. I realize that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is one hoary old cliché, but it’s never been truer than in this case. Heck, the original version made 34 billion dollars and is adored from Spain to Swahili; why not leave well enough alone? Surely making a public outcry about how awful guns (and the word “terrorist”) are draws more uncomfortable attention than just leaving a harmless family flick as is!
The new scenes are more jarring than anything, as anyone familiar with the film would recognize these sequences as if they were lit in bright red neon. Spielberg can attest all he wants about “things I DID want in the film”; all I see are a few bells and whistles jammed in so the theatrical re-release (and enhanced DVD) will earn a few extra bucks. Call me cynical if you like, but just four paragraphs ago I was swooning like a little girl over how much I truly adore this movie.
(It’s at this point that I’m feeling a bit guilty for not actually “reviewing” the movie, but c’mon; who needs me preaching about a movie you’ve seen eleven times? It’s E.T.! You know this is one of those truly special movies, and if you don’t then no amount of soppy and nostalgic praise from me will convince you otherwise.)
So the whole CGI rhinoplasty/re-release/money-grub aside, we’re still talking about a phenomenal piece of pop movie art. (And most importantly of all things, the ORIGINAL unaltered, unblemished, and gloriously widescreen 1982 version is included in this 2-disc set, so all complaints are tempered with a sense of overall satisfaction.) BUT... what’s with this wacky DVD fiasco?
The original press release from Universal promised two separate editions: a 2-disc set with the enhanced version and a supplemental disc (approx. $20.00), and a 3-disc Ultimate Gift Set. The fancy set was meant to offer a swanky case, some additional supplements, AND the 1982 version. In other words, the original version was meant to be released only as part of a $60.00+ gift set. Then late word got out that both versions were in both packages. Combine this discrepancy with Universal’s announcement that no screener copies would be made available to the online press, and you’re looking at some rather odd goings-on.
Buzz states that Spielberg intervened at zero hour and asked that both versions be included on both sets, and that Universal’s sudden embargo was borne out of concern for their Gift Set’s profitability. (Again, this is just conjecture on my part, but there is a certain logic to my paranoia.) Several people I know initially planned to purchase the ‘expensive set’ and were thrilled to learn that they wouldn’t have to after all.
So now comes the release, and there’s a whole separate parcel of frustration. Now, this may sound like the silliest complaint ever made about a DVD release, but here goes:
The spine doesn’t have the title on it.
I know; I’m a freak, right? But I have about 150 DVDs, all of which have the titles printed on the skinny side of the DVD case. As pedantic as this sounds…that’s how you know what movie you’re pulling off the shelf! Sure, E.T. has a lot of nighttime scenes, but am I supposed to recognize the DVD case just because it’s blue? I digress; it’s a silly complaint about a silly packaging screw-up.
As far as the extras go... I was unenthused. Sure, you could just blame me for not dropping cash on the bells and whistles edition, but heck - I just want the movie. Period. Since the goodies are offered, I’ll comment:
Disc 1 contains a rather sweet feature: an all-new soundtrack, recorded at a live concert/re-release screening. Imagine watching the movie with an orchestra in your living room, and you get the idea. (Sadly, you must sit through the new & improved edition of the film in order to enjoy this track, but I’d say it’s probably worth it. Better yet, just play this audio track just for the music!)
There’s a 20-minute featurette that brings us behind the scenes of the March 2002 event, focusing on composer John Williams’ meticulous timing and his orcherstra’s astounding musical skills that were needed to pull the experiment off. This is a mildly interesting addition, though it’s not something you’ll ever visit twice. Rounding out the first disc is a wholly ridiculous feature called “Space Exploration”, which is the “E.T. voice” offering quick lessons on each planet of the solar system. Of interest solely to aspiring astronomers or those smoking a joint.
Disc 2 starts out with a 25-minute behind-the-scenes featurette... most of which centers inevitably on the digital facelifts and new scenes. (I’m not one to quote Shakespeare, but after hearing such effusive arguments as to why the enhancements were so necessary, I got the idea that the filmmakers were ‘protesting too much’.) All the principals drop by to heap truckloads of gushy love-talk all over each other (I’m not saying the sentiments aren’t sincere; I’m saying they’re bland and redundant) in between plugs for the re-release (why try to sell me an item I just purchased three hours ago?), but fans of the movie will certainly enjoy the few snippets of on-set footage, FX tests, and general monkeying around. Not an awful featurette, but it’s basically one part meat and three parts Jell-O. (Oh yeah: there’s a considerably longer version of this feature on the three-disc set, so start saving your pennies.)
A twenty-minute reunion piece is pretty solid, in that it offers all the central players (Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore, Robert MacNaughton, producer Kathleen Kennedy, and Spielberg himself) in a laid-back and chatty style. Though a good segment of this feature is a rehash from the prior supplement, there are a handful of warm and wistful nuggets passed around. (Coyote and Thomas offer some particularly insightful comments about the movie.) This is mostly a back-pat-a-thon, but they’ve kind of earned it on this flick.
The “Designs, Photographs, and Marketing” gallery offers all sorts of production stills, artwork, character concepts, FX designs, and marketing hoo-hah. Worthy of a perusal, nothing more. You’ll also find 2 DVD trailers, which leads me to my final little whine: the original theatrical trailer for E.T. is not included. (Not surprisingly, that 1982 trailer is (in a weak move) included in the pricier Gift Set.) I’m not at all interested in trailers for a 2002 E.T. re-release or for the DVD set of Back to the Future... while the original trailer for a movie as beloved as E.T. is actually something historical. (I know, I know: I get what I deserve for not dropping the sixty bucks, right?)
Lastly are some typical promotional additions: cast/crew bios (hey, this Spielberg guy could have a real career!), production notes, and a few ‘special announcements’ about how The Special Olympics, adoption, and theme parks are all Universally intertwined.
Forgive my rambling and non-traditional review, but this release has got me all sorts of confused. My feeling about the allegedly enhanced version can best be summed up by something that Henry Thomas (now a grown-up) says during an interview about how E.T.’s eyes MADE the character real. The enhanced E.T. doesn’t have those eyes. He now has big goofy Scooby-Doo eyes; the character is different, the movie suffers. But, like I said way back at the beginning: I now own yet another classic movie I loved as a kid, so none of the extra B.S. (pointless gimmicks, fluffy supplements, questionable marketing ploys, etc.) really matters.
I’d never wish failure on a guy like Steven Spielberg, but I’m partially thrilled that the big 20th Anniversary re-release didn’t go over like gangbusters. Maybe he’ll think twice about ‘enhancing’ whatever infinitesimal flaws he may find in Raiders of the Lost Ark. (You just know he’s considered it.)Spielberg's often stated that the new edition of E.T. was made for a ‘new generation’; parents, do your kids a favor: stick with the real version and I bet they’ll appreciate the difference one day.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=208&reviewer=128
originally posted: 04/30/04 19:04:57