When I slipped the E.T. Blu-ray disc into my player the first time, I really wanted to be the good non-partisan observer. And I tried. I really did. I failed miserably. I only lasted about 10 musical bars into the film before the John Williams score caused my eyes to fill with tears and my heart to swell, causing an uncontrollable urge to reach out and embrace my television.
I was four years old when I saw E.T. at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, and I didn’t finish the film. It scared me when Elliot dropped the milk. E.T.’s scream was a weird sound to my ears, and my uncle took me out crying. But I assume that my parents rented it for me on VHS a few years later because I watch this film now, and it registers on such a visceral level that this is one of the only films I have ever come across in my lifetime that I find difficult to separate myself from in order to look at it. This film, Steven Spielberg’s E.T., is not only a part of my childhood, it is my childhood. Rewatching the film in all of its remastered glory on Blu-ray not only made it more sensational to me but also brought back pieces of my childhood that I had forgotten about. My viewing experience, however, I do not believe to be a singular one. I think that this aspect of the film is what gives it the majority of its power. Just as the feature-length documentary on the Blu-ray of Spielberg’s killer shark epic Jaws was entitled, “The Shark is Still Working,” I think it is pretty safe to say that the extra-terrestrial is still working.
The very first thing I noticed on the disc was the sound. While I do believe that if you looked up the definition of “epic ” in the dictionary, a John Williams score would be one of the items listed, it is not just the music that is truly remarkable on this disc. It is the sound design on the whole. As can be learned in one of the special features on the disc, The Evolution and Creation of E.T., the development of E.T.’s voice was its own very unique process. That process certainly benefitted by the digitally enhanced sound. The film itself, taken from high-resolution 35mm elements, is visually stunning and shows the time and care that has been taken by people who care about the film itself and cinema on the whole. While I would say that this is the E.T.-lover in me talking, it is actually the cinephile. Being able to see such beautifully clear reflections in the medical mens’ helmets and having the colors, shadows and skin creases on people’s bodies (especially E.T.) was exquisite. While a Blu-ray is intended to be a digital iteration of filmic elements, my experience of this disc was quite spectacular in that it really reminded me of a watching a gloriously done print. As someone who believes in the power of film quite a bit, that is an extremely high compliment.
Exploring special features on a disc can either provide you with information you already know and bore you or it can enrich your experience of the film. With E.T., the construction of these bonus materials alongside the restoration of the original filmed version underscore the way in which this film is meant to be understood. The previous 20th Anniversary release of E.T. had digitally altered certain elements of the film (replaced the guns with walkie talkies) in order to work with certain elements of political correctness and technological “upgrades,” but that had been quite unpopular with the larger contingent of fans. When all was said and done, even Spielberg wasn’t happy with the changes.
So this restoration alongside two new bonus features, Steven Spielberg & E.T. and The E.T. Journals, and the bonus features that had been included on the previous 20th Anniversary Disc – Deleted Scenes, A Look Back, The Evolution and Creation of E.T., The E.T. Reunion, The Music of E.T., The 20th Anniversary Premiere, Designs, Photographs and Marketing – all helped to create the new landscape for what the feel of E.T. was originally supposed to be. The historical look within each of these features really did help to “reset” the warm and fuzzy feeling that had been slightly decimated when Spielberg decided to digitally “refigure” the film 10 years ago. Deciding to return to the original text was the smartest thing he could have done. These additional features help quite a bit in the “healing” process. E.T. is not just some film to be toyed with. When those alterations were made, it was devastating to a large audience and it had immense cultural resonance. Returning the film to its original stature is a strong statement to make and requires a certain amount of bravery in that it essentially says to the consumer public, “I was wrong. My original was better.”
The entire Blu-ray is thoroughly enjoyable. On a personal note, my favorite aspects are the film itself, the feature about performing the John Williams score live while the film was playing, and the simple fact that much of the bonus material was shot on 35mm film and they left all the artifacts, grain and other “film” fundamentals in there. It was not distracting. If anything, it lent those scenes more flavor and gave you a greater sense of time and allowed you to ruminate on ideas of Blu-ray, technology, format and other such things. The content of the film is charming but the documentaries supplement the relationships that you are presented with by giving you the behind-the-scenes look at children and new filmmakers (who are, in a way, new-to-the-world in their own way).
Eventually I was able to disassociate myself for long enough to critically study the disc and find it to be a wonderful addition to the items that Universal has been putting out as of late. But there will never be a single day when I will not cry at this film. And I am completely okay with that.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: