PG Dir: Steven Spielberg | Universal | 1h 55min
Plot: What’s it about?
I highly doubt if anyone reading this review needs a blow-by-blow recap of the story of “ET”, so I’ll focus more on the elements of the story that resonate with me most personally, and how my perceptions of the film have changed since I first saw it in theaters back in 1982. “ET”, some have said, is arguably Steven Spielberg’s most personal film to date, though I’d argue that title still goes to “Schindler’s List”. It’s a movie that works for children and adults equally-well and on separate levels. On the surface, it’s a simple story of an alien who befriends a young boy and, through his experiences and feelings, experiences life here on Earth. Underneath that, though, there’s a very different story which emerges. Over the years, my appreciation of what Spielberg manages to convey through the film has only deepened, and it’s made “ET” one of my absolute favorite films. Maybe it’s a view of a picture that one can only arrive at through a certain level of maturity, but it’s the second level of meaning behind the main events that keeps me coming back to revisit the film again and again.
One of the most masterful elements of “ET” is the device of having Elliott and ET share emotions. Indeed, it is the necessity of empathy in our lives – and not merely the acceptance of those different than yourself – which forms the true backbone and heart of the film. ET feels what Elliott feels, and that connection goes both ways. In a great, heart-wrenching scene late in the movie, Elliott tells ET that he knows he’s lost him because he doesn’t know what to feel. This is a stirring tribute to the truest nature of love. It’s not about liking another person, but of feeling and seeing the world through their eyes and allowing that experience to change the way you perceive your own surroundings. Underlining these themes is the story of a divorce that Elliott and his siblings find themselves having to fight their way through. Elliott is rather lost in his life when ET enters it, and the relationship that the two share changes his life forever.
For what some may deem a children’s film, there are decidedly adult themes all throughout “ET”. Or rather, there are adult themes dealt with nearly entirely from a child’s perspective. Indeed, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized that there are virtually no scenes (until the climax and with the exception of Elliott’s mother) which show adult characters entirely within the frame. For the majority of the film, they’re either presented in silhouette or shot from the waist down – exactly as they’d be perceived by children. This cinematic decision forces us to watch the events unfold from ET and Elliott’s point of view rather than as uninvolved, omniscient observers. It makes things personal in a way that few directors could have ever pulled off correctly. Couple these things with possibly the most stirring and emotional score to ever come from a genius like John Williams (ending with a 15-minute magnum opus that’s still, in my humble opinion, the high-water mark of his illustrious composing career), and you don’t just have a film for all ages. It’s a film for the ages.
Video: How does it look?
Universal brings us “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” on Blu-ray with a transfer that is simply revelatory in its beauty. Detail levels are incredible, grain is left fully intact, DNR is kept to a tasteful, needed minimum, black levels are rock solid and inky throughout, digital noise isn’t a problem, and edge enhancement is nowhere to be found. I simply found my jaw dropping over and over while marveling at the perfection of this transfer. While I feel it my duty as a reviewer to point out that the film doesn’t quite have the razor-sharp wow factor of some other, recent films, I simply can’t bring myself to knock down the video score for that (quite understandable and time-indicative) shortcoming. Considering what Spielberg has managed to bring to the Blu-ray table with releases like “Close Encounters” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, I had my expectations set rather high for “ET”, and I’m happy to report that they were not only met, but exceeded in almost every area. Those who’ve owned the film on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD will be absolutely blown away by the leap in quality on display here. This isn’t a minor upgrade, folks. A comparison even with the DVD included in this set reveals remarkable upticks in clarity and fine image detailing – even more, I’d say, than your average DVD to Blu-ray comparison. This is a fantastic and wholly filmic visual experience from start to finish. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Audio: How does it sound?
I mentioned in my review that I love John Williams’s score for “ET”, and, rather unexpectedly, it’s this aspect of the film that receives the most benefit from Universal’s equally-impressive DTS-MA 7.1 audio track. I’m only set up for 5.1 at home, but the differences in this track and the Dolby Digital offering on my previous DVD version were immediately noticeable. Dialogue is always clear and intelligible, surround channels almost constantly engaged, if only to add some subtle ambience. The results are surprisingly immersive and satisfying, especially for a film of this vintage. The purist in me does bemoan the lack of the film’s original sound mix as a listening option, but to be honest, as good as the new lossless mix is, I doubt if I’d ever listen to the film any other way. As for the biggest beneficiary of the new audio, I have never – in all the times I’ve watched “ET” – ever heard John Williams’s magnificent score sound this, well, magnificent. It’s full and lush and fills the room with such a gorgeous, full-bodied transparency that it’s a perfect, effortless companion to the upgraded visuals on the disc. I’ve watched “ET” many times over the years, but this was, hands down, the best aural experience I’ve ever had with the film. When the score is raised to such a level of clarity that the end of a film causes your eyes to well up all over again as if you were seeing it for the first time, well…folks, that’s what a great Blu-ray should be all about. DTS 5.1 lossy mixes are also available in French and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
First and foremost, this Blu-ray includes ONLY the 1982 theatrical version of the film. My major heartfelt kudos go out to Steven Spielberg for this creative decision. The controversial changes made for the Special Edition that made the round in 2000 have been wisely done away with here. No walkie-talkies in sight on this disc, folks. Way to go, Spielberg and Universal. You got this one right. On the extras front, Universal has sweetened the pot considerably with a very strong offering of vintage and newly-created deleted scenes, featurettes, and documentaries. The first, “Steven Spielberg and ET”, runs roughly 13 minutes and is newly-produced. It’s good for what it is, and is about as close as we’re going to get to a Spielberg commentary on the film unless the director changes his stance on the practice in the future. “The ET Journals”, in the other hand, is an indispensable two-part behind-the-scenes documentary that runs nearly an hour and takes a real fly-on-the-wall approach to production. It’s a terrific look behind the making of the film that might go just as far – if not farther – than a commentary track may have gone in conveying the feel on set back then. And don’t fret – the scenes from the 2000 Special Edition version of the film are included as they should be…as supplements. Ported over from the 20th Anniversary DVD are the “Evolution and Creation of ET”, “Reunion”, “20th Anniversary Premiere”, “The Music of ET” and “A Look Back” featurettes. There’s nothing wrong with these at all, but they did make me wish instead that Universal had seen fit to include the amazing making-of documentary that has only ever seen the light of day on laserdisc. We also get a terrific still gallery, a Special Olympics TV spot, and the original theatrical trailer. All in all, this is a very solid extras package that should please nearly all fans of this landmark film. Highly recommended.
- (1.85:1) Aspect Ratio
- Video Codec: VC-1
- Audio: DTS HD Master
- Theatrical Trailer
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scene(s)
- Digital Copy
- 2 Disc Set