Mark Reviews Movies

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (20th Anniversary Edition)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Dee Wallace-Stone, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore

MPAA Rating: PG (for language and mild thematic elements)

Running Time: 2:00

Release Date: 3/22/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Some films make their homes in the heart even though small or even major details may escape the memory. As I sat watching E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on the big screen for its twentieth anniversary release, I realized that many details were missing from my mind, but I somehow knew everything that would happen and that it would turn out all right. There’s a sense of security that comes with a film like this—the feeling that it’s been with us for so long. Knowing now that it will stay with us for some time to come is an even more encouraging thought. As a Steven Spielberg film, it may be convenient to dismiss it as cloying and manipulative, but that would be missing the point. This is a children’s film, and children do not know the meaning of such words. Childlike innocence is the film’s virtue, and it passes on to the viewer with such ease that getting swept up into the pure joy the film wears on its sleeve is just that—a joy.

A group of alien visitors come to Earth to gather some vegetation, and one of them wanders off alone in the forest. A group of scientists investigating the site scare the little alien farther away from the rest, and they leave without him. The creature finds its way into the backyard of a local family. The youngest son Elliot (Henry Thomas) finds it and names it E.T. and with the help of his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) keeps it hidden from their mother Mary (Dee Wallace-Stone). This much of the story is already widely known, but seeing it now, there is a certain level of complexity to the family that keeps the plot grounded in as much reality as possible. The children’s father, unseen through the entire film, is separated from Mary. Not only does this information provide a reason for Mary to miss the fact that her children are caring for an alien right under her nose as she is far too busy to notice, but it also gives all three children a reason to want to keep E.T.

The screenplay by Melissa Mathison is highly effective in the way the portrayal of domestic life is as sincere as the flights of fancy are wondrous. The interaction between the family just feels natural. Michael keeps Elliot away from his friends, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t recognize they are brothers. Elliot calls Michael names, but he’s simply stringing words together. Both of them take care of Gertie and maintain control over her, as seen in the scene where Gertie discovers E.T. and Michael threatens to tear the arm off her stuffed animal if she says anything. He wouldn’t, of course, but to her, it’s serious enough to stay quiet. The kids call their mother by her first name when something serious arises, and Michael at least realizes how much her separation has hurt her. Elliot and Gertie are too young to understand, but Michael keeps Elliot in line after she breaks down over an argument about who will do the dishes. The performances here are startlingly capable, especially from the child actors. All of them have a strong rapport with each other, and a young Drew Barrymore steals every scene she’s in.

The family background information provides the foundation for the relationship between Elliot and E.T., and the rest of the film is spent on it. These are the scenes that we remember, and they still have the power to amaze. New special effects have been integrated into this version of the film, but despite being twenty years old, the original effects hold up extremely well and, in some distinct cases, even better than the improvements. E.T. himself is at the heart of a few seemingly minor changes. Some scenes have the character digitally altered to give him a more detailed reaction. Such scenes are, more often than not, apparent. The original puppetry work on E.T. is so effective that the changes seem a bit pointless. There’s also something more genuine about a character that is actually present with the actors in a scene than a digital creation inserted later. The actors have something to react with. One scene that is added exclusively for this release uses an entirely digital E.T., and in this scene we can see the advantages to the original method for creating the character. Many small changes to the effects are present, but they are so subtle that only reading about them will make them obvious. For some reason, the deletion of all firearms from the film has caused quite a stir, but the walkie-talkies that have replaced them fit fine.

Improvement or not, the newly enhanced effects cannot affect what’s most important to the film. Its heart is still there, completely intact, and that’s really all that matters. There probably is a technical hybrid of both versions of the film that maintains the spirit and efficiency of the original effects while still making subtle changes to improve whatever tiny faults there may have been. It’s hard to believe that E.T. has been restricted to home video for this long. How many people have not yet had the chance to experience it on the big screen? This is the first time I have had the chance. So the important thing to keep in mind is that now with this new version available, how many of them will finally get a chance to do so?

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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