Universal's theatrical re-release of "E.T." was accompanied by a near-overload of advertising. I felt as if I couldn't escape from TV-ads, billboards, tie-ins and other odds and ends. The new edition, remastered and complete with new soundtrack and digital effects, met with a surprising amount of disinterest from audiences. When discussing the DVD's release with someone a day ago and talking about the fact that it was re-released in theaters this year, she responded with, "when?".
After the $35m take at the box office, "E.T." was finally announced on DVD, but audiences were displeased with the studio's original plan - that the original, non-altered version of the movie would only be available on a 3-DVD set that retailed for $70. Although director Steven Spielberg eventually stepped in to make sure that both the 2-DVD and 3-DVD sets included the 1982 version, the studio only made this announcement at the last moment, after many had likely made their pre-orders for the box set online. I've also heard that those outside of Region 1 (US) will not have the 1982 version on the second disc of the 2-DVD set.
This DVD release (the 2 DVD set, at least) is actually a really nice offering that manages to include the choice of either version, along with a few minimal supplements and a solid new presentation. And, although I haven't seen the film in years, I was surprised that it still stands up fairly well. Henry Thomas stars as Elliot, a young child who is stuck in a family as the middle child between a jerky older brother (Robert McNaughton) and bratty younger sister (Drew Barrymore). When Elliot discovers a stranded alien, it's eventually up to him to get the creature back to his family, with government agents on their tail.
As anyone knows after watching HBO's "Project Greenlight", child actors are not always easy to work with, but Steven Spielberg manages two superb supporting performances from Barrymore and McNaughton and a remarkably good, emotional performance from Thomas. All three are natural actors and never become irritating. Two noteworthy performances from adults (Dee Wallace as Elliot's mother and Peter Coyote as the lead government agent) are also present.
While parts of "E.T." still seem a little dated at this point, I still managed to get caught up in the grand John Williams score and adventure of it all. The Williams score really elevates many scenes, adding additional uplift and emotion without becoming sappy. It's really too bad that smart, old-fashioned entertainment like this, which both adults and enjoy, really isn't made much anymore.
VIDEO: Both the 1982 (which even has the earlier Universal logo) and 2002 versions are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Universal, with each getting their own dual-layer disc (although the 1982 version shares space with a few supplements). Allen Daviau's cinematography has always appeared slightly soft and with a fine layer of grain, but these transfers handle the imagery just fine. Sharpness and detail are certainly pleasant, as a respectable amount of detail is present even in the darker scenes.
A few minor faults are spotted here and there throughout the show: slight artifacts are occasionally spotted, but are hardly intrusive. Minor edge enhancement is also present, although hardly that bothersome. On a positive note, the print used is spotless - while the light grain is still present, no signs of wear are seen.
Colors looked warm and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults. Black level was also solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. Although not without a few minor faults, "E.T." has probably never looked better outside the theater. Also, for those buying this edition in stores, make sure to look carefully that you're buying the correct edition you want: the only indication on the packaging of my 2-DVD set that it was a widescreen edition was a sticker directly above the barcode on the back of the package.
Both versions of the movie (the 1982 and 2002) shared some similarities in terms of positives. Each boasted very pleasant sharpness and detail, as well as a lack of wear on the print used. Still, the 1982 also shows some minor edge enhancement and also, a bit darker appearance throughout.
SOUND: As with the supplemental features, there is some confusion as to what the packaging states and what's on the actual discs. in the case of the 2-DVD set, the packaging states that the 2002 version includes both a Dolby Digital 5.1-EX (English/French versions) and DTS 6.1-ES soundtrack. However, the packaging states that the 1982 version only includes a 2.0 soundtrack, when the 1982 version actually included both the English DD 5.1-EX and DTS 6.1-ES soundtracks, along with French and Spanish 2.0 tracks. However - although I don't have it in front of me to confirm - the 3-DVD box set apparently does not include the DTS soundtrack on the 1982 version.
The new soundtracks present a considerably more involving audio experience than any prior release of the film, although they - as expected - don't stand up to mmore modern soundtracks. The main element to benefit from the new remixed soundtracks is the John Williams score, which fills the listening space wonderfully, making the already powerful and classic score even more emotional and enjoyable than before. While not a particularly aggressive soundtrack in any way, the occasional sound effect makes it way into the surrounds, while the front soundstage is enjoyably wide and detailed. Dialogue remained clear and clean throughout.
Lastly, there is the utterly marvelous addition of a live John Williams score, available in Dolby Digital 5.1 (only on the 2002 version). Recorded at the Shrine Auditorium premiere (see the featurette information in the extras section) with a complete orchestra, this has that performance mixed in with all of the other soundtrack elements (dialogue, sound effects). The recording is terrific and this makes for a wonderful way to experience the kind of remarkable event that the Shrine premiere probably was.
MENUS: The animated menus (complete with backing score) are quite nice. However, the packaging that lists wrong details is irritating and although the fold-out way of presenting the disc makes for easy access, the discs are held in place a bit too securely (don't pull the discs out too quickly or they might snap) and there's no title listing on the binding of the disc, which may make it tough to find on some crowded shelves.
EXTRAS: The supplements of the 2-DVD set are listed and discussed below. I will not be reviewing the 3-DVD set, which includes additional supplements and non-DVD (the CD soundtrack, for example) items.
Spielberg Intro: The first disc of the 2-DVD set provides a quick intro from Spielberg regarding his decision to alter the film with new FX. Again, a full commentary would have been awfully nice, but I'm thankful that the director has pushed the original edition on this release.
Live at the Shrine: For the re-release premiere of "E.T." at the Shrine Auditorium, composer John Williams was asked if he could play the score live as the film played. This was before Williams realized how enormous the task of keeping up with a score-heavy two-hour picture was (they even play the Universal music at the opening). This short featurette takes us through the task of this presentation, introducing us to the people responsible for all steps of the production, including Spielberg's usual score mixer, Shawn Murphy ("Minority Report", "Signs", Disney's upcoming "Treasure Planet"). As noted above, this whole Williams performance is available as an additional soundtrack for the 2002 edition of the movie.
The Reunion: This is an 18-minute featurette (which I think originally aired on TV?) that reunites both the cast (Barrymore, Thomas, etc.) and filmmakers (Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy) to discuss their thoughts about the film and their memories of the production. It's kinda silly and kinda promotional, but still a sweet-natured piece that may be good for a viewing.
Making Of: This is a 24-minute promotional documentary that mixes in original footage of the production with newly recorded interviews from Spielberg, Barrymore and other members of the cast and crew. While mostly promotional, there are some interesting insights in the interviews and occasional nice behind-the-scenes moments.
Also: The re-release trailer for "E.T." and the trailer for the "Back to the Future" trilogy set; a gallery of production/marketing/design photos/images; cast/crew bios, production notes and DVD-ROM features. The "Reunion" and "Making Of" featurettes, along with the "also" material, are on disc 2.
NOTE(!): The back of the packaging states that both the "Evolution and Creation of E.T." and "Music Of John Williams" documentaries are included on this 2-DVD release, but they are not. Apparently, these documentaries are only available on the 3-DVD set.
Final Thoughts: Although the release of the film to DVD has been badly handled (why do I have the feeling this release could have gone a whole lot smoother?), this is actually a very nicely done set that provides both a fine presentation, both versions of the film and a few enjoyable (the Williams live score is a definite highlight) supplements. Note: This DVD will be going out-of-print on 12/31/02.