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E.T. (PG)
The Extra-Terrestrial 20th Anniversary
Official Site
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Melissa Mathison, Steven Spielberg
Written by: Melissa Mathison
Cast: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore, Robert McNaughton, Peter Coyote

Rating: out of 5

As a child, I missed out on it. I was born two months before E.T. was released into theaters, so seeing it on the big screen was a luxury I never had. And growing up in a small town, I never had access to the theatrical re-release of it a few years later. But by then, I had already seen it on video and fallen in love with every aspect of it. I wanted to be Elliot, I wanted to have an alien for a best friend, I wanted to take that magical bike ride in the sky. I grew up watching the movie over and over, wearing out tape after tape, and my love of the film exceeded my childhood: The E.T.video I currently own was bought just three short years ago, junior year in high school. And guess what? Itís starting to wear.

With this 20th anniversary re-release of E.T., Spielberg is not only allowing people like me to wallow in shameless nostalgia, but heís also initiating a whole new generation of children into the world this movie creates. Someone involved in the filmís making once said that E.T.feels timeless because it was never set in any specific year, and because the special effects are only secondhand to the emotional drama played out. Yes, itís 20 years old, but that doesnít diminish its amazing sense of immediacy, the way that it can make you feel like it was made with you in mind.

Now, much has been said of the changes made by Spielberg for this re-release. Far from simply tweaking the film for improved looks, heís added a couple scenes and altered dialogue, and it seems that heís used alternate takes during the second scene, in which the boys sit around the table playing Dungeons & Dragons. The scenes that have been added were best left outóthey have no narrative purpose, and they seem strangely disjointed from the tone of the rest of the film. One of these has E.T. playing in a bathtub, and while itís bound to get a few laughs, it finally results in siphoning E.T. of the dignity that makes up so much of his character, in effect turning him into a cartoon. Another added scene involves Michael (McNaughton) and Gertie (Barrymore) trick-or-treating in the middle of a strangely apocalyptic Halloween riot until their mother (Stone), frantically searching for them, finds them and takes them home. Itís possible that the purpose of this scene is to illustrate the shameful nature of man in contrast with the peaceful character of higher intelligence, but it comes off as a pitiful attempt at staged chaos. It also makes Gertie look like an idiot when she lets slip about Elliotís (Thomas) trip to the forest and grins stupidly (and yes, adorably) at her mother.

But probably the two most important changes here are also the two most talked-about: the digital remastering of E.T., and the replacement of the federal agentsí guns with walkie-talkies. Both are no good. By making E.T.ís face more expressive, theyíve succeeded in making him more cartoonish. His eyes widen, he hops when he runs instead of the rapid glide that has made that first scene so indelible. His smile isnít even the same; itís more of a grimace now. Yes, the overall effect is that E.T. looks a little bit more real; but it detracts from the character. The simplicity of E.T.ís appearance and movement in the original made it all the more amazing that he came across as more than just a puppet. Spielberg didnít film him as a special effect, but as a character, and so he became a character. But by sprucing him up, by making him a more technically advanced puppet, theyíve made E.T. seem at times more digital than organic.

And the walkie-talkiesÖ Spielberg says that he always considered it silly that he had the agents chasing the kids with guns. And maybe it is silly, but the truth is, those guns make that scene. When Elliot sees the guns, he understands the need for drastic measures, and so commences that final flying bike ride, a scene that demonstrates everything good about movies and the spells they cast. Without the guns, the motivation for that captivating moment disappears. It, too, becomes just a special effect.

But itís still E.T. Itís a movie that I love absolutely, and experiencing it on the big screen makes trivial any problems brought on by the changes. This is still the defining movie of so many peopleís youth. This is a film that puts childhood and magic in the same category, that allows kids the distinction of being the center of the universe. It looks at a world that says to grow up, and it says ďWait.Ē And thatís what makes E.T. the classic that it is today. It insists that no matter what is in front of you, thereís always the possibility, the probability, of something more.

Cole Sowell


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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