The 20th Anniversary Edition of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a special treat. Rather than being a standard re-issue, this spiffed-up edition is a unique accomplishment. With restored scenes featuring a computer-generated E.T. along with enhanced special effects and re-mastered sound, this edition actually improves upon an original considered by many to be a classic.
For those who have been living on another planet for the past 20 years, E.T. tells the tale of a gentle botanist stranded on Earth. Lost and scared, the extraterrestrial manages to befriend a boy living in Suburbia. That boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas, Gangs of New York), is just another kid growing up in the ’80s with an older brother and younger sister, and trying not to feel alienated in the wake of his parents’ failed marriage.
Following a run-in with the creature on a foggy California night, Elliott sets out to find the being and bring it home. After tracking down the alien in the woods, he is able to lure him into his life via the magical enticement of Reese’s Pieces.
Featuring a talented supporting cast that has managed to stay out of the headlines in the intervening years (well, except for Drew Barrymore), E.T. is a movie that still smacks of sweetness and wonder. This is, after all, the movie that made “phone home” a national catchphrase and cemented Spielberg in Hollywood’s cinematic walk of fame as one of the craft’s great child (and child-like) directors.
This special edition became the subject of controversy when rumors spread that Spielberg was going to remove a unique comment made by Elliott regarding his brother’s breath and the digital replacement of guns with walkie-talkies on the waists of the government agents. All, so the story goes, in the name of being “politically correct” in the newly-sensitive new millennium.
In the final cut, Elliott still does make his “offensive” outburst. Surprisingly, another published review comments to the contrary; whether that writer wasn’t paying attention or there was an extremely last-minute switcheroo will probably be the stuff of Hollywood lore.
However, the guns are gone. But, with all due consideration, the digital switch to walkie-talkies actually makes sense. The move gives the main “antagonist,” an agent referred to simply as “Keys” (Peter Coyote, Erin Brockovich) more consistency. Not meaning to do E.T. harm, it was his dream, just like Elliott, to meet up with beings from another planet. The gun betrays that sensibility and his character makes more sense without it.
Purists might be irked, but the changes Spielberg makes in E.T. come across less as an older director tinkering with his film than a wiser director who sees how the story can better be served.
In contrast, George Lucas played the politically correct card with his Star Wars special editions and made changes impacting the story line and the characters, changes that simply made no sense. Thankfully, Spielberg seems to have learned from this and the debacle of his Close Encounters special edition, scorned for its demystifying scenes inside the alien spaceship. Years later, he would go on to release yet another director’s cut, with those final scenes excised.
The new scenes in this 20th anniversary release are found primarily between the time of E.T.’s abandonment and prior to Elliott introducing E.T. to his family. The new scenes are light-hearted while also adding something to the relationship between Elliott and E.T. A new scene involving E.T.’s encounter with Elliott’s bath tub ties in nicely with events later in the film, when Elliott’s brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton, I Am the Cheese), finds E.T. near death by a creek.
The “new” footage, filmed with Henry Thomas but cut from the original release, features a computer-generated E.T. that is more lifelike than the original creation. For the most part, the scenes blend in fairly well with the older footage, which also gains from some digitally enhanced articulation on E.T. But, you can tell there is a difference and wonder what E.T. might have been like were it made from scratch today.
Aside from that small fault, E.T. still has the magic and the flying bicycle scenes, which, with John Williams’ soaring score, are still the stuff of which goose bumps are made.