- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Steven Spielberg's "E.T." entered the marketplace in June 1982 with more title than it needed. Presumably, the redundant "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" helped explain things for complete strangers to science-fiction, although the initials always sufficed for moviegoing multitudes, who warmed to the film so decisively that it rapidly replaced "Star Wars" as the most successful attraction of its generation. "E.T." remained at the top of the heap until "Titanic" became a box-office juggernaut in the winter of 1997-98.
Slightly enlarged by a couple of restored sequences and refurbished with a digital soundtrack and enhanced optical effects where Mr. Spielberg thought them felicitous, "E.T." returns this weekend with even more title than it needs: "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: The 20th Anniversary."
Hang onto your present video copy as a memento of the original release version but also welcome the anniversary edition as a fresher theatrical print than you're likely to encounter for another decade or two.
The celestial payoffs in John Williams' Oscar-winning musical score sound even more satisfying in the digital transfer, and to the extent that the effects touch ups are discernible, the movie looks better off for being reconditioned. The one telltale item I was always conscious of the disappearance of handlebars in composite images of boys on flying bicycles has been corrected; the levitators now seem to be gripping something solid as they accompany E.T. to his farewell scene.
The same visionary impulse that led Mr. Spielberg to realize the UFO spectacle, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," released in 1977, inspired the modestly scaled mysticism of "E.T." five years later. A blend of fantasy, domestic comedy and child-loves-critter pathos, the movie celebrates a profound emotional bond that develops over a matter of days during Halloween season between an ugly-beautiful little being from a faraway galaxy and a trio of suburban siblings who shelter him.
A straggler with absent-minded tendencies, the creature is left behind when his spaceship needs to beat a hasty retreat after landing under cover of darkness in a dense forest. Several diminutive silhouettes, distinguished by transparent hearts that seem to pulse in concert, suggesting a kind of organic empathy, are glimpsed gathering examples of flora. Alerted to the presence of a shadowy group of human hunters, distinguished mainly by the beams of headlights and flashlights, the aliens hasten to their ship. One gets left behind. Cut off from a line of retreat and obliged to seek concealment, the fugitive scurries through the shrubbery and into a convenient back yard in an adjacent suburban community nestled in the foothills.
The first restored or altered shots evidently belong to this opening sequence. We clearly see more of E.T. than we did at the outset in 1982: There are now distinct images of him from the back. There are also additional silhouettes of the hunters with their flashlights, and unless my eyes deceive me, one of those figures is Mr. Spielberg, then about 35. A shot of E.T. in flight has been altered, since the director never liked the fact that the model was rigged to move in a straight line. Now the flight path is artfully bumpier and more irregular.
The castaway attracts the curiosity of a 10-year-old named Elliott (Henry Thomas), the middle sibling in a family of five recently reduced to four by separation and the father's departure. That estranged and unseen dad misses quite a rumpus. Eventually, the encounter transforms the house into a quarantined medical ward and research lab, with teams of doctors struggling to revive the alien, a venerable divinity whose tolerance for our atmosphere seems limited.
E.T. is the nickname given by Elliott to his squat, inquisitive, exotic guest. Before long, kid sister Gertie (6-year-old Drew Barrymore) and teen-age brother Mike (Robert MacNaughton) are in on the secret. Their mother Mary (Dee Wallace Stone) remains oblivious, arguably to a grievous fault. She seems to leave her three kids to fend for themselves with hapless frequency. The funny angle that lets her off the hook is the fact that once you begin to appreciate E.T., you realize that he's a more responsible guardian, so mother's neglect is rendered harmless perhaps even advisable.
Culture shock is the movie's humorous strong point. E.T. finds it necessary to adapt to Elliott's strange habitat. He proves an adroit mimic and quick study, mentally far superior to the earthlings eager to observe and protect him.
E.T.'s assimilation may be the most sophisticated element in the conception. He seems to embody the process of childhood development and socialization at an accelerated clip. He's constantly outdistancing the kids as they attempt to familiarize him with the local folkways.
The computerized touch ups don't seem to interfere with the poetically expressive puppet figure crafted by Carlo Rimaldi and operated by numerous off-screen assistants. The first and last feature we're made aware of is the sacred heart, visible behind an alarmingly thin membrane. There are equally distinctive and stirring aspects associated with E.T.'s coloration, respiration, visage, gravelly voice, wise old eyes and long, nimble digits.
Screenwriter Melissa Mathison had contributed to the script of Carroll Ballard's "The Black Stallion," which Mr. Spielberg greatly admired. The idyllic friendship between boy and alien clearly echoes the animistic union of castaway boy and stallion in the earlier movie. The most trying aspect of "E.T." was always the possessive nature of Elliott's attachment, humored by the filmmakers to exaggerate suspense about the hovering hunters, who eventually pounce but turn out to be an army of red herrings, scientists and federal agents and physicians who mean the creature no harm.
It seems a giveaway that Elliott's most hysterical scenes are Henry Thomas' weak moments. There's a particularly shrill and unactable scene when the boy is hooked up to electrodes and has to twist his body toward the infirm E.T. across a transparent partition, stretching out of his arms and pleading to beat the band. The contrast with his subdued eloquent moments later while reflecting Elliott's sorrow is so pronounced that you wish the hysteric gambits had been rewritten or purged before production began. All the special pleading and bogus deception were dirty pool in 1982. They remain the enduring blemishes on an endearing classic.

****
TITLE: "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: The 20th Anniversary"
RATING: PG (Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity; ominous episodes)
CREDITS: Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Melissa Mathison. Produced by Mr. Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy. Cinematography by Allen Daviau. Production design by James D. Bissell. E.T. puppet by Carlo Rambaldi. Visual effects supervisor: Dennis Muren. Twentieth anniversary effects supervisor: Bill George. Editing by Carol Littleton. Music by John Williams.
RUNNING TIME: Two hours
MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARSS


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