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E.T. : the Extra Tidbits
by Michael Buck

I wonder what it would have been like to be one of the first people to write about E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and to look back on your original thoughts twenty years later. I'll never know, as I was too busy repeatedly watching it back then to have any time or ability to write about it. As might be expected for one of the most popular films of all time, many praise it, a strident minority hate it, and it's been discussed and dissected ad infinitum. Spielberg's paean to the untapped wellspring of emotional power within a 10-year old boy is elevated beyond its sci-fi and (more pertinently) family genre roots by the providential synchrony of Carlo Rambaldi's creation of the E.T. creature, John Williams' career-topping film score, and most of all, a disarming performance from young Henry Thomas as Elliott, a boy whose pent-up love, pain, desperation and courage form the core of the film, and are all heartbreakingly rendered.

Alright, who am I fooling? I'm simply an unabashed fan of the movie, and I've looked forward to seeing E.T. on the big screen again with both the fervor of a devotee and some mild trepidation, due to various rumors of changes Spielberg wanted to make in the film. So, what about those changes? Count me among those who think that digitally updating an already beloved movie is just a bad idea. On balance, though, none of the additions and changes here ought to bother long-time fans of the film to any significant degree. There's nothing like the "Greedo shot first!" type rearrangement of the universe from the digitally revised Star Wars. (For a thankfully hypothetical analogue, imagine E.T. recognizing the Greedo action figure before Elliott can show it to him, as a precursor to his recognizing the Yoda costume on Halloween.)

The most obvious updates are the digital enhancements of E.T.'s expressions in his wackier scenes. These are a mixed bag. Watching E.T.'s mouth make a wildly exaggerated "O" shape while saying "ouch" near the film's midpoint doesn't jibe well with the way he mouths words in non-updated scenes. It's a fairly weak criticism, though, as even in the original release, the E.T. puppet scenes didn't really mesh with the E.T. midget-in-a-suit scenes, and it doesn't negatively affect the film.

Another notable change is Spielberg's controversial decision to replace the government guns with walkie-talkies. I think he really overthought this one, and that the change is unnecessary, but it doesn't really hurt, either, except that it mucks with an important section of the John Williams score. One quick cut of a shotgun rising was probably too difficult to digitally alter, so it's gone completely, and it causes a noticeable jump in the justifiably famous final 15-minute section of score.

The replacement of the phrase "You are not going as a terrorist!" with the "hippie" variant was probably decided long before the September 11th incident, as the original line has never made it to any home video release of the film. Still, if they bothered to get Dee Wallace Stone to dub the new line, couldn't they have thought of something more sensible than a hippie costume for her to object to?

The other major additions are two new scenes not in the original cut of the film. The longer of the two is an extension of the getting- to-know-you section between Elliott and E.T., which was reportedly not included in the original version due to problems with the E.T. puppet. The section is fun, and it's great to see more of Henry Thomas' performance as Elliott. It feels like it could have used a few more takes, which makes sense considering they probably abandoned it early. The second scene is a very short addition to the Halloween sequence that feels like it comes from a completely different movie, as Mom drives through a near-riot in her search for the kids. This section is obviously included only to allow a throwaway Gertie gag to be seen. It should have been a DVD deleted scene.

Changes that are less likely to be noticed include:
- E.T. jumps rather than glides through the forest upon his discovery by the adults in the opening scene.
- The famous moon silhouette has been updated to show Elliott's cloak flying in the breeze.
- A complete replacement of the scientific and medical babble spoken in the section immediately after the government's occupation of the house has been replaced completely. (In retrospect, I suppose the original's soundtrack, including a booming, echoing speaker voice didn't make a lot of sense for an ad-hoc installation.)
- Removal of E.T.'s death gurgle when he dies.
- Replaced shots of the boys on flying bikes, showing a more sensible braking posture as they land.

In summary, the updates don't ruin the film, and it'll be fun for fans to see something new, but let's thank goodness for the flak George Lucas got over never allowing the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy to be released again, as it's been stated that the upcoming first-time DVD release for E.T. will include the original cut, along with the new one. I wonder if the original will finally include the "terrorist" line.

©2002 Michael Buck

E.T. reunion
Seated (L to R): Henry Thomas, Steven Spielberg,
Drew Barrymore. Standing (L to R): Robert McNaughton,
Dee Wallace Stone, Kathleen Kennedy, Peter Coyote.