“E.T.” is a masterpiece. It remains one of the finest family films to ever grace the silver screen, now and forever. Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster boy-meets-alien, boy-loves-alien, alien-leaves, boy-cries tale captured the hearts of millions and became a cultural phenomenon, grossing just shy of $400 million at the U.S. box office. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Spielberg has re-released the modern classic, hoping to enthrall a new generation of film viewers. But buyer beware, this is not the same “E.T.” you grew up with.
As a result of our current state of political correctness and sensitivity, “E.T.” has been sanitized by Spielberg and his strong liberal ideals. Questions arose shortly after the announcement of the theatrical re-release regarding the fate of the beloved “penis breath” line from the opening dinner scene. Thankfully the childish banter has been included, and remains some of the most memorable dialogue in the film. The most drastic, yet subtle change is the digital removal of all all guns from the film. No longer do government agents brandish pistols and shotguns in the dramatic finale, rather the roadblock consists of sharp-suited men wielding menacing … walkie-talkies. Thank you Steven Spielberg.
Aside from the removal of “offensive” material, Spielberg has gone one step farther to update his highest grossing film. Several of E.T.’s facial expressions have been digitally altered to make his reactions more animated, giving the adored character a cartoonish appearance. The new shots of E.T., done with computer generated effects, fail to blend well with the original puppet-style appearance of the alien. The distinction between the original E.T. and the computer animated E.T. are blantantly obvious, as the CGI alien moves much more fluidly than the restricted movements of the original. An added scene of Elliot and the befriended extra-terrestrial in the bathroom serves no purpose other than to fulfill the promise of “never before seen footage” promoted heavily on commercials and billboards. The saving grace of the 20th anniversary edition of the film is the remastering of John Williams’ Academy Award winning score. The acclaimed composer’s score, with its rich themes and uplifting ending medley, is one of Williams finest.
Part of the blame for this new version of “E.T.” can be placed on long time friend and collaborator of Spielberg, George Lucas. In 1997, Lucas re-released his “Star Wars” trilogy for its 20th anniversary with new scenes, improved digital effects and promotional tie-ins, complete with toys from your local Taco Bell. Titling them the “special editions,” Lucas created a maelstrom of controversy from hard-core fans for altering the holy film series. “Star Wars” included similar political correctness, as Lucas unwisely made Greedo shoot first in the meeting with Han Solo at the Mos Eisley Cantina. The criticism was not enough to prevent the mammoth box office receipts, and studios took notice. Over the past few years there has been a tidal wave of re-releases, including: “The Exorcist,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Grease,” “The Godfather” and “Dirty Dancing.”
In its original form, “E.T.” is a flawless tale for any generation. The cutesy story of Elliot and E.T. may have many younger viewers ignoring the skillful direction of Spielberg and the finely tuned script. To this day, the relationship between Elliot and the glow-fingered E.T. can induce tears in the eldest of hearts. One of the masterstrokes of the film is the character aptly called “Keys,” who is framed for most of the movie from the waist down, identifiable only by he keys that hang from his belt. Spielberg masterfully uses the trite environment in unique ways, with clever lighting and camera movement. In “E.T.” Spielberg perfects his directing skills introduced in his first masterpiece, 1975’s shark thriller “Jaws.”
Unfortunately there are no laws or legislation to protect classic films from being re-edited, re-imagined and re-rereleased for the purpose of the all mighty dollar. Hollywood needs an equivalent to the Environmental Protection Agency. Once brilliant directors can freely reclaim their golden years to make up for their recent failures (think Francis Ford Coppola and “Apocalypse Now: Redux”). Following the world premiere of the “E.T.” anniversary edition, rumors have been circulating around the industry that the Spielberg/Lucas collaboration “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might be the next modern classic to receive the special edition makeover. The thought of a computer enhanced boulder chasing after Harrison Ford, with a digitally removed whip, may not be far fetched. Is nothing sacred?