Director:  Steven Spielberg.

Starring:  Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore

An alien is stranded on Earth, and is hidden from the authorities by a group of children.

Where were you in '83? The chances are that if you were anywhere, you'll remember that 1983 was the year that E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial was everywhere

At one point you couldn't open a newspaper or a magazine without seeing the little critter's ugly mug, or visit the shops without being assailed by some greasy ne'er do well flogging dodgy T-shirts or knock-off dolls (yes, dolls, we didn't have "action figures" back in the olden days). 

Soon after its release, the film broke box office records, and made film history in video shops up and down the country: it was the first time ever  that the question "when's it coming out on video?" was frequently answered by someone disappearing into a dingy storeroom, only to return with an no-brand E180 with a hastily-scrawled, hand-written label. The era of video piracy had dawned!

All of which makes it all the more surprising that the film's recent theatrical 20th anniversary re-release failed to re-ignite the spark that resulted in the film grossing more than seven hundred million dollars. The re-issue added a mere $35m to Universal's bank balance.

Spielberg gave the film a thorough overhaul for its re-release, re-mastering the existing elements and adding or extending a couple of sequences (including reinstating a scene that Spielberg always wanted in the film, but simply didn't work because the animatronic effects weren't good enough) and fiddling around with some of John Williams' music cues. He also made a couple of revisionist, politically-correct tweaks, to remove a line of suspect dialogue (in the original film Mom tells her son he can't go trick-or-treating dressed as a "terrorist", which has now been replaced, Newspeak style, by "hippie"), and by digitally changing the guns of the FBI agents tracking E.T. into walkie-talkies. ("People are looking for films that don't remind them of the troubled times we live in", Spielberg explains). Pathetic, really. The changes may be minor, and there's no doubt that some of them undoubtedly improve the film, but that doesn't stop them being odious.

If you're a purist, you might as well skip the rest of this review, and buy one of the Region 1 disc sets, or wait for the UK 3-disc set!

When the DVD release of the film was announced in the US, there was relief that the original version of the film was being made available for those who wanted it, but also some concern, because to get it potential customers would have to buy an overly-lavish  three-disc bells-and-whistles box set. In a spectacular volte-face - and something of a PR disaster - Universal eventually relented, and - apparently under instruction from Mr Spielberg himself -  made sure that both versions of the film would be available on the more affordable, mass-market 2-disc set. Fans rejoiced. Universal's UK division promptly swung into action, studiously  ignoring the wishes of the director, and released their own re-hash-only version anyway. It's quite bizarre that copies of the two disc set were already on sale by the time the announcement that the UK, too, would get a three-disc set that contained the original version of the film.

Let's put the lack of the original, unadulterated version aside, and focus on what the two-disc Region 2 set does offer. Front and foremost is an anamorphic widescreen transfer, framed at about 1.85:1. The film has a slightly unpleasant processed appearance, with some prominent edge enhancement haloing and aliasing. Other than that it's generally pretty decent. It's certainly not as good as you might expect from a relatively recent film that's had a full-fledged anniversary cleanup, but then you have to take into account the fine moody cinematography of Allen Daviau, which must have presented a real challenge for the telecine team. Colour balance and contrast are good (a lot of the film is very dark, but detail in the shadows is excellent) and only a modest amount of original film grain is present. The first thing you'll probably notice is that there's a surprising amount of side-to-side film weave, which is most obvious during the opening credits.

There's a choice of audio options: there are Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mixes in English and Dutch (both using the crippled 384kbps bit-rate), and a DTS 5.1 ES mix (at 754kbps). The DTS mix is noticeably more spacious, but both are quite accomplished, and have a satisfying presence. Another audio track, a recording of the 20th Anniversary version's Shrine Auditorium premiere, with live accompaniment by John Williams and orchestra. This is presented in 5.1 (at 384kbps), and includes the sound effects, dialogue and crowd noise. If it had been a presentation of the isolated score, it might have been more useful, but then there would have been no point in Universal putting the soundtrack CD in the 3-disc Region 1 box set. Annoyingly, this track is only accessible by going to the Bonus Features menu, which leads automatically to An Introduction by Steven Spielberg (1'58"), which isn't related to, but leads to the option to play the alternate audio track. The Region 1 disc better puts this feature in context, by including on disc one an explanatory documentary featurette, which has been shunted to disc two for the UK set.



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