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'E.T.: 20TH Anniversary Release'

'E.T.' Gets some TLC

Friday, March 22, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

On the 20th anniversary of its release, Steven Spielberg sends his children's classic to the 'beauty parlor'

 
 
'E.T.'

RATING: PG for language and mild thematic elements.

STARRING: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

WEB SITE: www.et20.com

CRITIC'S CALL:


'E.T': Where'd you get those eyes?

   
 

E.T. still phones home. Gertie, a blond moppet, still screams when she gets her first gander at the man from outer space. And Elliott still nestles the alien into his bicycle basket and soars toward the moon, as John Williams' music sweeps us aloft with them.

"E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial" is back in theaters and while Steven Spielberg has tinkered with his 1982 movie, he hasn't destroyed its heart, timeless appeal or endearing portrait of a 10-year-old who misses his father but gains a most unlikely friend. Yes, the government agents now carry walkie-talkies instead of guns, but you probably won't even notice the switch.

In the Spielbergian universe, you can change the past -- or the 20th anniversary edition of one of your favorite films. The director (wisely) always insisted he never wanted to make a sequel to "E.T.," but he took advantage of the re-release to restore, tweak and enhance the original.

Effects supervisor Bill George from Industrial Light & Magic put it this way: "It's kind of like the difference between sending Grandma to the beauty parlor or sending her to the plastic surgeon. We wanted to send Grandma to the beauty parlor, because she's someone you love. You don't want to change her ... just make her more attractive."

In addition to cleaning the scratched and dirty negatives, ILM used its modern computer arsenal to widen the range of E.T.'s facial expressions. A scene in which E.T. tumbles into a water-filled bathtub and a mother looks for her missing trick-or-treaters have been added.

Most moviegoers are probably familiar with the story by now: An alien, later to be dubbed E.T., is left behind by his spaceship. He seeks refuge in a tool shed behind the home of a recently separated suburban mom (Dee Wallace Stone) and is discovered by her middle child, 10-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas).

He befriends E.T. and shares his out-of-this-world visitor with his older brother (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister (Drew Barrymore). When E.T. falls ill, the mother is introduced to the alien who's been drinking her beer and causing household havoc. That's about when the U.S. government locates E.T. and invades the suburban home, not counting on the resourcefulness of E.T. or his youthful companions.

Watching "E.T." again, it's remarkable to study Spielberg's use of light and shadow and the aggressively childlike view of the story. When a camera roams around Elliott's science class, we hear the teacher's voice but see only the lower part of his body. The same is true of a policeman, and most of the marauding government agents seem like invaders.

Given today's shrinking attention spans, "E.T." is a little longer (two hours) and more leisurely paced than many family films. But you have to give Spielberg tremendous credit for casting wonderful young actors, especially Henry Thomas, who can convey fear, wonder, elation and sadness without crossing some unseen line into mawkishness or overacting. Barrymore is properly adorable and innocent, while MacNaughton makes a very believable big brother.

E.T. may not be as slick as anything you'll find in today's computer-driven world, but there is something comforting and old-fashioned about him. And you know that when the characters are looking at E.T., they are looking at a sophisticated puppet or full-size E.T. suit, not an empty space where an image will later be inserted.

Even if you've seen "E.T." before, it's hard to resist the little man with the unforgettable voice and glowing heartlight.

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