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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I have fond memories of E.T. - because in 1982 when it opened, I was working across the street from the Cinerama Dome. All during its run, we used to look down in awe over the long lines at the theater from the sixth floor above, and it got to be quite the event. The big discussion at that time of course was how many of us had succumbed to the ending, since few of us weren't awash in tears even after multiple viewings.
Over the years I've purchased this movie in several different versions trying to recapture just how special we felt about it at that time, and thanks to Steven Spielberg listening to his audience, this new standard edition DVD finally got things right. (There is also a deluxe box set available, which I'll talk about later on in this review.)
I won't go into the details of the plot, as it's probably well known to you by now. What's interesting to note though is that the movie has undergone some minor changes over the years in various re-releases and television airings, and that it really got a major overhaul earlier this year for a 20th anniversary reissue in preparation for the DVD release. Spielberg decided to tinker with the movie a bit, as he did with Close Encounters a few years back, and thanks to recent advancements in special effects was able to add a few scenes back in, and enhance and fix a few other shots already in place. Of course this caused an uproar, to which Spielberg responded by reassuring everyone that the DVD release would include both the new and original versions.
When the original press release for the DVD came out afterwards, it was apparent that Spielberg's promise was going to be kept, but at a steep cost to the consumer; the original 1982 version was going to be available only in a $70 list box set, while the regular $27 list edition would only include the 2002 version. The uproar on this was even louder than for the tinkering done on the reissue, but the studio apparently was going to stick by its guns. Yes, you could call it savvy marketing - but it appeared this time to most customers that Universal had gone too far.
Then word began to leak out a few weeks ago, and was later confirmed by Spielberg himself on the Today Show, that both versions of the movie would be available in the regular and deluxe editions of the DVD. Rumor has it that he went back to Universal at just about the last minute possible (and after they had already begun production on the disc packaging) and requested that the original version be added to the second disc in the lower priced set.
What this ended up doing was causing a lot of confusion out in the marketplace, since the press release and disc package says one thing, and what is included is something else. But it gave the consumer a terrific value and quite possibly the best home video edition of the film. (I also think Spielberg was savvy enough to understand that in an era of souped-up DVD releases, this move would turn this title into a must have, making it much more competitive with the overwhelming amount of other new releases this year.)
On the regular edition the first disc includes only a few extras, besides the John Williams live soundtrack (more on this later in the discussion of the technical aspects of this set). There is a two minute introduction to the 2002 version by Spielberg, nice, but not essential. The 17 minute featurette "2002 World Premiere" is one of those shorts that are also nice, but you'll probably only watch once like the introduction. (While you get to hear a bit of the new overture that Williams did for the film and you get to see Spielberg's on-stage introduction of the main cast and crew, all I could think was "maybe it would be more exciting if I had actually been there.")
There is one other feature on the first disc, something called "Space Exploration." While the kids may enjoy it, and then again only once, there's other content you can better spend your time on in this set. You'll notice that there is no commentary track on the movie by Spielberg - this is par for the course for him, he doesn't believe in them.
On disc two of the regular edition you get "The Making of E.T.," a 24-minute "best of" documentary that you get in its full length on the more expensive box set. They kind of dropped the ball here by the way, as the original limited edition laser disc box had a better two hour documentary, and the deleted scenes were also available separately in that edition. There is also a segment called "The Reunion," (photo below) an 18-minute extended version of that final bits on the making-of featurette. There is some overlapping of content here.
"Designs, Photographs and Marketing" is a gallery divided into six subsections: "E.T. Designs by Production Illustrator Ed Verreaux," "E.T. Designs by Carlo Rambaldi," "Spaceship Designs by Ralph McQuarrie," "Designs by Production Illustrator Ed Verreaux," "Production Photographs" and "Marketing E.T.". With over a 100 stills, it plays as an 18 minute video segment. Unfortunately they have disabled the ability to hit still, fast forward and rewind, so you have no control over any of these areas. Maybe they wanted to push sales of the making-of book?
You also get the 2002 re-release trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 2.0, and a DVD promo spot for the upcoming "Back to the Future" trilogy - there are no other E.T. trailers. There are some rather nondescript production notes, basic cast and crew filmographies, and a section named "Special Announcements." In this section you'll find three TV ads, one featuring E.T. for the Special Olympics, a plug for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and a recent commercial for the Universal Studios theme parks which shows the E.T. ride.
If you have a DVD-ROM unit on your computer, the disc also offers a "Total Axess" portal, which is supposed to be exclusive content that they promise will change every week. You can access a few features without a web connection though. For the kids there are three interactive games; "Dress Up E.T." (You can make him look like a pimp. I'm not kidding.) There is also "Save E.T.," a simple flash game where you have to collect pieces of a communicator to make E.T. fly. For kids and adults there is also the "E.T. Trivia Challenge," which from what I could see could be one. Most of this is play-once content.
The regular edition discs are packaged in a four panel cardboard accordion fold out type tray - with no labeling on the spine or even a slipcase cover to hold the package together. I liked the idea of the protective plastic window on the cover showing the moon, which turns out to be the DVD itself. Watch out for product that has several security stickers on the edges - which if not peeled slowly and carefully, lift the printing right off the box. Look around for sets that are not stickered, and you won't risk a damaged cover. (There were plenty of non stickered sets at the shop I picked up my disc in.)
Now, I mentioned the box set - and here's what else you get for $43 more in list price (along with what the regular edition already had):
You get a rather bulky foil-covered collector's box including three discs for the movie and the 20th Anniversary re-mastered CD soundtrack, a smaller sized reprint of the book "E.T. From Concept to Classic (including screenplay text), a collectible senitype (their word for a single frame from a film print) with a certificate of authenticity. Ooooh, how exciting. (Yes that was sarcastic.)
It should be noted that the 1982 version on the second disc in the box set does NOT have the DTS-ES 6.1 soundtrack, only a Dolby Surround 2.0 English/French/Spanish track. And as mentioned above, on the third disc you get a longer version of the documentary "The Evolution and Creation of ET," and a John Williams music featurette.
Since the longer documentary on the box set really doesn't come up to the standards of the original laserdisc box - all that is left here for the additional cost is a few trinkets, and the lack of a DTS-ES track for the 1982 edition of the film.
You do the math - the more expensive box may be worth it for you, but the lower priced set with the inclusion of the original version of the movie with both the Dolby and DTS 6.1 tracks was a no-brainer for me.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
E.T. is a dark movie - which makes for a grainy print, which only gets magnified on a larger screen. It especially shows in the night sections - which is a good deal of the film. Add to this lots of fog (which MPEG compression has a hell of a time rendering), plus the soft focus and filters that Spielberg shot with, and this movie just can't compare with some of the newest transfers out there visually.
Nevertheless, this is the best the movie has ever looked on home video - with a slight edge to the 2002 edition as it was probably tweaked a bit more to match the newer footage. Colors are now vivid and solid - gone are those red bleeds from VHS and the first laserdisc edition. The film is presented in 16x9 anamorphic - and looks very good on those sets that can present the film in this manner. (If you prefer the full screen version, well, you're welcome to it, but it just won't look like it did in the theater, the framing is very cramped. The box set is only available in widescreen by the way.)
For me the biggest thrill is finally hearing John Williams' original score in its full dynamic range remixed for 6.1 Dolby Digital EX/DTS ES. (The original 1982 film was in Dolby Surround, the disc menus incorrectly state that the new mixes are only 5.1.) Many of the reviews I've seen online for this title seem to forget that E.T. was one of the first all-digital film score recordings - so the potential for great sound was always there.
Both the Dolby and DTS tracks are richly remixed with all sorts of new details heard in the strings, and the extended bass we knew was there all along. Careful listening doesn't reveal much of a difference between the Dolby and DTS tracks - so choose the one you like. With this disc it doesn't really matter as the remix sounds even closer to what live orchestras sound like. Both versions of the film benefit from this remix - which indicates no expense was spared in mastering this movie for DVD.
As I mentioned above, there is also another soundtrack available on the 2002 version, a Dolby Digital 6.1 live recording of the score conducted by John Williams at the re-premiere of the film. (You can only access this option after you see the introduction in the special features part of the menus.) While it is fun to have this even more state-of-the-art recording available - consider it a concert experience, with all the inherent problems that can bring with it. The movie is still best served by its original soundtrack music.
Menus and interface are elegantly simple - again the only complaints are listed above, the stills section should not have had the various still and fast forward options disabled, a few features on the first disc (such as the live score) are hidden behind Spielberg's introduction. I did not like that I could not switch audio tracks on the fly either - it would have been nice to better compare the live score with the original soundtrack music on the 2002 version.
The Final Evaluation
This 2-disc DVD of E.T. gets it right for the consumer, thanks to director Spielberg getting involved at the last minute to make it value packed. With many dealers offering it at $16 to $20, it is truly an unbeatable value. (If you still want the box set it can be found out there for about $55.)
For people like me, who fondly remember the 1982 original version, I can enjoy E.T. now in its best incarnation ever. For those that prefer the new additions and changes made to the movie for its 20th anniversary reissue, (or when I want the option of watching it for myself), the 2002 edition is also right at hand.
Thank you Steven Spielberg for listening to your customers.
Technical Specifications -
(Also available in a full frame regular edition, and a deluxe widescreen only box set.)
Note: Universal plans to discontinue this title on December 31, 2002.
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