Spherical Panavision - 1.85:1
Written by: Melissa Mathison
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Dee Wallace Stone, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert Macnaughton, Drew Barrymore, K.C. Martel, Sean Frye, Tom Howell, Erika Eleniak, David O'Dell, Richard Swingler, Frank Toth, Robert Barton, Michael Darrell
What can be said about E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that you aren't already familiar with? Up until earlier this year, E.T. was the top-grossing film of all time (just under $400 million in the US), and for good reason - this touching film about a young boy who befriends an extraterrestrial entity stranded on Earth succeeds on many levels, and it is a continual delight for children and adults alike. The storyline is first rate, the acting is completely natural and utterly believable (the young actors' innocence works to the film's advantage), and E.T. himself comes across as a living creature, not a special effects creation. Not bad for a film that many people thought would be a complete flop prior to its initial theatrical release in 1982. (E.T. was only recently knocked out of the number one boxoffice spot by Spielberg's friend George Lucas, whose Star Wars: Special Edition reissue brought that films grosses up to $461 million in the US). In any event, rather than reiterating the storyline (is there anyone out there who isn't familiar with E.T.?), we will instead focus upon Universal's magnificent laserdisc reissue of this heartwarming classic.
To date, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has made an appearance on laserdisc three separate times domestically. It initially arrived in late 1988 in a standard, movie-only CLV edition. Universal later reissued the film as a "Special Collector's Edition" laserdisc in late 1989, which featured a CAV version of the film (using the same transfer as the earlier CLV version), a theatrical trailer, production notes & biographical profiles on the film's producers, and numerous publicity photos. Although these earlier laserdisc releases featured extremely good transfers for their time, they both pale in comparison to Universal's recent effort - E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Signature Collection deluxe edition. This numbered, limited edition four-disc box set was originally released in October 1996 (a total of 8,011 sets were manufactured), and in terms of both quality and supplementary features, this "Signature Collection" edition can't be beat. However, you should note that this title - as well as the earlier two laserdisc releases - were officially placed on moratorium on May 30, 1997, and we suggest that you pick up a copy fairly soon if you wish to include it in your home collection.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was filmed in the flat 1.85:1 Spherical Panavision process, and this new THX-approved laserdisc transfer has been letterboxed with an approximate 1.73:1 aspect ratio. Although the older releases were also letterboxed at around 1.73:1, the new transfer adds a significant amount of picture information to the left and bottom edges of the frame, and a tiny amount to the right side as well. While we never had a problem with the quality of the older release, the new picture and color transfer is significantly better, so much so that the older discs now look rather fuzzy and muted in comparison. Just take a look at these comparison photos to see what we're talking about:
This new picture transfer is as perfect as can be - the image is incredibly sharp and crisp, and the amount of detail that can now be seen in individual scenes is astonishing. The color transfer has been improved as well - the color scheme is strong, vivid and extremely accurate, and the transfer is completely free from all color noise problems, easily making it easily one of the best-looking discs I've seen this year. The film portion of the E.T. "Signature Collection" edition appears on sides one through five in the CAV standard play format, and be assured that all the frames are rock solid.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial's CX-encoded digital Dolby Surround Stereo soundtrack is also exquisitely rendered, and the sound mix comes across so well that is appears as if it were recorded in the studio only yesterday. The audio is clear and distinct, and the music powerful. Overall, while this new soundtrack transfer is better than the older release, the improvements in the sound are not quite as dynamic as that gained from the superior new picture transfer. One thing the new sound transfer definitely improves upon is that the left and right channels appear in their proper places - the stereo channels were accidentally flipped on the earlier CAV release, and it was a bit annoying to have an action appear on the left side of the screen and the accompanying audio coming out of the right speaker, and vice versa (the older CLV edition was fine). As a special bonus, John Williams' original stereo musical score has been isolated on the analog tracks and is in excellent shape (please note that this is the music only, no sound fx, and there are long passages that are silent). As an additional extra, this box set also includes a gold CD version of the recently reissued E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Special Edition soundtrack (18 tracks, 71m23s), a digitally remixed, remastered and expanded edition which features over 30m of additional music. While the earlier LP and CD releases of E.T. featured re-recordings of all the music and several lengthened pieces, this new "Special Edition" features the music cues as heard in the actual film. Although this "Special Edition" CD is available in stores (MCAD-11484), this gold CD edition is exclusive to the laserdisc set.
As was mentioned a bit earlier in this review, this Signature Collection release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial contains numerous supplementary features that are sure to please all fans of the movie. The supplementary materials appear on discs five through seven of this set. "The E.T. Archives" follows the film on CAV side five, and contains a total of 283 still frames of material. Although the still-frame section is divided into logical sections, all the material is featured under a single chapter marker (#20) - please note that the following descriptions include the starting frame number for each section to make it easier to locate these materials. Included within are "E.T. Designs by Production Illustrator Ed Verreaux" (#27279 - 42 "cartoony" pencil drawings, most of E.T.'s facial expressions); "E.T. Designs by Ralph McQuarrie" (#27322 - 15 pencil drawing of really strange aliens, nothing really resembling the final E.T. design); "E.T. Designs by Carlo Rambaldi" (#27338 - 10 color pencils of the final E.T. design; because of the medium used, the reproduction here is slightly fuzzy); "Space Ship Designs by Ralph McQuarrie" (#27349 - 8 b&w designs); "Designs by Production Illustrator Ed Verreaux" (#27358 - 1 b&w of E.T. playing with toys, 6 various color shots, 2 stage pass mockups); and "A Few Facts About E.T." (#27368 - 6 text frames, mostly about E.T.'s alien creation). A "Production Photographs" section (#27375) features 78 b&w stills (mostly behind-the-scenes, but there are some posed shots); some shots of E.T.'s ship (1 color drawing, 13 color stills and 2 b&w stills), and some miniature effects materials mostly revolving around the flying bicycles (20 b&w and 26 color stills). The "Marketing E.T." section (#27516) includes 4 color sketches by artist Drew Struzan, 12 posed color shots, some Ralph McQuarrie poster concepts (1 b&w, 7 color), merchandise (23 color, 1 text frame), E.T.'s premiere (2 color shots taken at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome), one shot of a billboard and the famous "Rolling Stone" cover, 2 text frames describing E.T.'s awards and nominations, and one color shot of someone holding up a mug shaped like E.T.'s head (which also states "The End of the E.T. Archives"). While the material presented in "The E.T. Archive" is very nice indeed, I have to admit that I thought more in-depth information and production materials would have been included within this still-frame section. Additionally, nearly none of the 313 frames of supplementary materials from the old CAV release has been included in this newer edition: missing are "Notes on the Production - 1982," 145 frames; "Notes for the Theatrical Reissue - 1985," 66 frames; "Production Notes for the Videocassette Release - 1988," 24 frames; and nearly all of the 78 color "Publicity Photographs."
Thankfully, CLV sides six and seven feature an excellent 90m documentary, The Making of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which helps immensely in filling in the missing production information. Written, directed and produced by Laurent Bouzereau (who was also responsible for the supplementary materials present on Universal's incredible Jaws: Signature Collection laserdisc), this documentary follows the making of the film from its initial story development phase through to potential sequel discussions, and includes various interviews conducted in 1996, behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes and more, all of which is intercut with sequences taken from the finished film. Among those featured in the interview segments discussing their personal involvement in the film are Director Steven Spielberg, Writer/Associate Producer Melissa Mathison (who is also Harrison Ford's wife), Production Illustrator Ed Verreaux, Director of Photography Allen Daviau, actors Henry Thomas & Drew Barrymore (they are interviewed together), actor Robert Macnaughton, actor Dee Wallace Stone, actor Peter Coyote, George Lucas (who talks about the Yoda cameo in the film), Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren, Production Designer James D. Bissell, Go-Motion(TM) Figures guru Tom St. Amand, Spaceship Designer Ralph McQuarrie, Editor Carol Littleton, E.T. Voice Designer Ben Burtt, and Composer John Williams.
The many behind-the-scenes segments (which are presented letterboxed) cover such things as various clips of Spielberg directing Henry Thomas, Thomas, various short clips of Spielberg directing in general, the testing of E.T.'s eye (the iris opening up), testing of E.T.'s insides/heart light, filming E.T.'s "death", filming in the woods, E.T. lighting tests, Thomas talking about dreaming of real E.T.s, Melissa Mathison talking to the child actors about their roles, Spielberg dressed like a "female schoolteacher" for Halloween, a cool clip of a very young Drew Barrymore talking about how films are great to make and are much better than going to school, trying to get Henry Thomas to do the kissing scene (did you know that the girl in that scene is none other than 12-year-old actress Erika Eleniak?! - this isn't something that is mentioned anywhere within the documentary), the filming of the spaceship exteriors, composer John Williams conducting, and footage of the Cinerama Dome and Drew Barrymore. Also featured is footage of physically-challenged actors Pat Bilon, Matthew De Meritt and Tamara De Treux (the folks who actually worked inside of E.T.'s costume and brought the creature to life in many scenes) and Caprice Rothe (E.T.'s Movement Coordinator, who provided all of the E.T.'s realistic hand gestures). By far the most precious item contained with the documentary is Henry Thomas' screen test (it runs 2m33s) - his screen test is so realistic and so touching, he apparently had the entire screen test crew in tears, and you hear Spielberg telling him immediately afterwards "Okay, kid, you got the job!" After watching this screen test, you'll also definitely understand why Thomas got the job on the spot! What many of you will also appreciate is the inclusion of several sequences deleted from the final print. Included is Elliott setting up a Dungeons & Dragon adventure with his friends (this was supposed to be the original ending for the film); the entire legendary Harrison Ford cameo (he plays the school's principal, and you never see his face); and a combined behind-the-scenes shooting / final sequence of Melissa Mathison's cameo in the film as a school nurse, in which she and another nurse catch Elliott drawing a complicated computer circuitry pattern on the walls of the school's infirmary. The quality of the footage in the documentary varies depending upon the original source, but generally everything looks fairly good. The letterboxed scenes from the film, however, look slightly weaker in the documentary than they do on the actual film portions of the disc. The documentary's soundtrack is presented in CX-encoded digital stereo.
Following the documentary on side seven are three theatrical trailers: the "going towards Earth" trailer with footage (1m55s), a dream-like trailer featuring a "magical" musical dub (reissue, 1m30s) and another spot with an "exciting" music dub (July 19 reissue, 1m19s). All of the trailers are letterboxed at around 1.72:1, and are in fairly decent condition.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Signature Collection was pressed at Pioneer, and contains a total of 33 listed chapter markers (19 for the film, 1 for the still-frame archives, 12 for the documentary, and 1 for the trailers). While both the film and the documentary are closed-captioned in English, the trailers are not (the closed-captioning is very good and has minimal paraphrasing). The box itself is a beauty to behold - nearly 1.75" thick, the cover features a starfield with a reflective silver "E.T." logo. Upon opening the box, you first find a full-color six-page foldout brochure containing containing numerous photos and the chapter listing. Underneath that you find a light blue ribbon which allows you to pull the four discs out of the box itself. Each disc comes in its own paper & plastic inner sleeve, which in turn is packaged inside its own cardboard jacket (featuring a starfield and the disc number). Underneath all the discs you'll find that the box is lined in a "velvety" material and that there is a space on the bottom containing the CD soundtrack (which you again pull out using another blue ribbon). The back of the box is stamped "LIMITED EDITION NO. xxxx" in silver, and has a cardboard backing that touts the discs highlights (there is a cutout in the cardboard backing that allows you to see the limited edition stamping & number). For your information, if the backing looks as if it is falling off, don't worry about it - it is not meant to stay affixed permanently, and it is simply held in place by a couple of strips of rubber cement so that it won't damage the back of the box (just stick this sheet it inside of your box after you open the shrink wrap).
In a somewhat strange marketing move, this box set unfortunately doesn't list any of the standard film or laserdisc information you would expect it to (it doesn't appear on the outside jacket or anywhere inside the box). Missing are the film's credits, the running time (114m23s for the film, 90m00s for the documentary), the rating ("PG"), which discs are CAV and CLV (CAV: Sides 1-5, CLV: Sides 6 & 7), whether the disc is closed captioned (yes, both the film and the documentary), what type of soundtrack is present on the disc (Digital Dolby Surround Stereo), the "Widescreen Edition" information and formatting (matted, 1.85:1), the disc's catalog number, and even Universal's "Signature Collection" logo and the THX Mastering Program logo. Obviously this was simply an oversight that occurred while putting together the intricate packaging of this box set, but it's still a bit of a shame that nobody managed to notice these omissions.
If you love E.T., then this newly-transferred edition deserves a place in your collection. The film has never looked better on laserdisc and the supplementary materials are wonderful. As I mentioned earlier, all versions of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were placed on moratorium on May 30, 1997, and copies of the laserdisc will understandably become increasingly difficult to locate in coming months. Many stores still have this limited edition "Signature Collection" edition in stock (at least in the Los Angeles area), but if you are interested in this title, I highly suggest you pick it up before they all disappear - we understand that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is due for a theatrical reissue sometime around 2005, and a reappearance on home video before then is very unlikely.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 06/25/97
Last Updated: 06/25/97