‘E.T.’ phones home again with re-release

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‘E.T.’ phones home again with re-release

Remember the first time you saw E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial? It was probably on video several years after its original 1982 release.

While the convenience of VCRs has allowed the movie to live on, its popularity has fizzled in the recent Disney-saturated years.

Nothing can replace the theater experience – the perfume of popcorn and the thrill you get as the lights go down and a hush falls over the full auditorium.

With the 20th anniversary re-release of E.T., even the youngest generation of moviegoers has the opportunity to experience one of 20th century’s greatest movies on the big screen.

The re-release is giving members of Generation X the chance to see, in theaters, a movie which they grew up with, but were too young to see anywhere other than video. And it’s giving everyone a chance to relive the magic.

Over the past few years, many older films have been re-released to theaters. Grease and Dirty Dancing both saw anniversary re-releases and George Lucas brought back enhanced versions of the original Star Wars movies as the ultimate preview for the new episodes.

While E.T. has been re-touched and restored, don’t expect a sequel or prequel to be in the works anytime soon.

“I never wanted to make a sequel to E.T.,” director Steven Spielberg said in a statement put out by Universal Pictures. “But I thought it would be great to re-issue the film on the 20th anniversary with a few enhancements to please the perfectionist inside myself, and for an audience both old and new.”

Spielberg turned to Industrial Light & Magic to help with the restoration and enhancement of the classic. ILM had worked on the original and was eager to be part of the restoration.

ILM’s technology gave Spielberg the opportunity to approach his masterpiece from a new direction and to correct past mistakes.

Scenes digitally added to the re-release were events that had been dropped from the original storyline due to the lack of puppetry and lighting technology available in the early ’80s.

Bill George, supervisor of the visual-effects work done on the new version, said the digital work completed was more like “sending grandma to the beauty parlor instead of the plastic surgeon” because you love her and want to make minor adjustments, not change the entire package.

Scenes were re-shot with human actors, digitally replacing the claymation puppets used to film the flying bicycle sequence of the original film.

The little brown alien received minor brush-ups on his acting technique and character articulation. Computer-generated effects overlaid on the original puppet made E.T.’s face more emotional and expressive while his movements became less stilted and more naturally fluid.

“If this film were done today,” Lucas said, “chances are that E.T. would be an all computer generated character.”

The re-issue not only gave Spielberg the chance to enhance the movie, but to make the enhanced version politically correct for today’s audience. Spielberg openly admits his decision to have law enforcement officials carry weapons in the original bicycle chase has plagued his conscience since the movie first opened.

He said E.T. was a movie for children, both young and old, and the vision of violence that the weapons produced was wrong.

Spielburg has redeemed himself. The 20th anniversary edition shows police carrying radios and not rifles, easing the director’s sense of right and wrong. In light of recent events, Spielberg said that filmmakers have certain responsibilities to younger audiences and the images that they view – a policeman with a gun threatening a child on a bicycle is irresponsible.

“I notice that some people have accused me of being Pollyanna and too soft,” Spielberg said. “I’m sure that the National Rifle Association will be angry at me as well. But I stand by this decision.”

In the case of E.T., Spielberg stood by his original product. Instead of totally revamping the original and superimposing today’s technology onto the film, the director has, for the most part, made inconsequential changes.

An innocent soul can now be seen in the once awkward puppet’s eyes. He is still the brown little alien that touched our hearts as children.

The only difference is that thanks to modern technology and a little vision, he can communicate to all generations of E.T. fans – both new and old.

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