Reviewed by Mark Ebert
Once upon a time . . .
George Lucas, with his Star Wars trilogy, started the modern ball of theatrical re-release rolling in 1997, when his original films about that galaxy far, far away were reissued to theaters for the generations who had grown up with them - and the ones still growing - to enjoy. Older films like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz followed suit. Now, in 2002, E. T. returns to cinematic screens across the country.
E. T. was an unprecedented success when it premiered in 1982. It ran for over a year and when the dust settled it had garnered 399.8 million domestic dollars, and its young stars, Henry Thomas (Elliott) and Drew Barrymore (Gertie), had become as familiar to the international community as the kids next door - they even met Princess Diana. It was touted as the greatest Disney movie Disney never made and became a topic of discussion in boardrooms and classrooms alike. In 1988, when it finally arrived on VHS, it was clear that E. T. was no flash in the pan, quickly becoming the biggest selling video release to that date. Now, in 2002, it comes to us again, as endearing as ever.
Snob critics enjoy berating directors who take the liberty of altering their films in any way, and Spielberg has not been immune to this, but - as hard as it may be for some viewers to believe - the changes improve a film that no one believed could be more complete. The restored scene with Elliott and ET is charming and, in just a little bit of time - around two minutes - makes viewers laugh, displays the innocence of curiosity when it is devoid of prejudice, and shows Elliotts concern for ET. The so-called deletions are incredibly welcomed and were a wise move on Spielbergs part. Who- in a post-Waco, Ruby Ridge, Elian Gonzalez, and 9/11 world- would want to see armed federal agents chasing down children on bikes? Likewise, who would want to hear that all the guys in the neighborhood are going dressed as terrorists for Halloween? In 1982 these things were acceptable on film, because they were as far removed from reality as a child taking in an abandoned alien. Now they would appear grisly.
Ironically, it is those same changes in our culture that make the bijou re-release of E. T. an appreciated event. In a world where a madman seeks to destroy anything that isnt like him, what could be more reassuring than the tale of a child who takes in and befriends something utterly different? Indeed, the lesson of E. T. is that I can help someone, and that someone neednt be my race, religion, color, or creed. I help them because it is the right thing to do and because when I am in a bad way I pray that someone will care enough to help me. The story begins with Elliott being very pitiful and lonely. The film changes only when he takes his eyes off of himself (though his grief is real) and focuses on assisting another. If Osama Bin Laden were treated to one American film before his execution, I hope it would be E. T.
In the twentieth anniversary television special for E. T. Steven Spielberg promised that the DVD would feature both versions of the film, a Hollywood directors hope of pleasing all of the people all of the time. When it does come to DVD, whichever one they chose to watch, children and adults will have the opportunity to widen the angle on lifes lens, and follow the adventures of a time not so long ago, and an ideal not so very far away.
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