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Alexandra DuPont dissects that E.T. 20th Anniversary Edition thing

Hey folks, Harry here with the lovely Ms DuPont's look at that refurbished E.T. Personally I'd love to just hear a straight digital sound version of the original in theaters... without CG stuff being done to it. But that's just me. This weekend I'm going to watch BLADE 2 again, RIKI OH at the Drafthouse and somewhere in there I'll catch ICE AGE and maybe BLADE 2 again. I'll catch this E.T. on its third week... just as a protest thing. I'd rather support the non-tampered films before the rebuilt films. Maybe it is just me. Here's Alexandra...

Alexandra DuPont's Brief "E.T. 20th Anniversary Special Edition" FAQ

Say, Alexandra -- seen that "E.T. 20th Anniversary Special Edition"?

I have.

Is it a mangling and a betrayal of Spielberg's 1982 masterpiece?

Not by a long shot. In fact, as with Lucas' "Special Edition" treatment of Episode IV's Death Star dogfight (though not his handling of, say, the cantina scenes), this is a mostly seamless technical intervention -- and an actual enhancement at times -- over the 1982 original.

Heresy! You're kidding! Didn't they digitally erase the shotguns?

They did. But the government goons were already a pack of complete weenies. (See below.)

Didn't they change it so Elliot's mom says Michael looks like a "hippie" instead of a "terrorist"?

They did that, too. But he never looked like a "hippie" or a "terrorist" -- he always looked like a hobo with a knife through his head. I'm angrier that they didn't change it to "hobo."

Does Elliot still say "penis breath"?

He does.

I rejoice at the preservation of the "penis breath" insult!

That's kind of a strange thing to say.

What else didn't they change?

The overall thematic arc of the movie and its high craftsmanship, which is manipulative as hell and pretty shamelessly buttressed with a soaring 747 of a John Williams score (which I re-purchased yesterday, BTW) but is also skillful and impeccable and general good family fun. Also its Haley Joel-caliber child performances, which are still staggeringly good.

I mean, listen -- there's definitely a good debate to be had about this whole "Special Edition" nonsense, where already-solid flicks are revisited and tweaked because of ethical concerns (Lucas) or a desire to expand the story (Coppola) or a desire to digitally milk more money out of a classic (Lucas, Coppola). But for my money, "E.T. '02" really doesn't have a "Greedo shoots first" moment to rally around. Its tweaks are subsumed into the overall storytelling arc, which is very much intact.

So what changes did you notice?

1. Some extremely well-done shots where the mechanical E.T. was replaced with a more ambulatory version that can do things like, say, swallow beer convincingly. (I freely admit these may end up looking flatter as all digital enhancements seem to on home video, but they looked great on celluloid, even the mouth enhancements. And I'm sorry, but even as a child I hated that E.T. was so obviously on a dolly track during the opening chase. Now he sort of hops like a cross between a whithered kangaroo and Linda Hunt. It's ginchy.

2. An utterly pristine sound remix. Williams' score -- love or hate its operatic qualities -- never sounded better. (Be sure to pick up the 20th-anniversary edition of the score if you're so inclined.)

3. A new, somewhat tepid scene in which Elliot shows E.T. le toilette and E.T. submerges himself in the bathtub. Nifty effects-wise, and mildly funny, but it does little to advance the plot.

Was the audience still sucked in by the movie, 20 years on?

With surprising efficiency they were sucked. My emotions were duly smote. Even those around me who resented the manipulation respected its skill.

Say, Alexandra -- what did you notice in "E.T. '02" that you didn't in '82 (or in '90, when you last watched the entire "un-special" edition)?

1. Why, Elliot's kissing none other than "Baywatch"/"Under Siege" vixen Erika Eleniak while hooched!

2. Also, keeping up with the B-list cameos, there's C. Thomas Howell as one of the BMX bandits! (But I guess everyone but me remembered that.)

3. Dee Wallace-Stone really wears that Halloween costume. Otherwise, she's white-bread in more or less the exact same lapsed-hippie way Melinda Dillon was in "Close Encounters" (and Kate Capshaw is in real life, I'd imagine).

4. More crucially, the government lockdown of Elliot's home is really low-security and toothless when viewed in these less-naive times. I remember that lockdown scaring the absolute bejeezus out of me in '82; now I kept wondering (a) why they were wearing visored spacesuits instead of clean-suits, and (b) when the Smoking Man was going to step in with a scalpel and open E.T. up like a walleye fillet.

Putting it another way: The X-Files" and their ilk have conditioned us to expect hard-assed government paranoia, and in the gentle fable that is "E.T.," it's pathetically easy for Elliot and Michael to steal a van carrying the most important frozen corpse in human history. Frankly, this was more jarring to me than any digitally erased shotguns; I don't believe this group of NASA janitors (abetted by leftover cops from the "Sabotage" video) had the stones to open fire on the kids anyway.

5. E.T. purrs when he's happy.

6. Finally, I noticed on a hard-core technical level how really truly good Spielberg used to be at (a) rendering suburban life, (b) never pushing too hard during the smaller, human moments, and (c) orchestrating cinematic tension and release. While I've appreciated moments and scenes in all his latter-period, flawed, ambitious, politically correct "mature films," I really miss the gung-ho, pitch-perfect showoff Spielberg of old.

Here's hoping "Minority Report" re-kindles the whiz kid,

Alexandra DuPont

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