A group of alien botanists searching for plant life on Earth are disturbed by government officials, leaving one of their number behind. Discovered by a young boy, the two form a strong, symbiotic relationship. But danger is closing in...
You may be surprised, if you haven't seen E.T. recently, by the darkness of this 20th anniversary version. Not just visually – some scenes are practically conducted in silhouette – but narratively. You shouldn't be surprised, for E.T. is fundamentally a movie about a boy affected by the pain of his parents' divorce, entering into a doomed friendship – something easily overlooked amid all the 'biggest film ever' hype. So, this second chance to re-evaluate one of Spielberg's most powerful films is very welcome.
The first movie to unveil his Peter Pan complex, E.T. is clearly the work of a director on a roll. It's full of indelible images (that unforgettable shot of Elliott's bike framed against the moon) and superb performances (long before Haley Joel Osment was created in a lab, Henry Thomas showed kid actors how it's done).
Spielberg jerks those tears, but never with the kind of maudlin sentimentality that permeated, for example, Always. When that John Williams theme kicks in, you'll be pretending you've got something caught in your eye. But then, you knew that already. What you want to know is, is this Special Edition still, well, special?
In short, yes. In fact, the changes are surprisingly low-key. The main addition – a scene where E.T. takes a bath – expands on his relationship with Elliott, while ILM's CGI E.T. (it's acronym heaven) is used sparingly as a complement to Carlo Rambaldi's extraordinary puppet. The re-dubbing of a line containing the word "terrorist" and the digital replacement of government agents' guns with walkie-talkies might seem like post-September 11 pandering, but it's easy to understand Spielberg's motives.
If he wants to tinker with the movie, then, as Bobby Brown might say, that's his prerogative. Besides, there's still enough here to make anyone fall in love with E.T. all over again. And, rest assured, you will.
It remains a classic undamaged by cosmetic changes, and with power enough to overcome the impact of a hundred crappy telephone commercials.