Release Date(s)1982 (September 12, 2017)
Studio(s)Amblin/Universal Pictures (Universal)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
The early 1980s were an amazing time for movie-going. 1982, in particular, delivered the likes of Blade Runner, The Thing, Poltergeist, Conan the Barbarian, Star Trek II, Tootsie, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Almost every week that year, a new film arrived at the local theater that seemed destined to become a classic, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial high among them. Arguably the director’s most personal work, it tells the story of a humble being from another planet, accidentally left behind on Earth by his fellow alien explorers. Lost and alone, he’s soon befriended by a young boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas). Together, they work to find a way to return him home again, even as ominous Government scientists try to stop them.
As wondrous as the first experience of this film was back in the day, E.T. had started to feel awfully dated in recent years; suffering especially from Spielberg’s infamous 2002 “special edition” re-release, which digitally replaced FBI shotguns with walkie-talkies. Fortunately, the director came to his senses, after a strong backlash, and the original version of the film was been lovingly preserved for posterity. That original theatrical version is exactly what’s presented here in 4K. Now... much has been written about E.T. over the years, including here at The Bits (see Tim Salmons’ review of the last Anniversary Edition Blu-ray). So let’s focus specifically on Universal’s new 35th Anniversary Edition 4K Ultra HD release.
E.T. was obviously shot on photochemical film using Panavision cameras and lenses. The restored original film elements have been scanned in full native 4K and are presented here in the proper 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, following a new High Dynamic Range color grade (HDR10). The resulting image is very impressive, retaining all of the important characteristics of a vintage film presentation. Light to moderate grain is visible throughout, giving the image a nicely organic character. It’s a bit stronger in the visual effects shots, but that’s to be expected. Image detail is greatly enhanced by the added resolution, visible in everything from skin textures to fabrics. The detail is so good, your eye tends to be drawn to things you’ve never noticed before, like the Betty Boop pin on the label of Elliot’s mother’s jacket. The overall image is clean and blemish free; any print-related defects have been long since been sorted away. Contrast is quite good on the whole, with nice shadow detail for a film of this age. There are a few places where the blacks are a tad gray, particularly in night scenes, but the HDR really helps this by elevating the brights enough that the blacks have more room to breathe, if that makes sense. HDR also enhances the highlights in the frame, especially noticeable in a scene where the camera follows a character up the inside of a bio-isolation tunnel; all kinds of little plastic textures glint and shine, giving the image greater depth. And the colors! The use of HDR here tends to be subtle. It’s not quite the dazzler that, say, Blade Runner: The Final Cut – a film of similar vintage in HDR – is on this format. But the colors are much more naturally vibrant now. Elliot’s red hoodie as about as red can get. E.T.’s “heart light” glows with rich and genuine warmth. And check out the table lamp in the family’s dining room, its shade glowing boldly over the kids’ game of D&D early in the film, the colors bright and the texturing of its facets richly detailed.
Some of you may be wondering if the added resolution distracts from the film at all, revealing cracks in the visual effects of the day. Surprisingly, the answer is no, though there is one shot – when E.T. and Elliot are flying on a bike at night for the first time – that you can briefly see the edge of the painted backdrop as they land. But it’s a minor thing, rather like the tennis shoe that flies past the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s always been there, and you can’t un-see it, but it’s almost part of the film’s charm at this point. The key thing to know is this: While I wouldn’t quite call this presentation reference-quality for the 4K format, but it’s certainly reference quality for this particular film. Without a doubt, 4K Ultra HD gives E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial a good fresh dose of life and vitality.
The primary audio on the 4K disc is a new English DTS:X mix, with additional audio options available in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese 5.1 DTS, as well as Japanese 2.0 DTS and the original English theatrical audio in 2.0 DTS. The DTS:X presentation is very good, with a big wide soundstage that features nice atmospherics and solid – if somewhat light – surround play, as well as excellent LFE. Overall, the mix has a smooth and naturally immersive quality. The height channels help to extend the soundstage overhead, coming to life particularly during the spacecraft sequences and the bicycle chase. Dialogue is clear and natural at all times. You’ll be pleased to know that John Williams’ score has been treated with every bit of the respect it deserves, and remains as thrilling here as ever. If you saw this film in a theater in 1982, hearing his stirring chase theme kick in with a vengeance, as the kids race to deliver E.T. to safety on their bikes, will give you the exact same chill you first experienced hearing it back then. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese for those who need them.
In terms of extras, the 4K Ultra HD disc is movie only. However, the package also includes the film on Blu-ray in 1080p HD – just the original theatrical cut – with primary audio in English 7.1 DTS-HD MA (plus additional audio and subtitles options, as well as D-Box motion enhancement). It also offers the following special features (some in HD and some in the original SD):
- Deleted Scenes (2 scenes from the previous “special edition” – 3:40 in all)
- Steven Spielberg & E.T. (12:31)
- The E.T. Journals (in 2 parts – 53:38 in all)
- A Look Back (37:43)
- The Evolution and Creation of E.T. (50:16)
- The E.T. Reunion (17:56)
- The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams (10:04)
- The 20th Anniversary Premiere (17:49)
- Designs, Photographs and Marketing (6 video galleries – 45:01 in all)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:57)
- Special Olympics TV Spot (1:02)
In essence, this appears to be the exact same Blu-ray Disc that was included in the previous Anniversary Edition release. That means you’re missing a few things that were available in earlier DVD and laserdisc editions – see the BD review for details on those – but this is still a very satisfying package of material. The discs are stored in a standard 4K UHD keepcase. This, in turn, comes in its own sturdy slipcase, featuring a beautiful lenticular hologram cover. The package also includes a 48-page collector’s book with an introduction by Drew Barrymore, elaborate liner notes, and extensive photos and artwork, as well as an 8-track soundtrack CD. You get the usual Digital Copy code on a paper insert as well.
Today, it’s all too easy to forget how extraordinary E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was when it appeared on the scene back in 1982, virtually out of the blue, and surrounded by an air of promotional mystery. Fortunately, the film has aged better than one might expect, and it’s presented here on 4K Ultra HD in such impressive video and audio quality that it actually feels new again. Watching this disc, especially on a large projection screen, strongly recalls that original theatrical experience. In the end, isn’t that really the most you could ask of any new-format release like this? Highly recommended for fans of this film.
- Bill Hunt