Release Date(s)1982 (October 18, 2022)
Studio(s)Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- 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 in theaters that seemed destined to become a classic, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial foremost among them. Arguably (to that point at least) 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, the creature is soon befriended by a young human boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas). Together, they work to find a way to return E.T. home again, even as ominous U.S. Government scientists try to stop them.
As wondrous as the first experience of this film was back in the day, E.T. had begun to feel a bit dated in the early aughts; 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 theatrical version of the film has been lovingly preserved for posterity. That version first appeared on Blu-ray back in 2012 for the film’s 30th anniversary (see our review here on The Bits) and it arrived on 4K Ultra HD five years later for its 35th anniversary (also reviewed here). Now the theatrical cut of E.T. has been released on UHD a second time for its 40th anniversary. So… what’s the difference between the two 4K editions?b
Well, they’re definitely discrete discs—each uniquely authored and encoded. The 35th Anniversary Edition contained no extras whatsoever on the actual 4K disc, while this 40th Anniversary Edition includes all of the extras on the 4K disc (and even adds two new bonus features exclusive to this release). But while the former was BD-66 disc, the new one is a BD-100, so there’s plenty of room for those extras without impacting the film’s A/V quality. And while the earlier disc included a variety of language options, the new one features only English, French, and Spanish.
E.T. was shot on 35 mm film by cinematographer Allen Daviau (The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun), using Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras with Panavision Super Speed MKII spherical lenses, and it was finished at the 1.85:1 “flat” aspect ratio. For its 2017 UHD release, the film was scanned and restored from the original camera negative in 4K to create a new Digital Intermediate, then graded for High Dynamic Range (only HDR10 is available the 4K discs). The result is 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. Detail is greatly enhanced, visible in everything from skin textures to fabrics. It’s so good, in fact, that your eye tends to be drawn to things you’ve never noticed before, like the Betty Boop pin on Elliot’s mother’s jacket lapel. The image is clean and blemish free; any print-related defects have been long since been sorted away. Contrast is quite good, 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 highlights enough that the shadows have more room to breathe. The HDR also enhances gives the image greater depth. And the colors are much more naturally vibrant; Elliot’s hoodie is about as red as red can get, while E.T.’s “heart light” glows with rich and genuine warmth. And check out the lamp shade over the table in the family’s dining room during the kids’ D&D game, its colors bold and its textured facets richly detailed.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is available in lossless and object-based English DTS:X format. It offers a big wide soundstage with pleasing atmospherics and solid—if somewhat light—surround play, as well as excellent LFE. The mix has a smooth and naturally immersive quality, with height channels that extend the soundstage overhead, 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 the composer’s 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 same chill you experienced hearing it back then. Additional audio options include the original theatrical mix in English 2.0 DTS, as well as Spanish and French 5.1 DTS. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French only.
Universal’s 40th Anniversary edition includes the new 4K disc as well as a newly-authored Blu-ray with the film in 1080p HD (just the theatrical cut, with the exact same audio and subtitle options as the 4K disc). Each uses the same menu format, and includes the same special features as follows:
- 40 Years of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial* (HD – 20:14)
- TCM Classic Film Festival: An Evening with Steven Spielberg* (HD – 27:07)
- The E.T. Journals (SD – in 2 parts – 53:38 in all)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 2 scenes from the previous “special edition” – 3:40 in all)
- Steven Spielberg & E.T. (HD – 12:31)
- A Look Back (SD – 37:43)
- The Evolution and Creation of E.T. (SD – 50:16)
- The E.T. Reunion (SD – 17:56)
- The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams (SD – 10:04)
- The 20th Anniversary Premiere (SD – 17:49)
- Designs, Photographs and Marketing (SD – 6 video galleries – 45:01 in all)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:55)
- Special Olympics TV Spot (SD – 1:02)
* New for the 40th Anniversary Edition
Most of these extras were created for the original DVD release back in 2002, while some first appeared in 2012 for Blu-ray. The two new features specific to this 4K edition are the 20-minute retrospective 40 Years of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and An Evening with Steven Spielberg. The former features interview comments by filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Chris Columbus, as well as writer Ernie Cline, and film critic Leonard Maltin, each of whom talks about their first experience of the film and its legacy. The latter is footage of a discussion with Spielberg talking about his career with Ben Mankiewicz at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. This discussion is the more interesting of the two, but both features are worth a look.
Like previous Blu-ray release, a few extras available on earlier home video releases are missing, including the original DVD introduction by Spielberg, the isolated score track, the interactive tour of space, and the re-release trailer. The long-form The Making of E.T. documentary from the LaserDisc is also not here (along with the infamous Harrison Ford deleted scene/cameo), nor is the 2002 Special Edition of the film (which fans may not miss, but completists might). Nor do you get the 48-page collector’s book and 8-track soundtrack CD from the 35th Anniversary Edition 4K package. However, there is a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Four decades on, it’s all too easy to forget how extraordinary E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was when it appeared in theaters back in 1982, virtually out of the blue, and surrounded by an air of promotional mystery. Fortunately, the film remains as good as ever on its second Ultra HD release. With virtually identical A/V quality to the first UHD, this is not a necessary upgrade by any means. But fans who haven’t yet made the leap to 4K with E.T. should appreciated the refreshed opportunity.
- Bill Hunt