“Second Screening” is devoted to watching alternate versions of NFR entries and determining which version is most worthy of preservation. Today we look at the 20th anniversary special edition of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”. You can read my thoughts on the original film here.
Full Disclosure: I actually saw the 20th anniversary in the theater (alone, for some reason), and I own the original DVD release that includes both versions of the film.
What’s Different?: Spielberg’s intention with this version was to tweak some shots that always bothered him, either due to the technical limitations of 1982 or changing tastes over the previous 20 years. Most notable are some cleaned up special effects shots, particularly involving E.T. itself. The alien’s facial expressions have been enhanced, and scenes of E.T. moving now show that it uses its arms to propel itself. Two scenes have been added; one involving Elliott trying to give E.T. a bath on his sick day, and another in which Mary finds Michael and Gertie on Halloween.
But perhaps the most controversial alterations are the ones deemed too politically correct. Mary’s objection to Michael dressing as a “terrorist” for Halloween is changed to “hippie”. And during the final chase scene, the guns wielded by government agents have been changed to walkie-talkies. This change was expertly lampooned on the “South Park” episode “Free Hat”.
Does It Help?: Not really. I understand the logic behind changing the guns, but it still looks clunky. The only takeaway from the reinstated scenes is that Elliott learns of E.T.’s neck stretching abilities a few scenes earlier. Really the most insulting change is all the cosmetic updates to E.T.’s performance. The original team of puppeteers did a fine job creating E.T.’s character, conveying everything you need to know about E.T. and its thought process. Adding digital facial expressions and movements just spells out everything, leaving less to the viewer’s imagination. Overall, I can’t say any of these changes improve upon the original film.
The Verdict: Even Spielberg says to stick with the original 1982 version. They should take all copies of the Special Edition and bury them next to the E.T. Atari game.