Thursday, December 20, 2012


JER: My “COUNTERPOINT” partner, JOHNNY CHAZZ, was supposed to have conjured up an interesting, possibly controversial, subject to discuss this week on his turn. However, my poor friend has been feeling a bit under the weather and passed the literal baton off for me to complete the race instead. So, after some pacing the floors and waiting for lightning to strike with inspiration, I came up with the idea of focusing on a film that might be celebrating an anniversary before we kiss- off the year that was 2012!
By looking at anniversaries, I thought that 30 was a nice, round number to begin with. It turns out that 1982 was a pretty good year for a collection of films that have stood the test of time, maybe some a little more popular than another, but still holding their perspective place after 30 years. Some of those films include BLADE RUNNER, HEAVY METAL: THE MOVIE, THE THING, PORKY’S, TRON, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, CONAN: THE BARBARIAN, POLTERGEIST, PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, THE DARK CRYSTAL and BREAKING AWAY. Again, good or bad, whatever your opinions might be, they have all gathered a sense of ‘cult’ followings, respectfully, and a fan base of devotees always ready for another screening of their favorite.

My attentions, instead, went towards a film that actually changed my personal perspective of both film- watching and the mechanics of film making. The film, somewhat, sneaked its way into the theaters during the Summer of 1982… having a very limited engagement… almost testing the waters, for fear of failure. The film I would like to recognize and highlight is the Steven Spielberg classic, E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL.

The film would open a month before I would turn 14 years old on June 11, 1982. It was the “Summer Of Spielberg” since POLTERGEIST had just opened a week prior on June 4, 1982… although credited as Story, Screenplay and Producer; it was obvious that there was a lot of Spielberg projecting onto the screen by way of direction and not at all like the films that its director Tobe Hooper (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) was known by. At this time in my life, what was there not to know of Steven Spielberg from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, JAWS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?

PLOT: A group of alien botanists visit planet Earth one evening and explore an outer forest section on the outskirts of a suburban neighborhood. While collecting specimens to observe, their mission is cut short as investigators come barreling in all terrain vehicles, as they must have witnessed and tracked the landing of the alien ship. Quickly, the aliens are summoned back into the ship before they are captured…except for one. One of their own had strayed a little too far, taking in the wonderment of the forest’s trees and is left with the desertion as his fellow botanists’ ship departs while leaving him behind.
Enjoy this wonderful tribute to E.T.

Quickly, the alien tries to hide from the human intruders and seeks shelter below the path now leading towards a residential area. Elliott is a typical ten year old boy living in a typical middle- class American home with a typical family. As if through some sort of sixth sense, Elliott is led to the outdoor shed where certain gardening tools are kept… he realizes he is not alone.

Through curiosity, Elliott finds a way to persuade the alien out of hiding and into his room, where he befriends and cares for his new found companion. The secret is broken as Elliott divulges the discovery to his siblings without mom’s notification.

Elliott names his new friend E.T. after the title of extra- terrestrial, meaning life from outside Earth. Elliott and E.T.’s connection grow strong as one can feel what the other feels. Although there is a feeling of safety, E.T. still expresses the need to return to his home and asks the assistance of Elliott in finding a means to communicate with his fellow botanists to come back and retrieve him.

ORIGINS: Although director Steven Spielberg didn’t write the story, there were many compatibilities between his childhood and that of Elliott’s, the protagonist of the film. Focusing on Elliott’s plight, he is a meek 10 -year- old boy. In 1982, it could arguably be said that it was more of an awkward time to grow- up in, aside from his age, then that of a 10- year- old growing up today. Elliott would not have grown up in a world of de-sanitation with the exposure of the internet and the frankness of the media and television. Hard to believe, but 1982 was considered a more innocent time in America than 2012 could ever be. Elliott is also coming from a newly separated family, with his father no longer in the picture and being the middle child to an older brother, Michael and younger sister, Gertie. Spielberg also endured a divorced upbringing with older siblings as well… he was the only boy (or ‘man’) of the house with the absence of the father figure. Both Spielberg and Elliott grew up in sheltered homes with mom playing both parental figures and a feeling a sense of rejection and ‘not fitting in’ with classmates and the world around them.

Spielberg, at an early age, discovered how to work his father’s home movie camera and used the new media as a means to escape and express what was once missing in his life. Elliott, on the other hand, was given a friend, being entrusted to care for someone as he once wanted to be cared for. Both found something that would allow expression and love to replace a state of loneliness that once was felt. 
Spielberg explains the origins of E.T.'s storyline 

Divorce has always been a very personal, hurtful and touchy topic on any scale. Hollywood had never really presented a film that dealt with the subject. The world was making a change in itself, technology and music was continually experimenting and films were becoming far more sophisticated than it had within the last ten years. Spielberg knew that with change came the responsibility to introduce families, especially children, into the world of divorce. The rates were growing higher than ever before and the time to heal was now.

Writer Melissa Mathison was a female screenwriter who was just beginning to make a name for herself within the Hollywood circuit. Having co- written the Francis Ford- Coppola produced THE BLACK STALLION in 1979, Mathison was enjoying the critical praising from the film. Having just started dating actor Harrison Ford, Mathison and Spielberg were introduced. Spielberg began pitching an idea about a boy who was dealing with divorce and how he wanted to combine that concept with the idea of his visiting aliens from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. His thoughts were always that he didn’t want to see the aliens leave in the end… he wanted them to stay so that we could learn more about them and interact with this new species. So, the thought of “what- if” came into his head: what if one of them stayed behind and befriended someone whose innocence, almost ‘childlike’ qualities, were what was needed to truly except the new being. With that pitch, Mathison began to work on a storyline structure…the rest, as they say, was history. Now that the screenplay was ready for the cameras, the idea of how E.T. would come to life needed to be worked out.

Creature Creator: CARLO RAMBALDI
Special Effects and puppeteer expert Carlo Rambaldi had previously worked with Steven Spielberg in the creation of the aliens seen in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND in 1977, a year later he assisted with the head movements for the creature in Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. Spielberg approached Rambaldi with the task of creating an even- more detailed alien than anything he had ever created. Its articulations, body and facial appearances needed to be so life- like that audiences could lose itself in the character than point out that it was a guy in a suit or just another puppet on a set. It would take a total of seven operators to control E.T. and bring him to life. The results were so exceptional, that many of the actors and crew members believed that E.T. was just another living actor on the set. Many of the child actors would attest that they knew him to be alive throughout the production. Many of the operators would keep E.T.’s movements alive even when the cameras weren’t rolling to keep an ongoing sense of magic on the set. Carlo Rambaldi won an Academy Award for Best Effects/ Visual Effects for his creation of E.T. His career would have his wizardry appear in later films like DUNE (1984) and Stephen King’s SILVER BULLET (1985) before he would continue doing some minor make- up effects for his native Italian- made films until 2006. Rambaldi died on August 10, 2012 in Italy at the age of 86. 
Rare glimpse of Carlo Rambaldi talking about creating E.T.

As much as earlier Steven Spielberg films went, his casts were always made up of real people whom the audience could conceivably believe could possibly live though any scenario their director might have in store for them, however, he rarely used Hollywood big name talents. Many of the cast, especially the children, were first- timers on any Hollywood set.

Henry Jackson Thomas Jr. was only ten years with a very minor film role under his belt before auditioning for the role of Elliott. It was during a weepy improvised scene involving taking E.T. away from Elliott that made Spielberg teary- eyed while blubbering, “kid, you got the part!”   Thomas’ career has been a flourishing one since with roles in such films as CLOAK & DAGGER (1984), LEGENDS OF THE FALL (1994), GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002) and the recently completed BIG SUR set for a 2013 release.

Robert MacNaughton was fifteen years old when he played Elliott’s older brother Michael. His acting career had consisted of three minor roles before his audition for E.T. Since then, MacNaughton did one other feature film entitled I AM THE CHEESE (1983) and did some minor television appearances before leaving Hollywood in 1987. His last known whereabouts was that of a U.S. Postal Service employee in Arizona. He has stated that he felt very blessed to have been an actor but that he was ready to move on with his own life.

Drew Blyth Barrymore was a tender six year old when she received the role of younger sibling Gertie. Considered to be the more successful of the child actors that came from E.T., Barrymore’s credits include actress, director and producer. Granddaughter to screen actor John Barrymore and Great- niece of famed actors Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Drew’s personal history carried equal attention as that of her professional career. She began drinking alcohol at the age of 9, took up marijuana at ten and began snorting cocaine at the age of twelve. Fame gave her freedom to do whatever she pleased and pulled her life together by the mid 90’s. Today, Barrymore is best known for her acting roles in such memorable films like CAT’S EYE (1985), BOYS ON THE SIDE (1995), SCREAM (1996), THE WEDDING SINGER (1998), CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2000) and 50 FIRST DATES (2004). She also founded her own production company, Flower Films, in 1995.

Two adult characters took center stage within E.T. Actress Dee Wallace would play Mary, the recently separated mother of Elliott, Michael and Gertie. Wallace, at the time, was recognized as the heroine Karen White in Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING. Since her breakout role, she went on to star in films like CUJO (1983), Peter Jackson’s THE FRIGHTNERS (1996) and Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN (2007).

The other adult actor was Peter Coyote who played a character simply known as “Keys” (named so for the large, jingly keying attached to his belt while searching for E.T.) Since his role, Coyote is still a very busy television and screen actor to this date.

MUSICAL SCORE: The impact of E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL lies in many different aspects: cinematography, lighting, set- design, screenplay, acting and direction. One of the most important and notable pieces of this or any film is the soundtrack. It would be very difficult to imagine anyone other than composer John Williams creating and conducting the music that accompanies E.T. right from the very start of the film. From the first alto flute note heard at the opening to the orchestra’s finale, the music becomes a character all of its own throughout the journey.

Before E.T., Williams had worked with Spielberg previously by scoring his earlier films: THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974), JAWS (1975), CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), 1941 (1979) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). To date, Williams has scored an overall 25 films for Spielberg total. There is much to be said about the magic of the music that brings equality to what E.T. as a film defines as. There is innocence, fear, action, suspense, drama, tears and joy presented on screen and heard in the various melodic themes though out.
John Williams conducting the "Flying Theme" from E.T.

John Williams would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Score for E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL in 1983.

THE AFTER-MATH: E.T. IS A HIT!: Words cannot describe the out- pour of E.T. after its release. Everyone wanted a piece of E.T. memorabilia and every known studio, merchandising network and product were all too quick to please the high demands!

E.T.'s likeness was plastered on everything from his own cereal, lunchboxes, underwear, t- shirts, posters, toothbrushes, trading cards, Christmas ornaments, coloring books, candy, action figures, plush dolls and paperback novels... just to name a few items!

Two very ambitious and entertaining projects came from musicians that were 'touched' by E.T.'s magic, child- like qualities and the positive presentation of friendship. One was a long- playing album that told the story of E.T.'s adventures on Earth... it was read by none other than the 'child' superstar himself, Michael Jackson!

The other was a reflection of emotions projected from the film that inspired singer/ songwriter Neil Diamond to write a hit song entitled "Heartlight." The song talks about the development of friendship, not leaving and even flying over the moon! 
A live presentation of HEARTLIGHT by Neil Diamond in 1988

Universal Studios offered fans their chance to visit the Studio/ Theme Park that Summer to experience THE E.T. EARTH CENTER. It was a magnificent collection of all the available products and merchandise all under one roof (well, under one tent, to be exact). Wall- to- wall, as far as the eye could see offered visual candy to anyone who had fallen in love with E.T. One of the greatest opportunities available was a photo center that allowed anyone to take Elliott's seat on the bike as you went whisking past the moon with E.T. riding along in the basket in front. No surprise...I had to have my own photo, which I display proudly to this very day! Eat your heart out!

THE AFTER-LIFE: THE BLU- RAY RELEASE: Anniversaries can go many different ways. Depending on the magnitude and impact that a particular motion picture made to pop culture or contributed to the industry, many anniversaries have been celebrated with re- releases, special editions or even a face- lift by way of a re-mastered process. This portion of my topic will now focus on the first- ever release of E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL in the blu- ray format.

The news had officially announced that the long- awaited release of the beloved film would finally make its way onto the blu- ray format on October 9, 2012 as part of Universal Studios 100th Anniversary as a working film studio. E.T. would also be released at the right time, since it was celebrating its own 30th anniversary, respectfully as well.

The blu- ray format offers a special digital transfer that creates a much cleaner and detailed image to meet the standards of the current high- definition seen in most formats like I- phones, I- pads and flat screen television screens. In order to truly get the best transfer available, it narrows down to source to which the process is transferring from. Based on how well the film was originally photographed and cared for by its rightful studio, a film can re- represent itself in a very clean and pristine copy or it can be derived from a lesser- than edition. Most studios have been put ‘in- check’ with the lack of care placed in some of its digital transfers. E.T., on the other hand, does not suffer from such issues.

The original 35 MM negative to E.T. was pulled from the vaults to follow through the digital process, a timely procedure that literally photographs each analog frame digitally from the negative. Just to give you an idea, the digital outcome creates clarity three times the actual resolution of the film. Once the entire film was photographed and processed digitally, a restoration crew of professionals will analyze and repair each frame as needed. All dirt will be removed, all tears in the film will ne patched up and any tarnishes or discolorations from the film can be color- timed to the best imaginable image. A film made in 1982 now looks like a film made weeks ago in 2012.

The same procedure is similar for the digital process of the film’s sound. Sound is typically recorded separately, unlike a camcorder, which records picture and sound together in the same format. The best available reproduction of sound is also based on the highest available source. In the case of E.T., the original sound was still intact and used to not only be used for a digital transfer, but to be reproduced in a newly created 7.1 surround system. The name is a common term for an eight channel home theater sound system by adding two more speakers to the conventional 5.1 (or six channel system). There is the standard front let and right speakers, center, subwoofer, and not two but four rear channels that are split to create more of a fluid surrounding of sound.

The picture clarity’s transfer is spot- on with the film never looking so good previously. I personally had owned the VHS tape and DVD releases with no comparison whatsoever. The newly recorded sound and music also carries through with a sense of hearing things that had never been picked up before.
Trailer announcing the release of E.T. onto Blu- Ray

Back in 2002, when E.T. celebrated its 20th anniversary, director Steven Spielberg decided on using the digital graphic imaging (CGI, as it is commonly known as) to help ‘touch- up’ some moments that couldn’t be completed in 1982 originally due to the lack of sophisticated special effects. Spielberg incorporated new digitally- enhanced expressions on E.T.’s face as well as touching up some the lesser- than spectacular effects. Considered one of the most controversial steps taken by Spielberg was the digital ‘removal’ of the federal agents’ rifles and instead, replacing the agents hands with walkie- talkies. There was some back- lash from the purists who felt that Spielberg was finagling with the classic, much like director George Lucas had done with the original STAR WARS trilogy. 
(left) Original scene with rifle (right) 2002 version with walkie- talkie animated it

With that being said, both Universal and Spielberg decided to release the original 1982 edition without any digital enhancements.

FINAL THOUGHTS: So, in conclusion, E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL is a film that excused a number of different expressions from various people. It is a happy and imaginative film to some, an anti- political presentation to others and a weepy and emotional heart- wrenching film to the rest. The film represents a bench- mark setting for the typical 80’s films in the early years and set a standard in quality storyline and filmmaking for years to come thereafter… however short- lived that became in the end. In the end, thank goodness for films like E.T.: it allows us to believe in the power of storytelling and imagination in a cinematic world of re- makes and un- imaginative fluff that we are made to endure presently.

E.T. is also was considered a rarity of its own kind: being a blockbuster hit with an overall worldwide gross of nearly $800 million dollars and remaining the number one top- grossing film for almost fifteen years, Spielberg never made a sequel. Despite the current churn of spin- offs and quick sequels known by today’s standards, Universal actually backed- up Spielberg’s decision otherwise. As he put it, the journey of E.T. was a once in a lifetime adventure, never to be repeated again.

Look into the skies and dream…allow your senses to be fooled by what you might see or imagine seeing.  For when Elliott thought that no one would understand him, along came a friend in the most unconventional way imaginable!

What are your earliest memories of E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL? Do you have any happy thoughts when you think of E.T.? We always want to hear from you and we look forward to your comments...all will be answered in return within a short, few days!

CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT will be taking a short hiatus to celebrate the Holidays with our loved ones! Our next posting will be on WEDNESDAY JANUARY 23rd!

From all us to all of you...have a very Happy and Safe Holiday and a very prosperous New Year! SEE YOU BACK HERE IN 2013!