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Hello! Welcome once again in joining me on my seemingly endless survey into the Golden Age scores of composer John Williams. With now having composed some of the most instantly recognizable themes in film history during the span of 1975 and 1981, winning two Academy Awards along the way among a plethora of other awards, you could say Williams was in a pretty good situation in being in great demand from many directors, enjoying quite a respect in the film industry, as well as being a big fan favourite among movie goers and film score fans alike. Also having built a very tightly knit collaboration with Steven Spielberg, it assured that the director would not have any other composer score his movies, and, as expected, Williams would only continue providing the goods for what was also Spielbergs golden age as a filmmaker. This collaboration was only further strengthened by their early offering for 1982.
When Close Encounters came out in 1977, it was quite revolutionary in many aspects, the most remarkable being of course that the films aliens were not some blood-thirsty monsters come to destroy humanity like it had often been in Grade-Z sci-fi movies of the past. Having stayed out of the sci-fi genre for the couple of following films, he decided to return to the alien genre in 1982 with E.T. The Extra Terrestial, which can be seen as a sequel of sorts to the basic philosophy of Close Encounters, only taking the encounter a step beyond in making the aliens less frightening and enigmatic via more heart-warming and sympathetic. The basic story pretty much concerns an alien, who was accidentally left behind on Earth during a research mission, when their party was attacked by the shady people from the U.S. Government (who remain very much a faceless and menacing foe for the bulk of the film). Managing to just barely escape, he then finds refuge from the home of 10-year-old boy Elliott (Henry Thomas). Elliott and the alien soon become the best of friends as the boy starts helping E.T. to get back home with the help of older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore in a very early role), while the government continues their search for the missing alien. It is ultimately a heartwarming movie, but which also has that early tinge of Spielberg magic, also managing to win the Oscar for Best Picture and becoming a symbol for Spielbergs new production company Amblin Entertainment.
As for the score to E.T., John Williams again managed to pull out some of his most famous and memorable music ever. Appearing between the heavyweights Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi, E.T. was a very different score at heart. Whereas both Raiders and Jedi had large symphonic adventure scores, E.T. was more gentle and lyrical for the most part. The emphasis on sweeping strings makes E.T. feel perhaps more unspectacular from the outset, but this of course is not the case. When listened in its entirety E.T. more than matches those action-packed siblings, not only because of the final 15 minutes of all out action, but also because of the tension kept by the governments constant presence and several more rollicking scherzo moments. Many have accused the music of E.T. for being too saccharine, but this simply is not true. The misconception mostly stems from the movies basic happy ending structure and the original MCA soundtrack album re-recording that opted to cut out most of the more menacing music. As such, there is actually just as much variation in the score as there is in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it actually has a lot more darker music in it than in many other Williams scores from this period. The opening Far from Home/E.T. Alone has some of the most mysterious writing Williams has ever produced (also including a beautiful string theme that appears only twice in the score, the other being in Searching for E.T.), which explodes into pure horror as the government appears on the scene with heavy percussion and snapping brass, ending in a epic flourish of Star Wars proportions for the escaping spaceship. The Governments sinister theme afterwards continues to loom overhead, pervading the most innocent of cues and finally culminating in the powerful and frightening Invading Elliotts Home, where heavy percussion, the organ (an instrument that remains almost a signature for the government) and Darth Vader-like dissonance (as heard during Luke and Vaders duel) make for some truly terrifying sounds.
But what people will most readily remember from the score are the rollicking theme for Elliott, the very gentle theme for E.T., and the sweeping flying music. Elliotts theme is happy, at times quirky and rhythmic, at others more flowing and romantic, perhaps even a little suburbian. It is a fun theme all in all, making notable appearances in Bait for E.T., Searching for E.T., and Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye. E.T. on the other hand is provided with a slightly outer-worldly whistle theme that makes several appearances in cues like Far from Home/E.T. Alone, Meeting E.T., E.T.s New Home, E.T.s Powers and so on. It is a theme that never goes ballistic on you, but stays in this subdued, mysterious form for just about the entirety of the score. The flying music, however, must be the thing most people will most readily remember and therefore will label the rest of the score to be the same all around. However, Im not quite sure where the music as such gets such a bad rep as it is exactly how flying music should be: light, sweeping and having an overflowing sense of getting off the ground. In fact it is no more saccharine than say James Horners flying music in The Rocketeer! Manifestations of it appear in the cues E.T.s Powers, The Magic of Halloween, Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye and of course the end credits, these cues always being highlights.
There are also a number of sub-themes that are a little harder to label such as the little harp thingy heard in cues such as The Beginning of a Friendship, Toys and Im Keeping Him, mostly seeming to represent friendship between E.T. and Elliott. As an aside you may also know it from Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, where the music appears in the cue Fluffys Harp as a kind of a lullaby and parts of it also crept into the main theme of the same years A.I. Artficial Intelligence. There is also a fun little curiosity that appears in the cue The Magic of Halloween, where after a little comical take on Witches Sabbath music gives way to a full out presentation of Yodas theme from The Empire Strikes Back. There is no particular reason for this themes appearance here, but it creates a fun little diversion in the middle of the score. Maybe it was even a little hint that the third Star Wars film was already in the works. But the greatest highlight of the score must be the 15 minute long Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye, an exciting rollercoaster of a cue which recaps just about every theme you have heard thus far, making it a favourite in the concert hall as well. Due to the fact that Spielberg had Williams write and record the score before editing the film also assured that the music would be a perfect fit to the film when the editing process was taken upside down.
The original soundtrack album was released on LP in 1982 and featured roughly 40 minutes of music, the album also winning the Grammy as a Best Arrangement on an Instrumental Recording. However there was only one snag: this was not the original music as heard in the film. What was released as the original soundtrack was a group of re-recordings made by Williams specifically for this album release. Although featuring the most memorable music, the more suspenseful material was left out, leaving us a more cutesy and child-friendly album than a truer representation of the score as a whole (perhaps something that reinforced the thought that E.T. is all sweet and no depth). Still this was the only available release for the next 14 years, the music ending up on CD in 1986 and reissued several times afterwards. The turning point came in 1996 when MCA decided to release the main bulk of original music from the film (that is music as heard in the film). Running a grand total of 71 minutes, this was a very attractive re-issue. Finally we had the music in the form that it was supposed to be in, with the scarier stuff in it as well. But again there was one little snag, though be it a minor one. The original End Credits sequence with the rollicking piano performance of Elliotts theme was not there. It was in fact an alternate remix that was pressed on this disc, something that was a bit strange move on the part of MCA.
However, corresponding with the 20th Anniversary of E.T. and the films subsequent refurbishing with a couple of new scenes and re-touchings, MCA released the score yet again, this time adding three cues omitted from the 1996 album, and also finally offering the original end credits track. Now, the problem with this 2002 version is that, apart from those four cues, the soundtrack is really the same many already had. The sound quality was the same and the three unreleased cues were nothing spectacular. Only the End Credits were something that warranted a re-release, but its not really much. For my recommendation Id say if you dont have any of the E.T. soundtracks yet, then the 2002 20th Anniversary Edition is the one to get, but should you already have the 1996 release, it boils down to the fact whether you want those original end credits or not. The re-recordings are considered by many older collectors as being better both in sound quality and performance, but there is no denying the power of the original recording (not to mention the sound on the film recordings are stupendous for their clarity). In any case, this is definitely a score not to be missed despite the reputation of it being saccharine and sugary-sweet as that is a flat out lie. If you think this, it will most certainly surprise you.
The 20th Anniversary Edition is currently selling at £11.99 on Amazon.co.uk.
Original 1982/1986-1996 album
1. Three Million Light Years from Home (2:57)
2. Abandoned and Pursued (2:58)
3. E.T. and Me (4:49)
4. E.T.s Halloween (4:07)
5. Flying (3:20)
6. E.T. Phone Home (4:18)
7. Over the Moon (2:06)
8. Adventures on Earth (15:06)
2002 20th Anniversary Edition
(track listing is the same as the 1996 MCA album apart from those marked with *)
1. Main Titles* (1:06)
2. Far from Home/E.T. Alone (6:46)
3. Bait for E.T. (1:44)
4. Meeting E.T.* (2:05)
5. E.T.s New Home* (1:38)
6. The Beginning of a Friendship (3:02)
7. Toys (2:43)
8. Im Keeping Him (2:18)
9. E.T.s Powers (2:42)
10. E.T. and Elliott Get Drunk (2:54)
11. Frogs (2:10)
12. At Home (5:37)
13. The Magic of Halloween (2:52)
14. Sending the Signal (3:56)
15. Searching for E.T. (4:16)
16. Invading Elliotts House (2:21)
17. E.T. is Dying (2:19)
18. Losing E.T. (2:02)
19. E.T. is Alive! (4:06)
20. Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye (15:01)
21. End Credits (3:49)
Music Composed and Conducted by John Williams
Orchestrated by Herbert Spencer
Recording Engineers: Lyle Burbridge & Bruce Botnick
Recorded at MGM Music Scoring Stage, Culver City, CA
Reissue Engineered by Shawn Murphy
Music Editor: Ken Hall
Produced by John Williams
MCA, 1982/1986 (MCAD-31073)
MCA, 1996 (MCAD-11494)
MCA, 2002 (112 819-2)
© berlioz, 2005, 2006
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Main Titles
2 Far From Home / E.T. Alone
3 Bait For E.T.
4 Meeting E.T.
5 E.T.'s New Home
6 The Beginning Of A Friendship
8 I'm Keeping Him
9 E.T.'s Powers
10 E.T. And Elliot Get Drunk
12 At Home
13 The Magic Of Halloween
14 Sending The Signal
15 Searching For E.T.
16 Invading Elliot's House
17 E.T. Is Dying
18 Losing E.T.
19 E.T. Is Alive!
20 Escape / Chase / Saying Goodbye
21 End Credits