“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” makes a grand debut on 4K


10-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) says goodbye to E.T.


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital HD copy; 1982; PG for mild profanity and mild thematic elements; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: A conversation with director Steven Spielberg

MR. SPIELBERG must be a 4K fan.

Two of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi masterpieces “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” are making their debut on 4K Ultra HD within a week of each other.

Universal Studios scanned the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) for “E.T.” and mastered it in super-high-resolution 4K. The sharpness level has never been this pronounced; we can see every single fiber of 10-year-old Elliott’s (Henry Thomas) classic waffle-knit long johns, while pretending to be sick in bed. Clarity in darker scenes – especially during the first act when E.T. is left behind in the forest with government agents chasing, and his first encounter with Elliott in the backyard, are noticeable.

The expansive HDR contrast levels really open up the shadows keeping the blacks from blocking up, giving Spielberg and the Oscar-nominated cinematography of Allen Daviau a fresh new look. Plus, the film grain is completely intact. Thank goodness there are no signs of digital noise reduction. And, the composite special effects moments, like when Elliott and ET ride across the moon, hold up nicely.

Dinnertime for Elliott and the family
Six-year-old Drew Barrymore plays Gertie

The wider color gamut boosts the colors into a much richer and natural toning as shown during the Halloween sequence, with its beautiful warm glow and Elliott’s red hoodie. The soundtrack has also been upgraded to the expansive DTS:X format pushing the Oscar-winning effects, and John Williams’ score to those ceiling-high Atmos speakers for a wider soundstage.

This is Universal’s finest catalog 4K presentation to date.

The enclosed Blu-ray is identical to the 30th Anniversary Edition, preserving bonus features such as the complete insiders’ “E.T.” story, with interviews, film clips and behind-scenes images. It all began during the filming of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Spielberg explains. “What if the alien didn’t return to the mothership and stayed as a foreign exchange student?”

Several years later, he noodled over another concept about the difficulties of divorce and how it affected children. “That’s what I experienced when I was 15,” he says, recalling his parents’ split. So, he blended the stories into one screenplay, resulting in “E.T.”

E.T. makes his first visit to Elliott's bedroom
Elliott, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), the delightful younger sister; and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) the wiser teenage brother.

The late screenwriter Melissa Mathison was recruited to write the script. “She was extremely helpful in shaping the final story, sifting through hours of taped conversations and notes, delivering maybe the best first draft I’ve ever read,” Spielberg says. The screenplay was in no way a reflection of his own suburban upbringing. “It would’ve been a lot noisier with a lot more fights,” he explains.

Together, he and Mathison created a “Norman Rockwell–fantasy suburbia” for E.T.’s world. All along, the tale was to be told from the kids’ point of view: Elliott, who becomes E.T.’s best friend; Gertie (Drew Barrymore), the delightful younger sister; and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) the wiser teenage brother.

During the three-month shoot, Spielberg became an on-the-set father to his young stars. The alien model worked flawlessly, freeing him to focus on his cast. “I will always remember ‘E.T.’ as my first personal movie with no expectations, so there was no pressure,” he says.

Elliott and E.T. both face an unknown future

The package includes the wonderful “E.T. Journal,” capturing behind-the-scenes moments with Spielberg and the children. He avoided storyboards for the first time in his career – basically winging it every day, creating the film’s visual style and look as they went along. Additional extras are carried over from the previous Blu-ray, including a cast reunion in 2002, and the 20th-anniversary premiere, where Williams conducted a live orchestra during the screening at the Shrine Theater in Los Angeles.

"E.T." is No. 24 in the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Films List, with "Blade Runner" at No. 97; they’ll be the first two cinematic classics to make the leap to 4K. "Bridge on the River Kwai," No. 36, will make its 4K debut in October.

― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer