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Soaring onto 4K UHD - “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: 40th Anniversary Edition”

Updated: Jan 9, 2023


(1) 10-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) says goodbye to E.T. (2) Elliott, his six-year-old sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) the wiser teenage brother. The three are stunned by the little alien.

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

Best extra: A new featurette, “40-Years of ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” a conversation with three “E.T.” fans

EVEN THOUGH the official 40th anniversary was actually last June, Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi masterpiece, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” continues to be one of the greatest family movies ever made. To celebrate its anniversary, Universal Home Entertainment has released a new 4K Ultra HD edition with over four hours of extras.


During the new featurette “40-Years of “E.T.,” film historian/critic Leonard Maltin, a huge fan of the film says, “Spielberg has a gift for getting inside the child in all of us, because he has that quality himself.” The genesis of the story happened while Spielberg was filming “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). He considered, “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 during one of the many carryover featurettes, recalling his parents’ split. So, he blended the stories into one screenplay, resulting in “E.T.”

(1-3) An alien spaceship lands in the forest above a South California suburb. An extra-terrestrial explores as federal agents arrive on the scene and the creature’s chest lights up. (4-7) The little guy is left behind and decides to head into the San Fernando Valley.

Maltin’s feelings for “E.T.” are undeniable as he recalls how he "got on my soapbox" and scorned the Academy on “Entertainment Tonight” – as the in-house film critic – the night after the Oscars when Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” swept the awards ceremony. He told viewers, “The Academy will someday regret their decision,” for not picking “E.T.” for Best Picture. He continued, "The film that's gonna be remembered and loved is “E.T.” It had received nine nominations and won four golden statues for Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Sound Effects, and Original Score for John Williams. Maltin finishes by saying, “I don’t like to brag, but I was right.”

Also joining the conversation is director J.J. Abrams (“Mission: Impossible III,” “Star Trek” 2009), who grew up in Los Angeles, and saw “E.T.” with his family during an early screening at the Hitchcock Theater on the Universal Studios lot. “I just knew that it was a Spielberg movie, but I didn’t know what the story was,” he says. On the drive home after seeing “E.T.,” he felt, “charged, like I’d just seen this thing that was the greatest secret of all time.”

Author Ernest Cline (“Ready Player One”) saw it in his hometown of Ashland, Ohio, at the “perfect age” of 10, he recalls. He was the same age as Elliott, played by the young actor Henry Thomas. Writer/director Chris Columbus (“Home Alone,” “Harry Potter”) saw it just before his 24th birthday. “The phenomenon really started when people waited in line for five or six hours to get into a theater,” he says. And, by the time he left the theater, “I was completely in tears. Emotional.” He returned two days later to see it again.

For Cline, “E.T.” dethroned “Star Wars” as his favorite film of all time, “something I never expected.” Columbus also credits Spielberg for inspiring him to do as many practical effects in camera. “That’s why I think the character of E.T. is so believable because it’s tangible,” he says.

E.T.’s creator was Italian effects expert Carlo Rambaldi (“King Kong” (1976) and “Alien”). “It’s amazing all the tricks that they used to get this creature to seem like he was this living, breathing thing,” Abrams says. “The result is just so deeply emotional and so believable.” The alien was constructed with an aluminum and steel skeleton under layers of sculpted fiberglass, polyurethane, and foam rubber.

(1&2) Elliott hears a noise inside the shed and throws a softball inside. To his surprise, the ball comes back and lands at his feet. He runs inside and says, “Mom! Mom! There’s something out there!” (3-4) Elliott’s brother and friends and his mother (Dee Wallace) go out to the tool shed. They discover a set of footprints and the pizza that Elliott dropped.

For many, E.T. was a Christ-like figure, dying and coming back to life. “It's an incredibly spiritual movie, but it’s less religious than it is about love and very much about rebirth,” says Abrams. After E.T. returns to life, he stands at the back of a van wearing a robe, showing himself to Elliott’s friends, which Columbus considers a “sort of messiah moment.”

The late screenwriter Melissa Mathison (“The Black Stallion,” “The Indian in the Cupboard”), who was Harrison Ford’s girlfriend during the filming of “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was visiting the production in Tunisia when Spielberg recruited her 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), his 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.

(1) Elliott is down in the dumps after dropping a trail of Reese’s Pieces from his house to the forest hoping to entice the extra-terrestrial. (2&3) Elliott tells his mom, “It was real. I swear.” She believes him but changes the subject to what will Gertie wear for Halloween. “I'm going as a cowgirl.” (4) E.T. makes his first visit to Elliott’s bedroom, as he plays sick from school. (5-7) Gertie screams seeing E.T. and he hides in Elliott’s closet.

The 4K disc and Blu-ray also includes a new 30-minute onstage interview with Spielberg and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, captured earlier this year after a 40th-anniversary screening of “E.T.” It’s a fast run-through of Spielberg’s early career, first at age 22, directing the TV pilot episode of “Night Gallery” with Joan Crawford, to his first made-for-TV movie “Duel,” the endless production of “Jaws” with a mechanical fish that wouldn’t work, to Spielberg's unfunny WWII comedy “1941,” then off to the African desert for “Raiders,” and, his personal favorite “E.T.”

Extras also include 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 include deleted scenes, a 2002 cast reunion, and the 20th-anniversary premiere, where John Williams conducted a live orchestra during the screening at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

FYI: none of the extras are available on the digital platform versions, which makes this physical disc set even more of a treasure.


The nearly perfect 4K master – sourced from the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio), which was used on the 35th Anniversary Edition, was ported over. But this time encoded onto a 100-gigabit disc – previously a 60-gigabit disc – which provides an extra five megabits-per-second more video data, and space for the new bonus features.

We get the same superior sharpness level, in which we can see every single fiber of Elliott’s classic waffle-knit long johns, while pretending to be sick in bed. The clarity in darker scenes – especially during the first act when E.T. is left behind in the forest with government agents chasing him, and his first encounter with Elliott in the backyard, are noticeable.

(1) The hillside overlooking Elliott’s suburban neighborhood. (2) Elliott and E.T. are now linked mentally and he becomes drunk when E.T. drinks some beer. (3&4) E.T. orchestrates Elliott’s moves to mimic a scene from “The Quiet Man” when John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara kiss. (5) Elliott releases the frogs before the students dissected the amphibians.

The expansive HDR10 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. Also, the composite special effects moments, like when Elliott and E.T. ride across the moon, hold up nicely. The peak HDR light level hits 1000 nits and averages 148 nits.

The wider color gamut also boosts the colors into much richer and natural toning as shown during the Halloween sequence, with its beautiful warm glow and Elliott’s red hoodie.


The eight-channel DTS:X soundtrack has also been ported over, showcasing the Oscar-winning effects, and John Williams’ symphonic score to eight speakers for a wider soundstage. The original 2.0 DTS-HD master is also provided for old-school theater lovers.

“E.T.” continues to hold its place in cinema history, landing No. 24 on the American Film Institute’s Greatest 100 American Films List, plus No. 6 in AFI’s Most Inspiring films of all time, behind “It’s a Wonderful Life” at No. 1 and “To Kill a Mockingbird” at No. 2.

So, if you missed “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” on 4K Ultra HD five years ago, this is the perfect time to add it to your growing collection.

― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer

(1) Elliott and E.T. have become inseparable. (2) E.T.’s POV on Halloween night and spots Yoda saying, “Home. Home. Home.” (3) Spielberg uses a firey setting sun to silhouette his lead characters, just like he did in “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.” (4) Elliott and E.T. race across the moon, which became Spielberg’s iconic trademark for his Amblin Production company. (5) Elliott is concerned about E.T. after they become separated during their late night in the forest communicating back to E.T.’s home.


(1) Michael finds E.T. in a stream in the forest. (2&3) Elliott and E.T. both face an unknown future. (4) The lead federal agent (Peter Coyote) checks on Elliott and E.T. (5&6) Elliott is heartbroken with E.T.’s fate.


(1) E.T. is reborn and Elliott and his friends escape. (2) The spaceship returns for E.T. as Michael and his friends watch. (3&4) Elliott’s tearful goodbye, as E.T. says, “I’ll be right here.”


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