Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Elliot Flies

One of the real delights of modern technology is being able to see a phenomenal film, with an outstanding score performed by a live orchestra.  I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform John William's entrancing score to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), as the movie played behind them. This is a film in which the music is intrinsic to the intensity of the film as a whole. Try and picture Elliot and E.T. flying before the full moon without Mr. Williams soaring score - it just wouldn't be as effective. Your pleasure is doubled when the orchestra is sitting there with you, helping to make the film come to life. Not surprisingly, the score is #14 in AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores, with John Williams winning the Oscar for Best Score that year (Mr. Williams has won five Oscars out of 50 nominations), as well as the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, and three Grammys.

The story of an alien, accidentally abandoned on Earth by his colleagues, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, follows the adventures of E.T. and the young boy, Elliot (Henry Thomas) who befriends him. It's a beautiful story that I actually saw when it first opened (I stood on line at the Kips Bay Theatre in New York City to see a preview, and befriended some like-minded gentlemen. We held each others places on line, sat together in the theatre, and cried in all the same scenes. I've never seen them again, but if they ever read this, just know it was a special evening of camaraderie for me).
The beauty of E.T. is the relationships of the children; adults, like Elliot's mother Mary (Dee Wallace) are either oblivious or menacing.  For the children, after some moments of shock, E.T. becomes a friend - they recognize him as someone that is nonthreatening. Yes, E.T. is initially a plaything - witness Elliot's comment to older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), "I'm keeping him," like E.T. is a lost puppy; or Gertie (Drew Barrymore) dressing E.T. up like one of her dolls. But in the end, it is the three children and Michael's friends, who risk all to get E.T. home. 

At the 1983 Oscars, E.T. was nominated for 9 awards (including Best Picture and Best Direction for Steven Spielberg). Including the Score award for Mr. Williams, the film won a total of 4 awards, the others for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects. But the film was up against Gandhi that year (which won both Picture and Direction). It wasn't until 1993, that Mr. Spielberg finally one a Best Direction Oscar - for Schindler's List, which, to date, is the ONLY one of his films that has one the Best Picture nod. He's won best Direction twice (the other award for Saving Private Ryan in 1999)
Despite that oversight, E.T. is #24 on the AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies list, and it has also been included on the AFI 100 Year, 100 Cheers list (at #6), as well as AFI 100 Years, 100 Quotes (#15 for, what else, "E.T. phone home").

There was a scene in the film in which Elliot is scolded by the school principal that was eventually cut from the film - the principal was played by Harrison Ford. Peter Coyote (Keys) met Spielberg when he auditioned for the part of Indiana Jones; Dee Wallace came to Spielberg's attention through her work in the television show Skag. Producer Kathleen Kennedy spent 6 months interviewing child actors before settling on her cast. (AFI catalog).
Reese's Pieces became quite a "thing" after the film's release; however, the producers originally contacted Mars for permission to use M&Ms. Mars said no - the film would frighten little children. (TCM article). All I can say is I bet there is a Mars executive out there who has been kicking himself for 35 years!

I'll leave you with the scene that perhaps is most emblematic of the effect of Mr. Williams impressive score. It is not just the special effects that make Elliot fly!

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