E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

In 1982, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was everywhere. E.T. dolls and books, lamps and lunchboxes. And the sale of Reese’s Pieces skyrocketed. The film became the number one box office winner of all-time until Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park in 1993.

Director Steven Spielberg’s magical film tells the story of a young boy (Henry Thomas) who befriends an alien mistakenly left behind on earth. Just as magical is John Williams’ classic score.

You never forget your first time you see Elliot and E.T. hurtle precariously on a bicycle toward the cliff as movie and music magic take over, propelling them above the canyon and over the moon to the sounds of Williams’ soaring strings.

Williams gives us every human emotion in the score. French horns and trumpets stab terror into the heart of E.T. as he is chased through the forest by unseen strangers who impede him getting back to his ship. These same brass announce the lift off of E.T.’s ship, stranding E.T. on Earth.

Harps tenderly accompany the tentative beginnings of Elliot and E.T.’s friendship. And later a plaintive clarinet gives voice to the pain and loss of the entire audience as Elliot says goodbye to a dying E.T.

Williams composed the last fifteen minutes to coincide precisely with various images on the screen. Once he assembled the orchestra and had the film in front of him, he couldn’t get the “mathematics” of the composition to work out accurately so Spielberg told Williams to record the music without watching the film as if he were performing it at a concert. Once the recording was completed, Spielberg went back and re-edited the finale to coordinate with Williams’ music. Those final fifteen minutes are a rush of emotions, exactly as Williams planned it to be.

E.T. entered the Oscar race with nine nominations and an unfortunate backlash against the film resulting from its huge box office success and the massive marketing and merchandising that blitzed the country. Williams’ win was a foregone conclusion. It had already won a Golden Globe and would go on to win a BAFTA award and numerous Grammys including one for Best Soundtrack Album.

Over the years, the soundtrack has been released in three different versions. You’ll need all three to have every note of the score.

The music is one of those rare scores that can bring back every emotion you felt when you first saw the film. At the twentieth anniversary screening of the film in Los Angeles, Williams conducted a live orchestra as the movie played on a fifty-foot screen above him. He received a much deserved standing ovation as he does in our hearts every time we hear his classic score.


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