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  • Stefan Riedlinger

E.T. - John Williams - Soundtrack Review

John Williams‘soundtrack to Steven Spielberg’s „E.T.“ is a great one, a classic and overall just a masterpiece. Williams received with this soundtrack his fourth Oscar, and he highly deserved it for this fabulous soundtrack.

The movie

“E.T.” was also one of the first movies I saw as a child in the movie theatre and it is still one of my best childhood memories. The film holds a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and in addition to the many impressed critics, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan were moved by it after a screening at the White House on June 27, 1982. Princess Diana was even in tears after watching it. On September 17, 1982, it was screened at the United Nations, and Spielberg received the U.N. Peace Medal.

Melissa Mathison who was married to Harrison Ford for 21 years wrote the script, and the line "E.T. phone home" is ranked 15th among the top 100 quotations of U.S. cinema by the American Film Institute.

I do not want to talk too much about this movie. So many critics said good things and really very stupid things about it, and I do not care very much about the psychological aspects of the story. For me, E.T. is a story of friendship and making earth a better and peaceful place, and that is enough for me to still enjoy this movie.

Spielberg decided to change the movie slightly for the 20th anniversary, and in my opinion these changes are just crap. The director included new scenes that were not possible at that time, e.g. E.T. taking a bath, he also included special effects to give the creature a better face expression, most important, he changed the guns the police were carrying and replaced them with walkie-talkies. “Rolling Stones” complained about this stupid sign of political correctness. With the change of E.T.’s appearance, Spielberg ruined a lot of the original charming attitude of the movie, and in my opinion he should never touched it for changes.

The score

John Williams’ score has been issued numerous times. The original release was a recording of concert arrangements based on the film music, later issues contained the actual soundtrack cues as heard in the movie. It was recorded again by the London Symphony Orchestra, and on the track "The Magic of Halloween," when E.T. sees a child wearing a Yoda costume, Williams included a portion of Yoda's theme, which he had composed for “The Empire Strikes Back“ in 1980.

Williams told in an interview that the challenge was creating music for an ugly creature that makes this odd-looking creature loveable. Spielberg loved the music for the final chase so much that he edited the sequence to suit it. For the score, Williams combined polytonality and the Lydian mode to express a mystic, dreamlike and heroic quality. His theme—emphasizing coloristic instruments such as the harp, piano, celesta, and other keyboards, as well as percussion—suggests E.T.'s childlike nature .

For my review, I will now focus on the original CD recording and not on the 20th anniversary CD that includes 21 tracks. The score starts with the first shorter track “Three Million Light Years From Home” that introduces the main theme on a flute. With the second track, “Abandoned And Pursued”, we have the first action track in the typical Williams style. The brass section reminds us of the “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” scores. Williams creates again very good an atmosphere of fear and desperation in the end when E.T. sees his space ship taking off and leaving him alone on Earth.

Track 3 “E.T. And Me” is a more lyrical track with the lovely theme again, played on a harp, before at minute 2’04, the full orchestra with strings takes over. This is one of the best tracks, Williams ever composed.

Track 4 “E.T.’s Halloween” is the already mentioned scene with the Yoda Theme. The music has a more comical approach and sounds a little bit like the typical Micky Mousing music style. The beautiful part starts with the piano at 1’55, highly emotional and wonderfully orchestrated and played. The last two minutes focus again on the famous flying-theme. Williams at his best!

Track 5 “Flying” is the highlight of the score, a beautifully composed track. Williams shows us here how gifted as a composer he is. This track mostly relies on the main theme played by strings and supported by brass. I personally do not like how Williams tries to bring this track on an end at 2’30, but this is just my opinion. That is the scene:

Track 6 “E.T. Phone Home” is a more lyrical one, a little sad sometimes, and after “Flying” a track that is needed to build up tension and suspense for the showdown. “Over The Moon” is a piano track, wonderfully played, for me the second highlight on the score.

And now, we come to the last track, 15 minutes long that underscores the chase and the goodbye. This is such a powerful track, great orchestrated and played. I prefer to have such a long track than to have the track separated in different ones. You can hear that this is a piece for an orchestra suite, the dramaturgical structure is just great, and Williams demonstrates with this one what a great composer he is.

Therefore, “E.T.” is for me one of the best movies ever even though it is sometimes not perfect and this music is one of the best soundtracks ever. When someone ask you what is really amazing movie music, then just let him listen to this track!

Here is a video called “John Williams World premiere of ET 20th anniversary”:

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2016, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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