Review by Jeff Commings
It is surprising how little time and effort John Williams seems to waste in composing a film score. If you think about his most popular scores, you imagine him slaving away for months trying to find a theme. But somehow he manages to get them done in a matter of weeks. But I still cannot believe the quickness (and sheer mastery) at which he composed E.T. This is without a doubt my favorite John Williams score, and many may argue his best of the 80s (that leaves me out of the debate of comparing Jaws andStar Wars, which I am not ready to do).
The opening sequence, where E.T. and his fellow aliens investigate local plant life, is innocent and surreal, thanks to Williams’ instrument choices. The use of an organ suggests the otherworldliness of our new friend, not to mention his mysterious life. I am always in awe of the themes Williams uses for characters, especially villains. Look at the theme for Jaws, the Imperial March and the villains’ march in Superman and Home Alone. The theme used for Keys in E.T. is to the point and so simple, you say to yourself, “I could have thought of that!” But then you realize that you could not have. The frenzied music played as E.T. evades the men and tries to return to the ship is perfectly intertwined with E.T.’s theme and Keys’ theme, and is no less than inspired.
The next hour of the score is somewhat low-key, as Williams plays the E.T. theme on different instruments and with different passions as we see the union between Elliot and E.T. grow and as the villains close in on the children.
There are two exceptions to this. “E.T.’s Halloween” gives us a full orchestration of the famous Flying Theme and the even more famous shot of the bicycle flying past the full moon. This cue also features in a very subtle manner the theme for Yoda as a costumed child dressed as the Jedi Master passes the children on the street. It’s so hidden in the orchestration that you almost can’t hear it but on some level recognize it from somewhere. “E.T. and Elliot Get Drunk” is playful and somewhat mischievous, as both get themselves into trouble. It’s a nice Scherzo-type cue, with rising notes that makes us laugh more than fear the consequences.
The music scored for the scene where the government takes over the house starts out with a bang, literally, then replays the organ music heard at the beginning of the film. I am very pleased with Williams’ choice not to let the music overemotionalize E.T.’s death, as the onscreen emotion does enough for us. But when E.T. comes back to life, the music turns cheerful again, and sets us up for what we know will be a race to the spaceship.
Through the years there have been excellent chase scenes, but none have had such a brilliant score accompany it. Williams’ grandest scoring achievement is revered as the greatest cue to date, for the most part because it can be heard without the visual and still be extremely effective. I listen to the music a lot and can close my eyes and see every frame of film as the music plays. If you read the liner notes to the expanded CD you will see how distressing it was for Williams to make this cue fit the visual and still give it emotion. And when I say emotion I mean EMOTION. As we see E.T. and Elliot say their goodbyes, we feel like a part of us is being left behind (or taken away), and we feel the physical bond slip away. But Williams reminds us that the emotional bond will always be there as he brings his score to full circle with a grand scale rendition of E.T.’s theme (compared to the flute rendition in the beginning of the film) as the ship takes off and Elliot watches. We are allowed to cry for them, but at the same time celebrate the fact that this creature came into our lives and changed us all.
This score can be seen as a front runner for future child-meets-alien films, but none can match the imagery or lyrical wonder. This Oscar-winning score will be remembered for years and may never find a successor to its phenomenal superiority.
Review by Frank Lehman
During one summer, my family and I took a week long trip to California. There, we went to the Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park. The first thing that I noticed when I arrived there was the tremendous, booming sound of music resonating troughout the streets and walkways. I knew the music to be E.T. I knew it to be the music from the end sequence of ET, the Adventures on Earth sequence. I knew it to be the most inspiring pieces of music John Williams has ever written. So after I rode the super scary (just kidding) E.T. Adventure ride at the park, I went to the E.T. store, where I bought the E.T. expanded and remastered edition soundtrack. And it was good…
Well, lets start at the beginning. First of all, this score is rather lighthearted. It has a general upbeat sense to it. But do not let fool you into thinking this is a completely childish score. Although it is one of John Williams’ only childrens’ movies, there is a lot of material that will please just about everybody.
“Far From Home/E.T. Alone” is one of the best opening sequences I have ever heard. It starts out with a soft rendition of the E.T. motif, played by the solo flute, then slides out into some unearthly organ music. The alien echoing sound of the pipe organ is terrific, and it really adds so much to the nature of the film. There are several times in the movie where you may hear the organ theme, and each time, it adds to the otherworldy nature of the film and soundtrack. Also on this track is the terrifying, and dark Government Agent theme, usually played in low, broading brass and winds. But on this track, you may also hear it as a frantic and desperate theme when poor E.T. is being chased. The track reaches its massive climax as E.T.’s ship takes off without him and then segues into more brooding music for the agent named “Keys”. Listen to the repeated clinging of the triangle to signify his presence.
The next track, “Bait for E.T.”, opens with the lovely Over the Moon theme, a graceful tune played when the children are riding their bikes. A serene piano based concert version can be found on the old E.T. soundtrack (which contained mostly concert arrangements), as well as the beginning of the last track.
Okay, now the next 4 or 5 tracks primarily use the E.T. and Elliott theme as the two get aquainted. This theme is serene and and peaceful, played primarily on the harp. It is extremely fitting of the scenes it goes along with and that is one of the reasons I love it so much. It is often blended in with the Govt. Agents theme, going back and fourth and making listening a little tense. You can hear a really amazing transition on track 6, “The Begining of a Friendship”, which is exemplary. The sequence is so well orchestrated that you may not even recognized that a slight change between scenes has ocurred.
Two tracks, “E.T. and Elliot Get Drunk”, and “Frogs”, introduce a mischievous and playful theme that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the movie. For the best rendition of the E.T. and Elliot theme, listen to “At Home.” Not only does this track contain the great moment when E.T. says “E-T…phone…home!” , it accompanies the beautiful sequence where E.T. heals Elliot. Simply gorgeous. The music begins climbing dramatically as E.T and Elliott prepare to experience the grandest of their adventures.
The awesome flying theme makes its first soaring appearance on “The Magic of Halloween”. The track begins with the lovable alien in his ghost costume, observing the strange costumes around him. The music is curious and upbeat. Williams adds a little of his signature charm as E.T. spots a familiar face, with a subtle inclusion of Yoda’s theme. As E.T. and Elliot approach the inevitable flying bycicle scene, the music grows and grows, increasing in anticipation and tension until the turning point when the bike lifts up and takes flight. The wonderous and famous Flying Theme majestically sweeps through the orchestra, climbing over the moon (Amblin) and landing safely. It is a fabulous track.
“Sending the Signal” is much more low key, with a soft and cool rendition of the flying theme and menacing Key’s theme. “Searching for E.T.” is a fast paced but at times slow and scary track, with the great Over The Moon theme in it. It becomes panicky when the men in spacesuits and gravity boots invite themselves in for dinner. “Invading Elliott’s House” is another frightening track. It starts out with pounding timpani and unrestful and evil music, and even reaches the point of terrifying when the organ motif is played. As a kid seeing the movie in the theater for the first time, I remember being scared out of my mind by the scene. The tubes gave me nightmares through preschool. I’m sure I’d have had many more peaceful nights had it not been for Williams’ spoooooky music.
The following three tracks really go together nicely, making sort of a cause and effect feel to them. First, we hear a painful and sad rendition of the flying theme as well as the E.T. and Elliott theme in “E.T. is Dying”. Then we hear the mournful strings of “Losing E.T.”. Finally, the E.T. and Elliot theme reaches its own optimization in “E.T. is Alive!”, played on the aching clarinet. The music blooms as ET comes to life and the score takes a new turn.
The final sequence of E.T. is generally accepted to being one of Johnny Williams’ greatest achievements. There is a little story behind the origins of the piece and why it is so good, which is in the liner notes, so I am not going to take up valuable space and tell it to you. Read it and you will understand. As a kid, I remember having a tape with the concert arrangement of it on and having only seen the movie as a stupid baby never knowing why I loved the piece so much. It was of course ADVENTURES ON EARTH, giving a ridiculous long title on the new CD that doesn’t bear repeating. The track begins with low beating strings as Elliott and Michael get into the car. The music tenses up as a Govt. Agent asks what they are doing, and it is all let out as Michael drives away with the tube thingy still attached. The most perfectly fitting rendition of the Over The Moon theme appears, giving the beginning a thrilling ride. The govt. agent theme intermingles with Over the Moon and these two themes race with each other until we reach the play ground, where preparations are made for the imminent bicycle chase .
Next comes the music that I hope everybody can recognize. The exciting, fast paced, origninal, and moving music during the chase. Each speed bump, every twist and turn is masterfully accompanied leaving you feeling dizzy with amazement and questioning whether you are watching the movie or listening to the soundtrack. The music all builds up until the orchestra is vented when the 5 bicyclers take flight, avoiding the govt. agents. There is no word to explain the scene. As they finally land, touching and majestic, beaming music begins where E.T. and Elliott are forced to say goodbye. But we woudn’t let him say goodbye without leaving something with us. And he certainly does. The entire track I just described is fantastic. It is beyond what words can explain. You could listen to it for the rest of your life and never get bored with it. This truly is the high point of John Williams fabulous score. The soundtrack closes with a great End Title, encompassing most of the themes from the movie and ending on a triumphant note.
Now onto the forbidden bad points. Well, actually, I can only think of two. The fact that tracks 6,7,8, and 9 are essentially different variations on the same theme, and therefore a bit boring. They are still good pieces of music though, just not up to the caliber of the rest of the score. The second bad point would have to be the exclusion of the beautiful concert arrangement of ET and Elliot, which is only available on the out of print old soundtrack. The concert arrangement cycles through the harp theme several times, changing keys and gracefully concluding. It is a pity but not a crisis. Overall, this is certainly the high point of John Williams’ film career, and therefore, I give E.T., a fantastic 5 stars. It is a score that can never come close to being duplicated!
Review by ‘Harry Potter’
While you are reading this, please keep in mind that I am no where near a good reviewer. These are my own humble opinions. Also, don’t get on my case for skipping parts, as this was just meant to be an overview of my opinion. Thank you. :)
Why I love the E.T. score.
Growing up, there were two movies I watched as much as I could. One was Pinocchio, and the other, E.T. Of the two, I grew to appreciate E.T. more and more as I watched it more and more. I never realized, however, the beauty of the score when I was young. When I listened to the E.T. score for the first time after becoming a huge fan of John Williams, I quickly realized what a masterpiece the score is, and my love for the movie plays a significant role in my love for the music.
The music in E.T. plays a very large role, and listening to the music causes me to visualize what is happening in the movie. The music becomes part of the movie; it becomes another character. Very early on, we see and hear the genius of Williams. We see the lonely sky and hear the lonely flute playing one of the themes. Soon, we are hearing mysterious and haunting music as we see bright lights and mysterious creatures walking about. The government agents appear, as does their theme. Soon, E.T. is frantically running away from the government agents to his spaceship as the orchestra is frantically playing the government agent theme turned action music.
Later in the movie after E.T. and Elliot first meet in the shed, the friendship theme comes into play. As E.T. and Elliot become one with each other, the music continues its journey to be one with the movie. The theme is gently played as the two creatures gently learn about each other.
Eventually, it comes time for Halloween. In what can be described as Williams being humorous and Williams being a genius, he adds Yoda’s theme when Yoda appears on screen. Meanwhile, we haven’t heard the main E.T. theme yet except for a little snippet when E.T. makes the solar system in Elliot’s room. Finally, after E.T. and Elliot finish their Halloween jaunt, we are treated to an all-out blasting of the theme. E.T. takes control of the bike and the he lifts the two into the night sky past the rising moon as the music lifts the scene into movie history.
Later, it seems E.T. is dead. Elliot talks to him as the music switches to emotional and dramatic. Elliot closes the lid of E.T.’s containment unit and walks towards the door. He sees E.T.’s flowers, and they perk up. Immediately, the music does the same. We hear a gentle rendition of the main theme, and when Elliot runs to E.T. and opens the unit, the theme is played in all its glory. E.T., as well as the score, is alive.
The last fifteen minutes of the movie and score are both remarkable and emotional to me. We start seeing E.T., Elliot, and Mike escape from their home. We hear one of the escape/chase themes. We get to the park and their friends finally realize what Elliot has–an extra terrestrial and a friend. The main theme comes into play as the boys have instant understanding of the creature. Quickly, the government agents, minus their guns this time, come along and see the van empty. Elliot’s mom looks around, but doesn’t see any sign of the kids. The music builds, and suddenly, we are with the group with the flight music. The group is pursued, the music is right there playing its role of providing excitement for the scene. Just when the group thinks they have escaped the government agents, they jump from the sides of the street to their theme as it climbs a note each time it’s played. Suspense fills the scene as well as the music (in the original release) until it is resolved by the main theme as the group is lifted into the evening sky and past the setting sun.
The group lands, the spaceship lands. It is now time to say goodbye to E.T. Gentle music fills the scene, as Gertie and Mike say goodbye. When Elliot steps up to E.T., the music changes, becoming more emotional and dramatic. The music builds and levels, then builds again and levels again, then builds yet again till we see E.T.’s finger light up, with him telling Elliot “I’ll be right here.” The music changes to almost heroic as our little friend finally meets up with his family and can finally go home. This scene where E.T. is walking up the ramp to the spaceship continuously gives me goosebumps. To me, this scene is packed with emotion, and I find it hard to not appreciate the music that transcends the whole movie scene. As the door on the ship circles to a close, the music dies, and we are left with that lonely flute again. The music then builds tremendously until we are left with the heroic trumpet fanfare as the ship paints a rainbow in the sky. Finally, the orchestra plays out the flute motif as we see the group standing teary eyed. As the camera shot changes, the orchestra hits. At the very last hit, we see Elliot, happy to see his friend gone with his family yet sad to see his friend gone from his life. The orchestra strikes a chord and the timpani beats its last beats until the orchestra carries out the chord.
I really can’t accurately describe my true feelings for this score. My love for the music and the movie is beyond me being able to put words down. This, however, was my attempt at sharing what I experience when I listen to the music.
My final thoughts: Williams did a superbly terrific job of writing for this film. The music adds so much depth and emotion to the film. The movie would be no where without the uplifting-ness of the music. No composer could have done a better job, nor could they even come close. I agree with Steven Spielberg — “John Williams is E.T.”