E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
Most films are charmed if they can contribute a single piece of iconography to the cultural chronicles. Spielberg’s story of boy meets botanist from outer space provided no less than three. Admittedly two were, and remain, pretty icky. The Extra-Terrestrial might have returned from whence he came, but “E.T. Go Home” stuck around like chewing gum in hair. Annoying and persistent. And then there are those touching fingertips, glowing with gushiness and all very heartwarming if you prefer you sentimentality at the pre-pubescent level. Then again, I found the most inspiring concept from Carl Sagan’s Contact to be its final chapter and this was totally ignored by Zemeckis’ film. So perhaps when it comes to popular sentiment I’m from another world.
Nevertheless, I’m sure all will agree that E.T. contains one image worthy of the annals. While a boy (and alien along for the ride) on an airborne bicycle is not such a leap of imagination within the fantasy and fable that comprises the bulk of the Spielberg oeuvre, in this context, it resonates with significance. The childhood yearning to spring free from authority is a universal aspect of the human condition, and the story’s sinister government agencies cast all manner of shadowy implications. When they are outwitted by a boy on a bike, silhouetted against a gigantic moon, one of cinema’s most triumphant metaphors is realised.
These are the nuances captured in John William’s score. Remixed and remastered and including three previously unreleased tracks for this 20th anniversary addition, the melodies will be instantly recognisable to anyone, like me (shame!), who hasn’t visited the music for many years.
This was the Williams era of attention-grabbing motifs. The zenith of a period during which he secured that rare combination of critical and popular acclaim. Later he would favour a more subtle style, just as marvellous, but offering fewer hooks for easy consumption.
The central theme here is straightforward and wonderful. Very similar to Star Wars – an accented rising fifth and then a run down the major scale – it is a paragon of the simple made spellbinding. Along with all the Williams signatures of whimsical woodwinds, bold and ominous brass and incandescent strings, there are also some more distinctive touches. Organ underlines the danger from the nasty government types and the end credits contain perhaps the finest solo piano moment of Williams’ entire canon.
No soundtrack enthusiast, indeed no music enthusiast, can afford to be without this score. Is it really so long since I last had a listen? Self-flagellation will ensue forthwith. However, first let me observe that John Williams is not only revered by his fans but recognised as THE Maestro by other soundtrack composers. There is no greater compliment than the acclaim of your peers, and this score is a great example of why that rare approbation has been won, along with so many awards, by the doyen of modern film music.
Published March 28, 2002
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TITLE: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (20th Anniversary)
COMPOSER/CONDUCTOR: John Williams