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Section Header
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
1986 MCA

1990 MCA

1996 MCA Expanded

2002 MCA 20th Ann.

Composed, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:
John Williams

Co-Produced by:
Shawn Murphy
Bruce Botnick

Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer

Labels and Dates:
MCA Records (Original)

MCA Records (Reprint)
(October 25, 1990)

MCA Records (Expanded)
(September 24th, 1996)

MCA Records/Universal (20th Anniversary)
(March 19th, 2002)

Also See:
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Empire Strikes Back
A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Audio Clips:
1996 Album:

1. Far From Home/E.T. Alone (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (243K)
Real Audio (151K)

11. Sending the Signal (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (241K)
Real Audio (150K)

16. E.T. is Alive! (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (243K)
Real Audio (151K)

18. End Credits (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

The original concert format re-recording was reprinted by MCA many times between 1986 and 1990, each time with slightly different cover art. They are out of print, but still available in some stores.

The 1996 reissue is a regular U.S. release and has been more readily available in the 2000's. The 2002 20th Anniversary reissue is a regular U.S. release as well, with a SACD alternative also pressed.

  Winner of an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, a Grammy Award, and a Golden Globe.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
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Buy it... on any of the album releases if you seek one of the most popular scores in the history of Hollywood, not to mention one among the best of John Williams' career.

Avoid it... if not even the most magical compositions from the height of Williams' career are of any interest to your sour tastes.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: (John Williams) Little introduction needs to be made for this, Steven Spielberg's most beloved family film. While a handful of adults may get caught up in the religious allegories involved in Melissa Mathison's screenplay for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the story is nevertheless the kind of hopeful view of alien civilization and has entranced children for years. Stereotypes about suburban lifestyles of the 1980's, as well as deeply rooted fears about the intentions of the government, play well with adults, too, making E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial one of the greatest blockbuster successes ever to overwhelm the box office. The bond between a lovable extra-terrestrial and a young human boy leads to the two to common curiosity, friendship, illness, escape, and salvation, culminating in a depiction of a alien encounters even more positive and rewarding than Spielberg's own Close Encounters of the Third Kind five years earlier. It was an era during which the famed director could do no wrong, and he would revisit the production to clean up the special effects and add a few scenes for a 20th anniversary theatrical release in 2002. Also at the height of his phenomenal career in 1982 was John Williams, whose journeys in the franchises of Star Wars and Indiana Jones were causing such a monumental response from audiences at the time that the composer's output of the era is still often considered the guideline for the redemptive success of the Bronze Age of film music. Despite all of Williams' triumphs in the plethora of great franchise scores that resulted from this period in his career, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial remains perhaps the most magical in a singular sense. The score finally earned the composer his fourth Academy Award after several of his best nominated scores during the previous four years were upset by inferior competition. The famous themes of E.T. became the new staple of Williams' concert tours, serving as a comfortable, "feel good" sound from the era. Indeed, E.T. is one of those films and scores that will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who experienced it firsthand in 1982, for it evoked the perfect emotional response for what audiences craved as "Hollywood movie magic."

For movie critics, film music critics and collectors alike, the E.T. score is almost uniformly admired, usually without reservation but at least earning significant respect from the cynics in the crowd. One lingering exception has always remained the extremely revered film critic James Berardinelli, who not only downplayed the effectiveness of the film but also stated the following in 2002: "One thing that has not stood the test of time is John Williams' mediocre score. With the exception of the soaring 'E.T.' theme, the movie's music is unmemorable and unspectacular - easily the weakest of Williams' major motion picture efforts." The only reason Berardinelli's quote is mentioned in this Filmtracks review is because it proves, once and for all, that even the best reviewers completely miss the mark sometimes. And, in cases like this, they deserve ridicule for their immensely poor judgment. Regardless of Berardinelli's comically inept remarks (perhaps some bad intestinal gas that day?), the music for E.T. is classic if only because it is so memorable; no suite representing the entire history of film music would be complete without a few bars from this score. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the popular response to this music, positive or negative, is how focused such opinions are on the famous title theme for the picture. In actuality, the E.T. score is substantially more complicated than that, with no less than eight major, recurring themes in the score (and several minor motifs) and a very keen sense of instrumental choices and final orchestration. Obviously, there are traits of Williams' writing that helped define that entire period in his career, and to an extent the abundance of these stylistic devices are a major appeal. But more importantly, E.T. is a score in which Williams absolutely nailed the emotional atmosphere of each situation in the film, an ability proven without question when Williams was allowed to score the final chase sequence in terms of musical flow, with Spielberg altering the final edit of the film to match the cue. That, ladies and gentlemen, is respect. One of the more remarkable aspects of Williams' writing process for E.T. is the fact that he wrote most of the swells of the title theme before the film's special effects were finished (including the iconic "bicycle over moon" sequence).

Of Williams' eight major themes for E.T., all but one are a powerful influence in the film. For the purposes of this review, the cue titles provided will reference the 2002 20th anniversary album release, for it offers the most complete collection of cue titles. In terms of top of mind awareness, the "flying theme" is easily the heart and soul of E.T.. The score's most famous theme, this string-dominated piece is hinted at in "E.T.'s Powers" and other cues before its full, major debut in "The Magic of Halloween." This theme dominates the last few minutes of the film and "End Credits," technically serving to represent the powers that the alien creature uses to both heal and fly but also conveying the broader sense of magic that prevails in the story. Almost equally important in E.T. is the general "wonder theme," consisting of two six-note figures on flute and serving as the bookends of the score. It's the first and last melody you hear in the film, wistfully performed on flute at the outsets of "Far from Home" and "At Home" and explosively concluding "Saying Goodbye" with triumphant brass. This theme provides the sense of fantasy in the full spectrum of imagination. The "friendship theme" is likely the weakest in the score, if only because its renderings are so slight. Most extensively performed by harp and strings in "The Beginning of a Friendship," "Toys," and "At Home," this idea receives one last flourish in "E.T. is Alive!" before fragments assist in the score's climax in "Saying Goodbye." Although this theme is adequate in quality, its tender tones are not among Williams' most compelling, and they especially become lost when compared to the extroverted nature of the other themes. The "alien theme" is the score's most religious experience, mirroring the chime-tolling and organ-backed tone of Williams' material for the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This theme makes itself heard very prominently as the aliens abandon E.T. in "Far from Home" and, more curiously, during the discovery cue "Searching for E.T." The theme doesn't make a significant impact, as you might expect, during the climax of the film during which the aliens return. Given that the bond between alien and humanity is so strong by then, maybe the overwhelming use of the humans' fantasy themes is more appropriate.

There are two major themes of darkness in E.T., and because they often intermingle, many listeners generally apply them both to the evil government forces. There is indeed a very sinister theme for the government and its pursuit of the aliens. It's another case in which Williams uses the bass woodwinds to very effectively represent evil (he would take the idea to near-comical levels in Home Alone), not to mention that he once again constructs a "badguy" theme with the repeated use of the note of key at its outset. The technique is a habit that Williams utilizes to drive home the point that there is relentless power behind a character or entity, and listeners can hear the same general idea in everything from "The Imperial March" in The Empire Strikes Back to the theme for the president in Nixon. In E.T., the government's theme is employed ominously in "E.T. Alone," "Bait for E.T.," "I'm Keeping Him," "At Home," and "Invading Elliot's House," developing into a frenzy in "E.T. Alone" that foreshadows the sense of child abandonment and horror in A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The other theme of darkness is a bit more nebulous in Williams' intentions, but it is typically applied as a "mystery theme." This is the deep organ theme heard in "Far from Home" that accompanies the government's stalking of (and forced entry to) the suburban home where E.T. is hiding in "At Home" and "Invading Elliot's House." The prominent mix of this theme in especially the first two mentioned cues causes it to have a significant emotional impact on the film, with the final usage finally resorting to stark drum hits to accentuate the score's only truly scary scene. The incorporation of the two unsettling themes into the score is quite thorough, giving both of them the weight and responsibility of perpetuating the film's creepier side. Williams very astutely alludes to these two themes in lighter cues, reminding the audience of the peril involved. The "At Home" cue is especially intelligent in its use of the instrumentation of the "friendship theme" (the harp, specifically) to perform to the "government theme" in such a way that it gives you the uneasy sense that any of your family moments in the home could be monitored by "big brother." Williams did similar things with "The Imperial March" in the training scenes of The Empire Strikes Back.

Ironically, none of the aforementioned themes is E.T.'s most infectious. That label belongs to the propulsive "chase/mischief theme," also made famous by its inclusion in Williams' concert suites of music from the film. Most listeners will recognize this theme in the form of its gorgeous piano performance at the outset of "End Credits" and the concert arrangement titled "Over the Moon." The rolling rendition of this theme at the end of the film is beautifully overtaken by the ensemble, and it's no surprise that Williams expanded upon the idea for his tours. What's more important to remember, however, is the role that this theme plays in the picture itself. Its mischievous incarnation is heard in "Bait for E.T.," a cue that very obviously pays tribute to the style of Bernard Herrmann (those muted trumpets and staggered rhythms are unmistakable) for twenty seconds before transitioning into the "chase/mischief theme." The theme goes absent from the score until "Escape," which affords the idea several explosive and uniquely motivational performances that assist the children in their efforts to elude government forces. This theme receives a momentous sendoff at the climax of "Saying Goodbye." The final major theme in E.T. is the "victory fanfare," another usual inclusion in the concert suite arrangements of material from the score. This theme is heard at the height of the film's "Chase" sequence (about 4:30 into the suite-like cue) and again at 0:45 into "End Credits." The theme is typically introduced by the flurry of high range elements (led by flute) forming a flighty rhythmic bed, one that tends to be annoying in its extreme, upper-range enthusiasm. A few minor motifs are employed in the score as well, including a "government chase motif" heard throughout "Escape" and most clearly at 1:30 into that cue. Once again, the use of the repeated note on key at the outset of theme connects it to Williams' usual treatment for the forces of evil. Also heard, of course, is Yoda's theme from The Empire Strikes Back, which is not only a cute reference included by Williams due to the Halloween costume seen in the film, but also as a pun on the physical similarities between Yoda and E.T. (a point made by Spielberg himself in E.T.'s scripted reaction). Other motifs are explored in the more comical first half of the score, but these are of little consequence.

Overall, the multitude of themes for E.T. merge to form a spectacular accompaniment for the film and an undeniably rewarding listening experience on album. Williams' fantastic integration of his themes for the film is evident in nearly every cue. By the fifteen-minute suite that makes up the climax, the themes are so seamlessly expressed in succession that you begin to forget their individual purposes. It is perhaps because of this methodology that some listeners mistake this score as one that is largely monothematic. The work's only weakness comes in the somewhat unconvincing and shallow emotional depth of the "friendship theme" and the silly tones of the tandem of "E.T. and Elliot Get Drunk" and "Frogs." Otherwise, the E.T. score is a lasting powerhouse in the history of cinema, and is among even the best of Williams' illustrious career. Because of its immense popularity, the score for E.T. has been released on album many times throughout the two decades following its debut. From 1986 to 1996, the only recording of the E.T. score available, on LP or CD, was a 40 minute collection of recordings that weren't those that originally appeared in the film. Williams recorded those eight tracks himself at the time of the film's recording, but meant for the second recordings to be only a concert variation of a large portion of the score. Such practice was common in Hollywood's previous ages of film music, though it was somewhat rare to see it occur in the 1980's. These recordings are noticeably different than those made for the film, and although some collectors were satisfied with them, others obviously were not. It was often claimed that the sound quality of the re-recordings is superior to that of the film versions, though direct comparisons with the later album releases of the actual score would beg to differ. The original concert arrangement albums, which received several re-pressings by MCA between 1986 and 1990, naturally contained material in the wrong order and with different orchestrations. The typical favorite on those albums was the "Adventures on Earth" suite, which consisted of the "Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye" cues that have largely been overexposed in their constant performances in concerts through the years.

2002 Album:
Only $6.99
After a very attractive expanded edition of Williams' Raiders of the Lost Ark was released the previous year, MCA followed in 1996 with a release of nearly the entire E.T. score in its film performance. This 71-minute album offered 31 more minutes of music and arranged the contents into faithful film order. Williams never recorded many of the dark passages for his original album release, completely ignoring some of the brilliant performances of the two organ and bass woodwind themes, as well as a few of the great string performances of several other themes. The only downsides to this 1996 version are that it is not a complete selection of the film's final music and, most unfortunately, it doesn't contain the version of the "End Credits" that was heard in the film (an alternate mix was pressed onto this CD instead). Thus, to hear the lovely piano performance of the "chase theme," you needed to continue holding on to the earlier MCA products. For the 20th Anniversary release of the film in 2002, MCA/Universal released the score once again, this time offering the complete score of almost 76 minutes. The added three cues are definitely not necessary (the actual "Main Titles" consist mostly of atonal sound effects), and the 2002 album is not remastered any better than the 1996 one had been. The packaging of the two contain precisely the same information. The one true benefit of the 2002 product is the overdue appearance of the original end titles performance that is similar, but not identical to "Over the Moon." An SACD version of the 2002 album was also released concurrently. On the whole, the album situation continues to present problems for Williams completists and die hard E.T. fans. Which version should you get? Unfortunately, each album has its unique benefits. The original MCA pressings, with the eight concert tracks, featured the necessary "Over the Moon" arrangement and a powerful performance with resounding bass. The 1996 album cleaned up the sound quality and features all of the material actually from the film that you will ever need. The 20th anniversary album completes the picture with the extra few minutes of score and the original "End Credits" cue. Thus, it's possible that many Williams enthusiasts will pursue all of the albums. In any case, you're hearing a great presentation of a classic score, an achievement that still stands as one of the maestro's very best. ***** Price Hunt: CD or Download

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 Track Listings (1986-1990 MCA Issues): Total Time: 40:14

• 1. Three Million Light Years from Home (2:57)
• 2. Abandoned and Pursued (2:58)
• 3. E.T. and Me (4:49)
• 4. E.T.'s Halloween (4:07)
• 5. Flying (3:20)
• 6. E.T. Phone Home (4:18)
• 7. Over the Moon (2:06)
• 8. Adventure on Earth (15:06)

 Track Listings (1996 MCA Album): Total Time: 71:21

• 1. Far from Home/E.T. Alone (6:49)
• 2. Bait for E.T. (1:43)
• 3. The Beginning of a Friendship (2:50)
• 4. Toys (3:11)
• 5. "I'm Keeping Him" (2:19)
• 6. E.T.'s Powers (2:42)
• 7. E.T. and Elliott Get Drunk (2:53)
• 8. Frogs (2:10)
• 9. At Home (5:37)
• 10. The Magic of Halloween (2:53)
• 11. Sending the Signal (3:57)
• 12. Searching for E.T. (4:16)
• 13. Invading Elliott's House (2:22)
• 14. E.T. is Dying (2:17)
• 15. Losing E.T. (2:00)
• 16. E.T. is Alive! (4:18)
• 17. Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye (15:04)
• 18. End Credits (3:51)

 Track Listings (2002 MCA 20th Ann. Album): Total Time: 75:37

• 1. Main Titles (1:06)
• 2. Far from Home/E.T. Alone (6:46)
• 3. Bait for E.T. (1:44)
• 4. Meeting E.T. (2:05)
• 5. E.T.'s New Home (1:38)
• 6. The Beginning of a Friendship (3:02)
• 7. Toys (2:43)
• 8. "I'm Keeping Him" (2:18)
• 9. E.T.'s Powers (2:42)
• 10. E.T. and Elliott Get Drunk (2:54)
• 11. Frogs (2:10)
• 12. At Home (5:37)
• 13. The Magic of Halloween (2:52)
• 14. Sending the Signal (3:56)
• 15. Searching for E.T. (4:16)
• 16. Invading Elliott's House (2:21)
• 17. E.T. is Dying (2:19)
• 18. Losing E.T. (2:02)
• 19. E.T. is Alive! (4:06)
• 20. Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye (15:01)
• 21. End Credits (3:49)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The inserts of the original 1986-1990 albums include no extra information about the score or film. The 1996 reissue features the best packaging, with pictures from every cue and an interview with Williams about this score and a variety of topics. The 20th anniversary release in 2002 has fewer pictures and a reprint of the same interview.

There exists a superior re-recording of the "Over the Moon" arrangement on the "Spielberg/Williams Collaboration" compilation from the early 1990's, an album that features strong performances by the Boston Pops and excellent sound quality.

Williams with Spielberg, 1982

At right is an excerpt from an interview with Spielberg at the time of the film's release.
"In the case of E.T. (1982), John asked that we simply let him perform his theme without trying to measure it closely with the edited film. We shut off the projector and John perfromed the theme for E.T., just letting the spirit come from his heart. It worked so well that we took the last scene back to the editing room and conformed out pictures to John's interpretive conducting. This score won him his fourth Academy Award (the third was for Star Wars), and my continued admiration and gratitude.

I've always felt that John Williams was my musical rewrite artist. He comes in, sees my movie, rewrites the whole thing musically, and makes it much better than I did. He can take a moment and just uplift it. He can take a tear that's just forming in your eye and he can cause it to drip.

In our ten year and six picture association, John Williams has been an immeasurable creative force in all of my movies. This should be obvious to anyone who realized that John was the voice of Jaws, the soul of the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the furious heartbeat from which Raiders of the Lost Ark flowed. John's score to the movie E.T. is unlike any of his others. It is soothing and benign. It is scary and suspenseful and, toward the climax, downright operatic. For me, this is John Williams' best work for the movies. John Williams is E.T."

  All artwork and sound clips from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial are Copyright © 1988, 1990, 1996, 2002, MCA Records (Original), MCA Records (Reprint), MCA Records (Expanded), MCA Records/Universal (20th Anniversary). The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/24/96 and last updated 8/17/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1996-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.