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E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Album Cover Art
1986 MCA
1990 MCA
Album 2 Cover Art
1996 MCA Expanded
Album 3 Cover Art
2002 MCA 20th Anniversary
Album 4 Cover Art
2017 La-La Land
Album 5 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:

Co-Produced by:
Shawn Murphy
Bruce Botnick

Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer
Labels Icon
MCA Records

MCA Records
(October 25, 1990)

MCA Records
(September 24th, 1996)

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

La-La Land Records
(September 26th, 2017)
Availability Icon
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 commerical release as well, with a SACD alternative also pressed. The 2017 La-La Land set is limited to 5,000 copies and available initially for $30 through soundtrack specialty outlets.
Winner of an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, a Grammy Award, and a Golden Globe.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... on especially the 2017 2-CD set if you seek one of the most popular scores in the history of Hollywood, not to mention a triumph that stands among the best of John Williams' masterful works.

Avoid it... if not even the most magical symphonic composition from the height of Williams' career is of any interest to your unusually sour tastes.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 9/24/96, REVISED 5/27/18
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: (John Williams) Minimal 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 that 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. In a heavy dose of Spielberg's obsession with the concept of abandonment, the story shows an alien group collecting specimens on Earth but accidentally leaving one of their own behind, forcing the creature to engage with a local family to "call home." 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 revisited 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 ultimate 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 of 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 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." Let the remainder of this review serve as appropriate ridicule towards Berardinelli for his complete missing of the mark with immensely poor judgment in this case. Regardless of Berardinelli's comically inept remarks (perhaps some bad intestinal upset 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 primary 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 fine-tuned 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 is a major appeal. More importantly, though, 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 he 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. Likewise, Williams' choice of orchestral colors is incredible in this work, his application of woodwinds, pipe organ, and solo piano, harp, and trumpet all providing extremely adept. The score remains a pleasure to behold because its vibrant and thoughtful mix of these elements surpasses expectations for a score of this age and cements its enduring status as a symphonic masterpiece.

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 long offered 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, and some listeners associate it more specifically to the connection the alien creature maintains with his own species, a musical signal beacon of sorts. 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 structural phrasing, orchestration, and performance emphasis of this idea make it a relatively close cousin to Williams' later softer familial identity for A.I. Artificial Intelligence. 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 interestingly, during the discovery late in "Searching for E.T." The latter usage suggests a mentality of desperation for the creature as it relives an earlier trauma. The motif doesn't make a significant impact, as you might expect, during the climax of the film during which the aliens return; perhaps the overwhelming use of the humans' fantasy themes is more appropriate at that juncture.

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 a forceful note on 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 stark 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. Interestingly, the composer chose to employ mostly atonal sound effects in the eerie "Main Titles" cue rather than open the film with any of his darker, resolute themes, yielding perhaps the least interesting cue of the entire work up front.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.33 Stars
***** 4,989 5 Stars
**** 1,767 4 Stars
*** 816 3 Stars
** 304 2 Stars
* 271 1 Stars
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Original soundtrack is not from 1986   Expand >>
AK - June 29, 2018, at 5:40 a.m.
2 comments  (971 views)
Newest: July 1, 2018, at 10:34 a.m. by
Original "Goodbye" Cue?
Sean William Menzies - June 29, 2007, at 5:24 p.m.
1 comment  (3621 views)
end credits theme   Expand >>
claude - February 3, 2007, at 10:25 p.m.
10 comments  (12489 views)
Newest: April 28, 2007, at 12:19 p.m. by
Breath - takingly beautiful and harmonic
Sheridan - June 15, 2006, at 1:07 p.m.
1 comment  (2671 views)
E.T. original film score
Matthew Guthier - May 17, 2006, at 10:17 a.m.
1 comment  (3735 views)
E.T Original Soundtrack '1982'?   Expand >>
Imran Khan - September 25, 2005, at 3:37 a.m.
2 comments  (5261 views)
Newest: October 22, 2005, at 1:34 a.m. by
simon bromwell

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1986-1990 MCA Issues Tracks   ▼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)
1996 MCA Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 71:21
2002 MCA 20th Ann. Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 75:37
2017 La-La Land Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 156:08

Notes Icon
The inserts of the original 1986-1990 albums include no extra information about the score or film. The 1996 reissue features outstanding 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. The 2017 La-La Land set's insert contains a list of performers and detailed notes about most cues in the score.

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 & Spielberg
Williams with Spielberg, 1982
Below 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."
Copyright © 1996-2021, Filmtracks Publications. 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 Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial are Copyright © 1988, 1990, 1996, 2002, 2017, MCA Records (Original), MCA Records (Re-Issue), MCA Records (Expanded), MCA Records/Universal (20th Anniversary), La-La Land Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/24/96 and last updated 5/27/18.
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