Now you can't find nothing at all, If there was nothing there all along
So I watched the 20th anniversary edition of E.T. the other day. For anybody who doesn't know, this classic film was re-released four years ago (I think) with a couple of new scenes and some re-done special effects. The problem was, at the time I didn't know that I was watching the new edition, until I realised that I was watching a sequence that I had never seen before. Not a problem I thought, it's been a good ten years since I've seen this film all the way through, maybe I just forgot that this bit even happened.
However pretty soon I realised that this was the new version. And the reason I knew this was because the CGI that had been added to the film didn't look right. For the briefest of moments E.T., staring into a bathroom mirror, looked like he had just fallen out of The Incedibles.
Spielberg himself has stated that his intention with the new version of E.T. is not to change the story of the film in any way, but just to produce the film that he would have liked to have produced in 1982. Now I have no problem with this. If he was forced to cut a sequence because the technology of the time would not let him realise it realistically and he wants to re-instate this sequence then that is fine, providing that it is done properly.
Several changes have been made to this film, many of which are completely unnoticeable. These invisible changes should be applauded. They are unobtrusive, however when brought to the attention they do add a dimension to the film that might be seen to have been previously lacking. However there are other moments in the film when the changes that have been made are glaringly obvious.
Everybody knows that this film was made in the 1980s. Therefore any effects that obviously date from a later period are jarring. This can be seen in the sequence when E.T. creates a 3D model of the solar system in the bedroom and also in the newly re-instated sequences. Spielberg wanted to add subtelties to the creature's face in order to display more emotion than was possible in 1982. The intertion was to not produce any effects that made the audience realise that they were not watching the original film. The problem is that it frequently does.
The story is the same. As far as I can see there are only two new scenes (others exist but Spielberg was going to remove these at the time of the original), and these do not effect the plot in any way. However some of the CGI changes did draw attention to themselves. E.T. was never supposed to look like a man in a suit, but now he looks like a computer generated image. At least before this version you knew something was there.
This brings up the debate of remastering and re-issuing. I agree with Spielberg. If the director wanted something that may have been impossible at the time then a new version is acceptable, as long as it complies with the original viewing experience. If at any point the viewer notices that something has changed then the update has failed. Using Star Wars as an example, correcting the light sabres is appropriate, replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen is not as it instantly becomes a different film.
Clearly the three Star Wars films released on DVD and video recently are not the same films that were released from 1977 onwards. There is no problem with this as long as the originals are still available, which they are not. Similarly with E.T., Spielberg has attempted to update the film to do things that he could not do in 1982. The film, in his mind, is the same. However the moment that I realised that I was watching a different film to that which I was used to seeing demonstrated that this update had failed.
Anybody new to the film will obviously not see any problems and will, hopefully enjoy it as much as I, and many other people, did during the 80s, however, everytime I come to watch the DVD from now on I can't help but be made aware of the fact that although it looks almost exactly the same, this is not the same film that I am used to. Rather than ehancing the magic Spielberg has, unfortunately, managed to reduce the magic because everytime I see something that is different it pulls me out of the film and as a result continually makes the film appear to be a fiction and therefore unbelievable. As a result the film falls flat, which is a shame because it is one of the greatest childrens' films ever.