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E.T. returns to heal our cynical hearts

One of the fun things about the media is that many people who work in it lie almost constantly, creating a social minefield that keeps everybody hoppin'. For instance, take the big studios (please). Sometimes we call them up and say, "Hiya, we noticed that you have a major motion picture coming out in a few days. Any chance we could see said product so we can review it, as is our wont?" Not infrequently, the dubious response we get from beleaguered PR assistants is that the movie due on 20,000-plus screens in a mere week isn't ready yet. As is also our wont, we politely thank them, then hang up the phone and begin bitching about limp-wristed execs and the studio underlings they train to lie.

When we asked Universal whether we could view E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: The Twentieth Anniversary in time for publication, they said, quite simply, no. This is particularly strange, given that -- in terms of this movie's box-office returns -- even a scathing critical pan would amount to about as much damage as keying a battleship. Weirder still, despite a few new nips and tucks, the touchy-feely juggernaut is 20 years old, so it's not as if we can blow any narrative surprises. But no means no, so there was only one option. Behold, a loose review of the videocassette, with extras.

E.T. is the story of a gibbering rubberhead who is abandoned in the middle of a boring Middle America and forced to entertain its dull denizens by means of metaphysical gimcrackery. Thus it's something of a prequel to Forrest Gump. It stars Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas as adorable little Gertie and her winsome brother Elliot. With their brash older brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton), they inhabit a prefab town not unlike the one seen in Poltergeist.

The kids live with their mother, Mary (Dee Wallace-Stone) and bicker a lot, but once they're visited by the eponymous E.T., played by Steve Buscemi (just kidding), they discover a communal mission. The youngsters conspire to help E.T., you know, phone home and all that, so he can rejoin his mates.

There's plenty to impress, including Allen Daviau's glowing cinematography, John Williams' deft incidental music, the hypnotic slow build of E.T.'s arrival and nods to classic fictional characters such as Peter Pan and Elvis Costello. There are laughs, too, as the kids try to conceal their squonking charge from the cruel rationalism of the adult world.

We're told that this new version is tweaked and enhanced; some dialogue has been altered as well, with the children's' offensive comments such as "penis breath" being replaced with the more benign "Own it on DVD!" Yes, we're fortunate to have E.T. back among us, if for no other reason than to remind us how much can change in 20 years.

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