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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
March 25, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is back in town in a heavily promoted "new and improved" version.

The only thing I noticed as being new was a bathtub scene, and it made me agree with the original decision to remove it from the film.

But that hardly matters. E.T. is still the quintessential family film. The performances of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore are still genuinely moving.

While Drew Barrymore was very young and showed signs of being a kid doing what she was told (though with extraordinary cuteness), Henry Thomas was the real thing: A child actor with adult talent.

There haven't been that many in the history of film. Margaret O'Brien, Natalie Wood, Roddy McDowell, Jackie Cooper, Ricky Schroeder, Elijah Wood, Haley Joel Osment -- and, of course, Henry Thomas.

There have been other kid actors who were quite engaging and enjoyable -- Shirley Temple, Mark Lester, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, McCauley Culkin, and a few others come to mind. But it's no criticism to say that these were performers, not actors. In every case their performances were basically shtick, consisting of gimmicks that the audience loved and came to expect.

And, of course, there are horrible child actors that nearly or completely ruin the films they're in. Can anybody actually stand watching the child in "The Good-bye Girl"? I'm sure she's grown up to be no more obnoxious than, say, Chelsea Clinton, but on screen there's nothing worse than watching children who think they're clever.

"E.T." has no such problem.

But there are, in fact, problems.

For one thing, in this release of the film they either changed or failed to fix a serious timeflow problem. We cut away from E.T. starting to flatline, whereupon we watch the older brother lie down, take a nap, and wake up again. Then when we cut back to E.T. and Elliot, hardly a moment has passed.

I mean, if you're going to go in and enhance the sound, add in a previously cut scene, and fiddle with the digital effects here and there, why can't you get the time flow right?

Oh well, I suppose it's no worse than the silly behavior of the scientists. (The alien dies and you cease the biohazard procedures? Suddenly any alien organisms it might harbor are completely safe for humans?)

It's still a wonderful movie, and it's worth paying to see it on the big screen.

It's a family movie, remember, not a kidflick. Adults can enjoy watching it even if they don't have children with them.

I've heard people say that it's a real shame the best-picture Oscar for 1982 went to Gandhi instead of E.T.

It happens that 1982 was a very good year for movies. It was also the year of "Poltergeist," which I think is more moving than "E.T." -- but of course less child-friendly. Not to mention "Tootsie," "An Officer and A Gentleman," "Missing," "My Favorite Year," "The Verdict," "The World According to Garp," and "Das Boot."

Still, I've seen "Gandhi" again quite recently, and you know what? It's a better movie.

In fact, I'm going to go farther: I think "Gandhi" is one of the best movies ever made. It is very close to perfect. It's not as fun or thrilling as "E.T" or "Poltergeist" or "Tootsie" or "An Officer and a Gentleman," but it is the finest -- best-written, best-filmed, best-acted -- biographical picture ever made, of perhaps the greatest man of the 20th century.

Too bad "E.T." didn't come out the year before, or the year after.

Oscar Night 2002

I know this was the longest Oscar presentation ever, and I don't care.

It felt like one of the shortest, except when Streisand and Redford were talking and the Cirque de Soleil was cavorting -- and we just made fun of them so it was still entertaining.

I loved the fact that they actually showed us filmclips -- tons of them. They made us remember why we love the movies. Best sequence: John Williams's medley of unforgettable movie themes and great film composers.

The Oscars can no more be "too long" than the Superbowl can. It lasts as long as it lasts. I want to hear these people out! If they make fools of themselves, let us see it!

I was happy with the outcomes, too. "Moulin Rouge" didn't win best picture, and "A Beautiful Mind" won in spite of the stupid mudslinging (yeah, right, block a fine movie from the Oscar because the subject of the biography -- who is, by the way, a schizophrenic -- once said something crazy!).

I even agree that "Fellowship of the Ring" shouldn't have won best picture, because it doesn't actually stand alone.

People who saw "A Beautiful Mind" got the whole package. But "Fellowship of the Ring" is only part I -- and the emotional climax won't come for two more years.

No single part of the trilogy is likely to win anything -- except for the love of millions and millions of viewers. Boo hoo.

It happens that the Best Actor and Best Actress awards both went to African-Americans -- the latter for the first time ever. Denzel Washington and the genuinely-surprised Halle Berry gave wonderful speeches in response.

But the Academy did not in fact vote to give the top acting awards to black actors.

The Academy voted that Denzel Washington's performance was the best of the five nominees, and that Halle Berry's performance was the best of a different set of five.

They did not win, in other words, because of or in spite of the color of their skin. They won because of, and only because of, the quality of their performance.

So these are real awards, and no one can taint them, the way they taint achievements like Clarence Thomas's position on the Supreme Court, by saying that they only got them because of their race.

As for the special award for Redford, he had two strikes against him going in.

First, he had to follow the absolutely classy response of Sidney Poitier to his special award.

Second, Redford was introduced by Barbra Streisand, who of course thought that his award, like everything else in her life, starred her.

But once Redford was alone in front of the mike (well, almost alone -- Babs, typically, wouldn't get off the stage), it was kind of sad that he sounded as if ... well, as if he thought he kind of deserved it, but couldn't say quite why.

His contribution to film is real -- he has made some good movies, given some good performances, and his Sundance project has had some influence.

But he seemed unable either to confess his own ambitions (as Poitier did), pass credit to predecessors and successors (as Poitier did), or even show some sign of knowing why his achievements might actually mean something in the real world (as Poitier did).

At the end of Oscar night, I felt as I always feel: I love movies, and I love watching movie people give each other awards for them.

Stuff to Try

Have you noticed the new Yoplait Whips!? Absolutely smooth, with a light airy texture, these are some of the best desserts I've had. Every flavor is good, though our favorites are peach, lime, raspberry, and strawberry.

For those of you who care about language, check out John McWhorter's The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language. A genuine scientist himself, McWhorter explains how languages form, why they're different, and how hard it is to draw boundaries between them -- all in a personal, readable style that doesn't require you to have a college degree in linguistics to understand him.

If you have a digital video camera and you are fed up with how stupidly incompatible most Windows-based film editing software is, I've found one that actually captures my video correctly, edits it conveniently, outputs it in any format I want, and doesn't cost very much: VideoFactory 2.0, by Sonic Foundry. You can even buy it online and download it.

Nothing's perfect, though. To create DVD-playable CDs, I had to use a different software package, NeoDVDstandard from MedioStream.


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