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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Music and Dynamics

Updated on March 13, 2018

Extraterrestrial Musical Bliss in William's Film Score and Composition

John Williams, one of the greatest classical film composers of all time, composes the score to Steven Spielberg’s magically and riveting family science fiction classic from 1982, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Already well-known for his other classic films such as Superman, Jaws, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Williams’s score is entirely original with a small insert to an early notable classic science fiction film (a certain Yoda attraction theme). When orchestrating his films, Williams is very effective in setting the mood and providing the film with a sense of overall dramatic & emotional theme. He is also very proficient in the use of leitmotif. Williams creates a leitmotif for the two main protagonist of the film, E.T. and Elliot. In addition, another leitmotif in the film is captured by the presence of the unknown male antagonists in the film which the audience does not see due to the darkness of the faces. Spielberg intentionally blackens out their faces and creates a sense of mystery to them. Williams, on the other hand, provides a brassy, driven theme that includes sounds from French horn, trombone, euphonium, some cornet and trumpets to accomplish them and add to their mystic. This ‘unknown men theme’ is presented three times within the film. The score of this theme builds over each sequence as the unknown faceless men or unrevealed government agents or even scientist pursue E.T. from the forest to the residence of Elliot and his family. Another example of leitmotif is formed in the score between the discovery of E.T. by Elliot and the relationship that is developed between the two characters over the course of the film. This theme is the “E.T. & Elliot” theme that is repeated several times during the film most notably scenes that allow for the interaction between E.T., Elliot and the other characters of the film. Williams uses a distinct piccolo and woodwind sound to go along with the high strings to present this theme. At times, this theme is offered in a variety of instrumentations and at various tempos. The theme is also heard very serene in the beginning of the film and later becomes more emotionally induced because of the bond shared by both E.T. & Elliot.

Two dramatically electric scenes from E.T. include the “Bicycle Chase” and “The Departure of E.T” as the film comes to a triumphant conclusion musically. Williams provides a very fast pace driving soundtrack to the Bicycle Chase as Elliot, his brother and friends are chased by government agents in pursuit of E.T.’s capture. The boys ride through the undeveloped housing track with ease and evade the government agents. The scene raises to a climax when magically E.T. uses his alien power to lift Elliot, his brother and friends into the sky at the point of sunset; a very wonderfully captured & memorable movie scene which Spielberg and Williams perfect.

In addition to the Bicycle chase scene, Williams & Spielberg move from the bicycle scene directly into the “Departure Scene” with awesomely full orchestra strength. As the audience witnesses Elliot and his family & friends in their final moments with E.T., the departure theme re-evokes the main theme into the composition. When each character appears to bid E.T. farewell, the music references its own soft emotional connection and gradually becomes a grand symphonic anthem that is punctuated until the final seconds of the film. Visually, as E.T’s spaceship launches into the air, the wind from the ship blows the hair of our main characters and as they look to the sky the ship leaves a reminder of friendship in the form of a night rainbow. With full orchestra dominating the final seconds of this scene, the piece ends with a commanding tympani drum like no other in cinematic film music. The music that Williams provides in E.T. is tremendously powerful and full of emotions. You will not find another film score like this one where the music itself drives each scene to a climax and provide such rare emotion.


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