Review: ‘E.T.’ comes home to the Hollywood Bowl

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by conductor David Newman, performs John Williams' entire Academy Award-winning score from Steven Spielberg's "E.T." under the dome at the Hollywood Bowl.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by conductor David Newman, performs John Williams’ entire Academy Award-winning score from Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” under the dome at the Hollywood Bowl.

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

E.T. came home again to the Hollywood Bowl, for a three-day visit to the city that was in so many ways the odd-looking, wobbly character’s birthplace.

Bowl representatives expected some 35,000 people over the Labor Day weekend to relive a bit of their youth, or, judging by the stream of families with young children in tow Friday evening, to enjoy the 1982 science-fiction classic with a glowing, warm heart for the first time.

Despite the incredible advances in special effects (and that our cellphones today could probably call E.T. ‘s native planet), the magical tale about a young boy’s special connection to a little lost space creature holds up remarkably well - the interstellar cuteness of Drew Barrymore notwithstanding. Inspired in part by the divorce of his parents, Steven Spielberg has said “E. T. The Extra Terrestrial,” with its themes of loss, loneliness and alienation, is one of his most personal films.


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But it was hardly those themes alone that rocketed the film to the lofty position of the highest grossing movie of all time. It was as much about friendship, compassion and growing up, and those motifs helped keep the film number one until 1993, when another Spielberg movie -- “Jurassic Park” -- replaced it atop the box office heap.

This is not the first time scenes of “E.T.” have been shown with orchestral accompaniment at the Bowl. It’s not even the first time an orchestra has performed the entire film’s score along with the movie. The latter was done at a 20th anniversary private event and fundraiser at the Shrine Auditorium in 2002, conducted by John Williams, who composed the film’s Oscar-winning score.

But this is the first time an orchestra has played the film’s score live-to-picture for a public audience. And that crowd on Friday couldn’t have been happier. From the moment the Universal logo rose one of the Bowl’s huge screens, the enthusiastic gathering of roughly 11,000 roared their approval. It wouldn’t be the last time either.

The film was introduced by a pre-recorded video message from Williams, who has been a Bowl mainstay for decades with his popular movie-themed nights. The 83-year-old composer and conductor called the film Spielberg’s “masterpiece.” He went on to welcome the evening’s performers, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor David Newman, who in 1982 played in the violin section during the film’s studio recording sessions.

The Bowl is experimenting more and more with the philharmonic performing along with full-length movies. It started at the Bowl in 2011 with “West Side Story,” and continued this summer with “Back to the Future.”

It’s a wonderful way to introduce one of the city’s great treasures to youngsters who might not be dragged to the venue for an evening with Rachmaninoff. Of “E.T.'s” roughly two-hour run time, some 76 minutes are paired with music.

Under Newman’s direction, the philharmonic delivered a sensitive and rousing performance giving texture and feeling to the film’s emotional moments. From Elliott’s first minutes walking among the giant trees of the forest to the marvelous chase scenes that led past the moon and on to freedom, the orchestra enhanced the big-screen moments and gave the audience a new appreciation for the power of music in cinema.

The Bowl’s full-length movie nights are still new enough that the audience hasn’t quite worked out exactly when the show is actually over. So conditioned are L.A. audiences when credits roll to rush for the exits that some could not stop themselves Friday evening from leaving before the philharmonic had finished playing through the final credits.

But most resisted the Pavlovian urge to beat traffic and sat through the last moving notes of the concert. In all, it made for a night to iPhone home about.


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