Film / Music Review:  E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL IN CONCERT (Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil)

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by Lawrence Lucero on November 9, 2023

in Concerts / Events,Film,Theater-Los Angeles


The Walt Disney Concert Hall was the place to be the Friday after Halloween to experience the joy at a live screening of the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial with the Los Angeles Philharmonic playing the full score conducted by Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel — in the presence of composer Maestro John Williams no less! It was an additional delight in the spirit of the season to see one little concertgoer in her E.T. costume holding onto her mother’s hand, being escorted into the hall like the real E.T. on Halloween night in the film, which just sweeps one up. And, with the music performed live you are more aware than usual of the crucial role played by the music.

After the fabulously exciting opening credits music, the film began with the landing of an alien spaceship and its investigating occupants venturing out into the forest night. We know that they are here for the first time by the gentle and curious tone in the scoring. William’s music is brilliant in its ability to provide insight to the characters and inform us how we should feel. A sweet legato flute solo unfolded as the action focused on one of the diminutive beings making his way among the shrubbery. It was particularly fascinating to hear the sound effects through the overhead speakers combined with the beautiful harp glissandos from the orchestra. With a mindset of curiosity firmly entrenched; I settled in to watch the story unfold.

At the threatening arrival of loud humans, the alien visitors rushed into their ship and blasted off into the stars leaving our frightened little title character behind looking sad and abandoned. The human’s musical motif was villainous in nature, reminiscent of the Imperial Theme from another popular John Williams space film score.

Hiding in the brush until the humans leave, the alien finds his way to the backyard of a house at the edge of the wilderness. Inside the house we see a young boy Elliot and his teenage brother’s friends who force him to go out and get a pizza they’ve ordered. On his way into the house through the backyard, he hears noises in the garden shed. He investigates, sees the creature, drops the pizza, and runs screaming into the house where they laugh and make fun of him when he tells them what he’s seen. Feeling ostracized, Elliot says his dad would’ve believed him which clues us in to his commonality with the visitor in the backyard, abandonment.

Not unlike the alien, Elliot feels alone and abandoned by the newness of his mom and dad’s separation. The little boy, although frightened by the creature feels the bond with him, is compelled to make further contact. The most honest and sensitive of the characters we’ve met, he knows the being has come from the sky. Supplanting his fear with determination, we hear an increasingly confident curiosity in the music as Elliot creates a trail of candy, leading the little visitor into the house where the two communicate creating a bond. Before drifting off to sleep, Elliot names his new friend E.T. as the score switches to a peaceful and comforting tone. The program’s intermission — no doubt to give the players a rest — was well-placed just after the boy and E.T. flew past the full moon to return to the woods on Halloween night accompanied by the jubilant exciting flight we’ve come to associate with the film.

The second half took on a more dramatic tone as E.T. and Elliot became ill, and the score evoked the mood of a requiem. When the NASA scientists marched onto the house, the orchestra’s timpani pounded like an enemy troop coming to battle. When E.T.’s health further declined despite being hooked up to every modern medical machine, the score reprised the flight theme, slow and diminished as he lost all signs of life. Giving up hope, the head scientist had him unhooked saying “Let’s put him on ice.” Left alone with a grieving Elliot, E.T. encased in a Cryo-case, suddenly revived, his heart-light aglow repeating “Home, Home.” The moment was a double thrill, firstly, the turn of events that E.T. wasn’t dead, with his friends coming back to retrieve him, and secondly, seeing Dudamel’s excitement as he conducted the uplifting and passionate chase (and flight) music, as if Elliot, the boys, and he himself were helping E.T. go home!

photos of previous performances courtesy of the LA Phil

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