Ok, I’ll admit I’m old enough that I saw E.T. when it was first released in theaters in 1982. I will also admit that I took a girl to the movie to try and show off my ‘sensitive’ side, with no real interest in the movie itself. My final and most telling admission is I became so caught up in the movie, the characters, the whole roller coaster ride of emotions that I sort of forgot I was with a girl on a date.
Now in 2017, I was able to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on the big screen once again, this time at the wonderful Sony Center in downtown Toronto, accompanied by a live, 72 piece orchestra. While I have always appreciated the joy and magic of the movie, it has been a while since I had seen it, let alone in a theater, so I was wondering if that special feeling I had back when I first saw it had begun to fade away. Not only that, but I was unsure if the orchestra, while most likely very talented, would be a distraction from the movie itself.
Well, I am very happy to say that not only is the movie still the wonderful piece of cinema I remember, but the addition of the live orchestra heightened both the movie’s light hearted and dark scenes to a place that was rather extraordinary. Powerful building tones that made action moments soar and emotional moments even more gripping, the orchestra was the perfect companion for this movie. At times, because of how amazing E.T. really is, it was easy for me to forget that a live band was actually playing. However, this wasn’t a bad thing as the orchestra made its presence known when it needed to while understanding it also needed to take a step back during key moments of the film.
It was also nice to attend the pre-show discussion about all things E.T. and the orchestra, hosted by film critic Richard Crouse and former host and producer of Saturday Night at the Movies, Thom Ernst. Bubbling with love for the movie, they dove into its history, significance and why it is still popular to this day. Richard also took a moment to ask the small audience who was seeing E.T. for the first time and poked fun at the older members who had yet to see it, saying they had not excuse for this oversight.
Without a doubt, it was an amazing experience and a wonderful way to go back and revisit Steven Spielberg at the possibly the height of his movie making career. He gave us a film that is one of those rare gems that spans generations and judging by the large amount of young children at the show, will continue to inspire and awe more generations for years to come.
I was also able to talk with members of the Marketing Team at the Sony Center about the show, how it came about and of course, the endearing and wonderful E.T.
First of all, how did this idea even come about?
The Sony Centre and Attila Glatz Concert Productions were discussing creating a Cinematic Concert Series and when we saw that E.T. was available, via Film Concerts Live, we loved the idea of being able to share this special experience with our audiences. Along with Attila Glatz Concert Productions, we have previously presented Gladiator, The Godfather, and Amadeus Live which audiences received enthusiastically.
What do you think is the appeal of E.T. that has the character and the movie spanning generations?
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a masterpiece that has captivated audiences for 35 years. Watching the film is an experience that just gets better with age, so it’s a perfect occasion to bring families together during the holiday season. It’s also a great way to introduce young audiences to live orchestral music.
What are some of the challenges you face when trying to combine a live orchestra and a Hollywood movie?
There are a number of musical and technical challenges – or “opportunities”, if we’re thinking positively – that comes from making the live experience of the score as effective as the carefully recorded and edited experience of the film as released. Exceptional control of tempos and dynamics are necessary to keep the music in perfect sync with the visuals, and to maintain proper balance with recorded dialogue and sound effects. The precision necessary to master the shifting and often suddenly changing time signatures and styles of the music, all without the benefit of editing to “fix it in post”, is a remarkable indeed, and we are immensely pleased with our masterful conductor and musicians for facing down these challenges to present this great experience.
How long did it take the orchestra to be properly prepared to present this live to a large audience?
You could argue that they have been preparing for this for years, as they are a selection of Toronto’s finest orchestral musicians, and we are proud to showcase their skills. That being said, The Motion Picture Symphony Orchestra rehearsed throughout the day yesterday and today, and their ability to so thoroughly master such a lush and nuanced score in this time speak volumes of their talents and professionalism.
Are there certain characteristics you look for in a movie that make it more ‘viewer friendly’ when combined with a live orchestra?
The best type of movie for this treatment would include a wide range of viscerally and emotionally engaging moments, all uniquely complimented by the score. When a richly scored movie is replete with iconic scenes of joy, sadness, contemplation, humor, tension, warmth and triumph, it really showcases the power of music to elevate the storytelling in diverse and dynamic ways.
Is it possible a live orchestra can be too distracting while watching a movie or will the viewer quickly get used to this unique combination?
I’ve never found the orchestra to be too distracting from the film. Quite the contrary, in fact – this presentation allows for the subtle nuances of the music to carry in such an organic manner that it can quickly become even more natural to see the film in the live setting. At first it may seem a bit surreal to have an entire orchestra on stage below the big screen, but the conductor and the musicians do such an amazing job that they soon blend in seamlessly. Some of our more musically-inclined audience members might even advise not to let the film distract from the music!
Is this something we could see more of in the future or is it more of a special presentation kind of event that won’t happen again?
Absolutely, this is something that we will see more of in the future. Audiences in Toronto love it. In 2017 we are bringing the first two installments of the Harry Potter film series as well as Jurassic Park with a live orchestra. Each one of these movies brings something different to the live experience which keeps it exciting every time.
Finally, what is the best way for someone attending this event to fully appreciate the combination of live music and film?
I don’t think there is any one way to best experience film concerts. Our audience is an amazing amalgamation of nostalgic film fans, budding composers and musicians, and younger movie-goers that are experiencing an old classic for the very first time. Everyone takes away something different from the experience but it is always rewarding. My advice is to not worry, and to experience it the way that you want to. And stay for the credits! These musicians are so talented and the score so rewarding that the medleys at the end are always worth staying for.