See E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as You’ve Never Seen It Before

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the story of a little, lost alien and the boy who befriends him, was an immediate blockbuster when it was released in 1982.

The film by Steven Spielberg quickly surpassed Star Wars as the top-grossing film of all time until it was topped 11 years later by Jurassic Park.

Star Wars, E.T. and Jurassic Park all have two things in common: All three are Spielberg films, and all three have film scores composed by John Williams.

Grand Rapids Pops presents E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial with a full-length screening of the entire movie, coupled with a live performance of the film score, part of the Fox Motors Pops series.

See the movie that won four Academy Awards – including Best Original Score – at 8pm Friday and Saturday, November 4th and 5th, and at 3pm Sunday, November 6th, in DeVos Performance Hall.

John Williams is the master at setting the scene for an epic battle between good and evil, between father and son, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker; or for Indiana Jones, bullwhip in one hand, revolver in the other, giving chase and making it up as he goes along.

Or for a boy named Elliot who helps a visitor from another world find his way home.

“He’s my hero,” says Grand Rapids Symphony Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, about the five-time Oscar winning film composer of more than 100 film scores.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the tale of a gentle alien who is stranded accidentally on Earth. Discovered and befriended by Elliott, who brings his new friend to his suburban California home, E.T. soon falls ill. But with the help of his brother and sister, Elliott manages to keep E.T. hidden from the government long enough for the visitor to return home.

Williams uses the ethereal sounds of harps, celeste, other keyboards, plus some polytonality, to suggest the separate but intertwined relationship between Elliot and E.T.

Grand Rapids Symphony’s Principal Harpist Elizabeth Wooster Colpean has been studying and practicing her part – some 90 pages of music – since May. Williams gives the harpist at least four or five major solo passages, including two scenes that are nearly an entire harp solo.

“Perhaps they could be compared to a harp concerto,” she said with a laugh.

One scene is when Elliot lures E.T. into the house and his bedroom with handfuls of Reese’s Pieces. Another is when Elliot’s mother is reading a bedtime story to his little sister why E.T. watches through a closet.”

“I’ve noticed in the years I’ve watched John Williams’ films that he often uses the harp in very unusual ways,” she said. “What makes these particular scenes challenging is three-fold: rhythms, technique and the fact that it’s so exposed.”

The inspiration for the 1982 film, which launched the career of actress Drew Barrymore, was an imaginary friend Spielberg created after his parents’ divorce in 1960. It has inspired young people of all ages ever since.

Grand Rapids Symphony Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Pops performance of the score that won Williams his third Oscar and his second for Best Original Music.

The final scenes of E.T. proved to be a milestone in Williams’ career and 40-year association with Spielberg. During the recording process, after Williams made several unsuccessful attempts to match his score to the film, Spielberg turned the film off and asked Williams to conduct the music for the scene as he would in a concert.

Instead of the usual practice of recording the soundtrack to coincide with the final edit of the film, Spielberg re-edited the finale to match the music.

One of the most popular and successful American orchestral composers of the modern age, Williams’ films also include such dramas as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan as well as comedies including Home Alone and The Witches of Eastwick. Besides his five Academy Awards, Williams has received 50 Oscar nominations – most recently for Star War: The Force Awakens – making him the Academy’s most-nominated living person and the second-most nominated person in its history.

In January 1980, Williams was named Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, after which he hired Bernhardt as a guest conductor for the Boston Pops. Though Williams retired in December 1993, Bernhardt continues as a recurring guest conductor for the venerable orchestra.

Bernhardt will be back in Grand Rapids for the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops with five performances featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Youth Chorus, and Embellish Handbell Ensemble, December 1st to 4th in DeVos Performance Hall.


Tickets start at $18 and are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9am to 5pm at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.)

Tickets are available at the DeVos Place box office, weekdays 10am to 6pm or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets also may be purchased online at

Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for only $5 on the night of the concert by enrolling in the GRS Student Passport program. This is a MySymphony360 eligible concert.