E.T.'s Climactic Bike Ride Is Like an Arthouse Film Without John Williams' Score

By Rhett Jones on at

The films of Steven Spielberg feel inseparable from the music of John Williams. But for some cinephiles, Williams represents Spielberg’s most manipulative and sentimental instincts. Well, here’s your chance to see one of the most iconic moments in the two artists' career without the famous score that makes the scene explode with emotion.

Spielberg was always a little more arty than his fellow blockbuster titans. He came up with a group of filmmakers in the ‘70s that included Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and Paul Schrader. But like his friend George Lucas, Spielberg was a little more interested in being an auteur that reached as big an audience as possible. With Star Wars and Jaws, the two filmmakers basically created the idea of the summer blockbuster. And pretty much anyone can hum the scores of those two movies.

Williams iconic scores turn every scene into an emotional roller coaster — always giving the viewer a cue to know exactly how to feel. Anticipation becomes “something big big big is about to happen.” The loss of a friend becomes “weep now you mortal because someday you too will die.” And a bicycle chase through the streets of a childhood neighborhood with a runaway alien riding shotgun becomes... well, huge bombastic strings seem pretty appropriate for a moment when a boy and his friends can suddenly fly.

But check out how calm and almost natural the scene feels without a score. It has an entirely different mood. You just hear some kids distantly hooting in victory, some wind, and the pedaling of bicycles. The mood is thick and the danger these kids are in is more palpable.

Still, I wouldn’t change a thing about the original scene. It’s the kind of filmmaking that Hitchcock described when he talked about “playing the audience like a piano.” These two artists were made for each other. But I’d love to see the whole movie, just once, without a score at all. Though Jaws would probably be unwatchable.

[Auralnauts]