“E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” brought to life by Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra


I’ve had the pleasure of watching – and listening to – “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra played the soundtrack live.

I’ve also had the pleasure of doing this twice and having two very different experiences.

Attending a Symphony on the Prairie concert during the summer comes with a kind of festival atmosphere. Even though you’re attending a “high brow” event – a symphony concert – the venue is outdoors, attendees are enjoying picnics and wine, children are buying ice cream and many music lovers are walking around, talking with friends in attendance and taking in the beauty of a summer evening before the concert itself officially starts.


Once it does… all I can say is that it’s like you’re in the movie. Silly as it might be to say, the movie takes place in a warm climate, so the characters in the film are often outside “with” you. The sun has set, and the darkness pulls you into the screen and the world within it. And when that score by John Williams takes off and that little bicycle with the milk-crate passenger goes flying across the moon? It may as well be you on top of that banana seat.

The ISO presents E.T. was as magical as my first viewing of the movie when I was 10.

The experience is at once big and small as a result of the venue and the feeling of inclusion.

But, enjoying the movie inside Hilbert Circle Theatre is another experience entirely. The venue is, of course, indoors, but it’s also much smaller than the space taken up by the audience at Conner Prairie.

Every note doesn’t pull the viewer into the movie so much as it amplifies the emotions experienced while viewing the movie.

When I was 10 years old, I think I talked my parents into taking me to see E.T. roughly eight times. I couldn’t get enough of it. There was something magical about it and otherworldly in an unexpected, not-just-because-it’s-about-an-alien way. I shrieked with laughter every time E.T. got so drunk that he fell flat on his face in the kitchen, and I cried every time he said goodbye to Elliot at the end of the movie. I was just a kid. I still kinda thought something like that might happen to me someday. And I knew how impossible it would be if I had to watch my new best friend sail across the galaxy never to be heard from again.

That is what experiencing the movie and the live soundtrack inside the theatre reminded me of, and it amplified those feelings to the point where I didn’t care if the strangers around me saw me crying at the end of the movie. I heard plenty of sniffles coming from behind me and knew I wasn’t the only one blubbering over 80’s special effects.

The ISO did an outstanding job, as usual, with the work of the music itself. They didn’t miss a beat, and if I didn’t know that I was listening to the soundtrack live as I watched the movie, I would have assumed I was enjoying the world’s best sound system.

John Williams would have been so proud.

For more information and an upcoming concert schedule, visit indianapolissymphony.org.

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