When E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial beamed across America’s movie screens in 1982, the story of a young boy’s friendship with a squashy little alien was a hit with audiences of all ages, but it especially resonated with children.

Brett Mitchell was one of them.

“The first and only movie I ever saw in a theater with my grandparents was E.T. when I was 3 years old,” Mitchell said. “It’s so moving. It’s still one of my favorite movies of all time.”

Steven Spielberg’s masterful film and John Williams’ searing score are timeless crowd-pleasers. Next weekend, when the Cleveland Orchestra performs live while E.T. is screened during three movie nights at Blossom Music Center, the music will be in reverential hands. Mitchell is conducting.

“This score has been a part of me for 35 years now,” he said. “It is unbelievably perfect in terms of matching the kind of tone Steven was trying to capture with the film.”

Mitchell was speaking on the phone from Denver where he is preparing to take over as music director of the Colorado Symphony. After a four-year stint in Cleveland, the orchestra’s associate conductor will start his new job after the Blossom season wraps up Labor Day weekend. “I’m going to try really hard to keep it together, especially on the last night. You know, E.T. and Elliott say goodbye, and I’m saying goodbye at the end of the film.”

He and the orchestra will rehearse E.T. twice on Thursday at Severance Hall, then head to Blossom Friday afternoon for a dress rehearsal.

“There is an element of danger when you’re doing a movie score live. You only get one shot at getting it right,” said Mitchell. “But every performer I know loves that part of it. That’s the joy of live performance.”

Part of that joy is also channeling Williams. “His score for E.T. came at a kind of prime time of his career,” said Mitchell. “He had Jaws in 1975, Star Wars and Close Encounters in 1977, Superman in ’78, The Empire Strikes Back, which was a fantastic score, in ’80, Raiders of the Lost Ark in ’81, then E.T. He was just churning out brilliant score after brilliant score.”

Mitchell’s movie-accompaniment repertoire with the orchestra also included Psycho, Vertigo, Fantasia, Home Alone and It’s a Wonderful Life. He and the orchestra closed out the Blossom season last year with two movie nights for Raiders of the Lost Ark. It proved so popular that the orchestra created three nights for E.T., Friday through Sunday, with each program starting at 8:30 p.m., and the movie followed by fireworks.

Sci-fi with a twist

By the time E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released, on June 11, 1982, Spielberg had already directed the mega-hits Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He and screenwriter Melissa Mathison cooked up a touching story about a special friendship with a sci-fi twist. A boy discovers a creature from outer space in the tool shed and does what any 10-year-old would do: he hides him in his bedroom.

The story of Elliott (Henry Thomas), his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), younger sister Gertie (6-year-old Drew Barrymore), and their endearing, oddly shaped guest stirred hearts and spun turnstiles.

E.T. became the top-grossing film of the year, earning twice as much as its nearest competitor, Tootsie. It reigned for several years as the all-time box office champ, until it was toppled by another Spielberg blockbuster, Jurassic Park, in 1993. (E.T. currently ranks as the 15th most successful movie ever, having earned more than $435 million at the domestic box office.)

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert said the movie was “filled with innocence, hope and good cheer. It is also wickedly funny and exciting as hell. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a movie like The Wizard of Oz that you can grow up with and grow old with, and it won’t let you down.”

Spielberg let some fans down in 2002, when the 20th anniversary re-release and DVD were modified. The director used CGI to remove threatening guns used by the authorities near the end of the film, and replaced them with walkie-talkies. He also cleaned up some of the saltier language.

In 2011, Spielberg admitted he had erred by caving in to the PC Police. For the 30th anniversary special editions in 2012, he stuck to his guns, so to speak, and restored the weapons.

At Blossom, the original version of the film will be shown.

E.T. was nominated for nine Academy Awards, and won four, including one for Williams’ score. (The film lost in the best picture race to Gandhi.) It was the fourth collaboration between the gifted composer and Spielberg. The duo went on to work on numerous films together, including Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan and Lincoln.

Williams has won five Oscars and been nominated an astounding 50 times. His music has been played many times at Blossom, and Williams has been there several times to conduct it himself, dating back to 1983.

As part of the orchestra’s 100th season celebration, Williams is headed to Cleveland on April 8, 2018 to conduct the orchestra in a program that will include music from E.T., Star Wars, Superman, Schindler’s List and the Indiana Jones films. It will mark the first time he conducts the orchestra at its home base in Severance Hall.

There is also more to come from E.T.

If you don’t catch it at Blossom, but want to see it on the big screen, Fathom Events is presenting the film in 700 theaters nationwide on Sept. 17 and 20 in honor of the 35th anniversary.

Clint O’Connor can be reached at 330-996-3582 or coconnor@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.

Details ...

What: Movie Night: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (with fireworks)

When: 8:30 p.m. Sept. 1-3

Where: Blossom Music Center, 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls

Information: clevelandorchestra.com