E.T. IN CONCERT | London, Royal Albert Hall

E.T. has one of the greatest film scores of all time, winning John Williams the 1982 Academy Award. With a spectacular orchestral and emotional range, so much of the story telling relies on the music (the reverse of the norm; Spielberg actually edited the film to Williams’ score). The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performed the challenging score effortlessly, with many stunning solos from the harp, piccolo, and others, bringing the score to life in a way impossible to achieve through a recording.

As a cinema, the Royal Albert Hall works surprisingly well. With the enormous screen far back, nearly all 5000 audience members manage to get a good view (even in the “restricted view” seats) and the sound, though echoey, is as wonderful and clear. E.T. deserves to be seen on the silver screen, and the experience of laughing along with a live audience, and hearing children’s intermittent exclamations, can’t be equalled.

As a concert, it’s more problematic. Naturally, the audience’s focus is divided between the recorded and the live aspects, on two different levels on the stage, which can become distracting. Furthermore, the loud amplification of the orchestra, while excellently natural, coloured the sound enough to make me wonder whether there would be all that much difference between this and a really good home cinema system. I almost considered whether it would work better if the orchestra were hidden, like in a musical or an opera, but when the audience are paying to see a concert, that would be a strange decision.

The Royal Albert Hall’s productions of films with a live orchestra are proving ever more popular, with many more already lined up for 2017. The thrill of a live orchestra playing an iconic soundtrack is undeniable, but if I had one piece of advice: don’t watch the orchestra, watch the movie.

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