Music Behind the Ride: E.T. Adventure

In this edition of Music Behind the Ride, I wanted to explore the musical history of The E.T. Adventure at Universal Studios.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial was one of the biggest hits for Universal Pictures in 1982.  With Steven Spielberg signed on as executive creative consultant for the new Orlando theme park, it was a no brainer to have an ET Ride.   (Spielberg would also see attractions for Jaws open in 1990 and Jurassic Park in 1999 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure).

Like many Universal rides, The E.T. Adventure recreates scenes from the film and then continues/extends the story.

The first room is the preshow room, and the original preshow video begins with Spielberg sitting in a movie theater watching the finale of the film. Spielberg explains that the guests will be cast as extras in scenes inspired by the film. He describes that while ET is on earth, his home world, The Green Planet is ailing. ET’s teacher Botanicus has sent a message for ET to return and heal his planet. Our task is to ride a bike to The Green Planet and bring ET home. He also describes the process of giving your name to the "stagehand" and getting your special backstage pass. Later in the '90s, Spielberg would re-film this preshow, eliminating the film set aspect and instead mentioning the Interplanetary Passport.

The next room is full of behind the scenes photos of Spielberg and ET, and at the end of the line is where you give your name to the team member and continue into the indoor forest queue. The forest walkthrough is dark and memorably mostly for the strong pine scent in the air. You can spot include NASA figures and his Speak & Spell communication device. We also see a Botanicus animatronic giving his message. You arrive at the bike loading spot - the most popular seat is the front row middle seat with ET in the basket. At opening, they also had spaceships for seating, which aren't used today.

As the bikes take off, you and ET are spotted by the scientists. You maneuver through the forest, pass lurching trucks and you begin to lift off just as you reach the police barricade. We see the night sky, and can look down at the city diorama below us and see silhouettes of bikes pass the moon. In no time at all, we transport to The Green Planet and ET announces "home".

There among the smoke and strange vegetation is Botanicus in front of ET's spaceship. We see a full figure of ET bringing life to his friends, welcoming him home and adding magical lights to the area. We get to see the multicolored planet celebration with odd creatures, baby ETs dancing with some singing the film's theme. We then see ET himself saying goodbye to each rider's name as the bikes return to the landing. Near the exit you can stop at the gift shop - ET's Toy Closet - full of all the merch and background photo ops.

After the ride opened first in Orlando in 1990, it made its way to Universal Studios Hollywood opening in the summer of 1991. It also became an opening day attraction in Universal Studios Japan in 2001. As the controversially altered film returned to theaters for the 20th anniversary, the decor at the attraction changed and bits of the ride were refurbished. Yet again, Spielberg re-filmed his part in the preshow video.

Sadly, the ride didn't last much longer in Hollywood. It closed in 2003 and was replaced by Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, a more relevant and thrilling ride. Japan's version of the ride stayed open until 2009 and then replaced by Space Fantasy: The Ride. So far, Orlando's version is the only one still running (and one of the few opening day attractions left in the park).

Like many Universal rides, the original film music plays a large part in the attraction. Even though his themes blast around Disney and Universal, The ET Adventure was the first time John Williams wrote original music for a theme park. He later would write a suite of themes for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge for Disney in 2019.

The preshow video uses the call motif, religioso alien motif, Keys' theme and of course the flying theme. The ride itself uses much of the track Abandoned and Pursued as you escape from the feds. The flying theme plays as you journey to his planet, and we hear Williams' new theme for Botanicus. The new theme is a variation of the call, letting it blend to the rest of the music. We hear an odd arrangement of the flying theme during their celebration and the flying theme continues as ET says our name and the bikes unload. Composed and conducted in 1990, the original Botanicus music wasn't heard off the ride until the 2017 La-La Land Records release of the score.

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