ET the Extra-Terrestrial is 40 Years Old: How Two Different Alien Movies Created the Ultimate One | Cinema

Any Hollywood success story ends the same way: with a demand for a sequel or at least something new, but the same as the old. Thus the story of ET the extra-terrestrial begins where that of another great success ends: Close encounters of the third kind. In 1977 that film marked the qualitative leap in the career of Spielbergwhich after the crazy success of The shark he had shown that he could be not only an outstanding master of fear and tension, but also a poet. Universal wants another Close encounters of the third kind, even if it’s a film that doesn’t make sense to make a sequel. The idea of Spielberg it was then Night Skies, that is the dark mirror of that film, one about aliens that worked a bit like Jaws, scary and terrible. The aliens but bad. The production had been set up quickly and was there too Rick Bakerthe great make-up artist, for the creation of aliens.

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Night Skies + Growing Up

Self Night Skies in the end it never did is because of Melissa Matisonat the time Harrison Ford’s girlfriend and screenwriter, who on the set of Raiders of the Lost Arkreading the script of that film, said clearly that she didn’t like it but that nevertheless there was a very beautiful thing in that story: the friendship between an autistic child and the only alien not to be violent. Melissa Matison he just said: “You made me cry”. Never really convinced of this project set up under pressure from Universal, Spielberg note the similarities between that part of the script and another film of his, never made and shelved following the failure of 1941 – Alarm in Hollywoodtitled growing up.

It was kind of The Fabelmans in progress, a film about his childhood in a broken family. In that script a child befriends a fictional character as a way of coping with his parents’ divorce in 1960s America. Coincidentally, but perhaps not too much, the imaginary friend in question was an alien. Maybe the story of growing up could expand that part of the script by Night Skies that she liked so much Melissa MatisonLike this Spielberg he asks her to write a screenplay like this: family + children + good alien to make friends with. For special effects and alien creation you could always use it Rick Bakerat least if Spielberg hadn’t argued with us. Having worked a lot (and spent almost a million dollars) to create aliens for a film that would never be made had put Baker in a good mood and walked off slamming the door, paving the way so a Charles Rambaldiwith which Spielberg he had worked on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and that was his lifeline.

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“Something only a mother can love”

Thus began, in 1981, the production of ET the extra-terrestrialjust after closing the very adventurous Raiders of the Lost Ark and while Spielberg also juggled the production (and not only) of the horror film Poltergeist. The two films heavily influenced each other, mainly on casting. Drew Barrymore in fact she had turned up to play the little girl of Poltergeistonly that the director wasn’t there that day Tobe Hooper at the casting but Spielberg himself who, finding her unsuitable for that part, took her for his own film.

Half of the sentimental part was then done, the other was just the alien. Charles Rambaldi meanwhile in three furious months he had done his job merging somatic traits from Einstein, Hemingway and Sandburg. It wasn’t just about the design though, the real specialty of Rambaldi it was all the logistics of the movements and then the animatronic part. Despite the large eyes (whose lenses were the idea of Kathleen Kennedythe producer) the alien was not like Spielberg he had imagined it so much that his first comment was: “It’s something only a mother could love”.


That, however, was precisely the secret of the attractiveness of a little monster with big eyes and adorable, precisely because it was not immediately attractive. Easy to be afraid of it, easier still to be conquered by it. The item had then been entrusted to Ben Burtt, pure mythology of Lucasfilm sound effects, creator of the sounds with which R2-D2 expresses himself and of the whip noise of Indiana Jones. He put together various voices to make that of ET the extra-terrestrial the main one of which, paid $380 for the performance, was that of Pat Welshwhose characteristic was that she was a competition smoker and had her vocal cords completely ruined.

All that in ET the extra-terrestrial is not seen

With a move from Hollywood that no longer exists, to actually animate the alien (the animatronic was needed for the face, not for the rest), performers were hired who could enter that costume, basically dwarfs, but also Matthew DeMeritt, a twelve-year-old born without legs, who could therefore comfortably fit into the costume and whose awkward movements were perfect for all the scenes in which ET falls. Finally, in a sign of friendship, Harrison Ford Indiana Jones-esque cast had agreed to play a small role in the film which he also shot, before it was cut. He is the principal of Elliot’s school.

You have to understand that in all of this ET the extra-terrestrial it had remained as intended a small film. At least by the standards of a sci-fi production and director as it had become by then Spielberg. It was a film with which she intended to return to a more intimate dimension after the excesses of Raiders of the Lost Ark and which therefore also had minor box office ambitions, a fairy tale for children full of tenderness with a story of family and friendship at its heart. Just thinking of a film like this, that is more for himself than for the public, Spielberg hits what has since become one of the images that symbolize the whole cinematographic art, that of Elliot and ET, together, flying past the Moon.

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It was so small that when it was taken at the Cannes festival it was neither in competition nor in the opening but rather in the closing, perhaps the worst slot of all. In reality, as known, the release of the film will be an explosion of audiences that will make it oscillate between the first and second position of the American box office from June to October, eventually collecting even more than Star Wars and of course more than the more expensive Indiana Jones.

The reissue of the twentieth anniversary of ET the extra-terrestrial

The story of ET the extra-terrestrial but it is not complete without what happened in 2002, twenty years after its theatrical release. It was the moment when George Lucas had put his hand to Star Wars, changing it, adding scenes, details and CG moments that were impossible in the 70s. The excitement over it was such that he had spoken to Spielberg pushing him to do something that he himself had been planning for some time, already in the mid-90s, when he had sensed where the evolution of digital retouching technology was going. Scalded at the time by the comments and reactions to some points in the film and, like all directors, dissatisfied with some scenes, he set his hand on the film to correct and improve it.

There were many retouches and, as always, they oscillated between the slight and in some cases almost ameliorative and the blatantly out of place. Primarily a digital version of was created ET to be put in place of the animatronic one for the more complicated scenes, also adding a previously cut part, the one in which Elliott gives him a bath, rejected at the time due to technological limitations. Furthermore, he had been able to erase the rifles from the policemen’s hands when the children take off with the bikes, replacing them with walkie talkies because: “It had always seemed to me a fall in style that guns should be pointed at him”. Not to mention that the word “terrorists” had been changed to “hippie” in a post-9/11 moment.

As already for the touch-ups of Star Wars even in the case of ET the extra-terrestrial the reactions were not warm, quite the contrary. Unlike Lucas However Spielberg he had realized almost immediately that it hadn’t been a great idea. Changing something so loved, that many had grown up with and that had meant so much to the lives of so many was not to be done. So in the various home video reissues he has always included the original cut as well (while as known for Star Wars the original version has never been re-edited and cannot be found except in period materials), until even in the very last ones he retraced his steps and there is only the original version.

Paradoxically in the case of ET the extra-terrestrial it is the modified version that is no longer found.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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