How Spielberg's 'E.T.' Special Edition Pissed Off The Screenwriter
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When we think of ill-conceived, CGI-infused “special editions” of movies, typically it's in the context of Star Wars, and how George Lucas famously crammed his original trilogy of films full of unnecessarily goofy additions using cutting edge technology – which, seeing as said technology was considered “cutting edge” when Bill Clinton was President and the Spice Girls were everywhere all the time, it’s now just as conspicuously dated as anything else in the movie. But we mustn't forget about the 20th Anniversary Special Edition re-release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which itself turns 20 this month.
Back in 2002, director Steven Spielberg brought E.T. back to theaters with “enhanced visual effects” and “never before seen footage” that thankfully didn’t include the lost scenes where E.T. secretly creeps on Elliott’s mother while she’s naked (this, incredibly enough, is not a joke).
But not unlike how Lucas wasn’t totally upfront about the sweeping changes made to Star Wars, Spielberg’s cut went beyond simply juicing up the old-school effects with computers. Most notoriously, the legendary filmmaker removed all the guns and replaced them with walkie-talkies because, according to producer Kathleen Kennedy, he retroactively “thought it was kind of silly that the police would be chasing these kids with guns.” Which is kind of an odd line in the sand to draw for a movie about an ancient alien botanist played by a puppet.
Spielberg also tried to make the film more family-friendly by cutting out the moment where Elliott calls his brother “penis breath” while his mom struggles to hold back her laughter while reprimanding him, which happens to be one of the most relatable depictions of parenting ever committed to film.
Weirdly, though, Spielberg’s attempts to sanitize E.T. didn’t involve cutting out the scene where a small child gets psychically hammered on cans of Coors. The other major change involved modifying one of the Halloween scenes. Originally, Elliott’s mother tells her kid “You are not going as a terrorist!” but in the wake of 9/11, Spielberg changed it to “You are not going as a hippie!” Which seems like … a bit of an overreaction? Was the kid trying to dress up like one of the Manson Family hippies? This rewrite even necessitated bringing original actress Dee Wallace back to record the new dialogue.
This particular change didn’t sit well with the film’s screenwriter, the late Melissa Mathison, who complained at the time that the new scene “doesn't make sense” because “the mom is a hippie, for God's sake.” Following a very vocal negative reaction to the Special Edition, Spielberg later admitted his mistake, promising: “I'll never go back into another movie I made, or have control over, to enhance or change it.” Which sadly means that we’ll probably never get a Jabba the Hutt cameo in Munich.
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Top Image: Universal Pictures