I was innocently browsing the electronics department at my local Walmart the other day, skimming the movies section, when I spotted something that took me completely off guard...
E.T. Turns 35!
Wow, thirty five years. Has it really been that long already? Apparently so, because now you can see the movie in the same clarity as the actors and crew when they were on set with it's first ever release on 4K Ultra HD. The set comes in a nice looking box with an image that wraps around to the back and includes a motion hologram of Elliott and E.T.'s famous flight across the moon on the front. In the box we have the 4K Ultra and BluRay discs in a good, quality plastic case, a booklet with behind the scenes looks at the cast, crew and making of the movie and a copy of the movie's soundtrack as it was originally released in 1982...with a whopping eight tracks. Hey, it was still the time of eight track tapes, right? Lol! There is also an advertisement for the new two disc version of the soundtrack which, I guess, is supposed to be more complete as it contains tracks that we didn't originally get. For those who are interested the cover looks like this:
Well, naturally I had to scoop me up a copy of this set, even though I can't play 4K Ultra right now, because the twenty five dollar price tag is more than fair, especially for a limited edition. It has my BluRay from the thirtieth anniversary (the HD picture of which blew my mind the first time I watched it, by the way!) but in a much nicer set. Hey, it's a chance to finally own a copy of the soundtrack so you can't beat that, plus I really like the outer box and booklet. I highly recommend picking up a copy for those of us who are in our thirties and early fourties because it is an awesome little piece of gift wrapped nostalgia and a true love letter for those of us who were there for the film's original release in theatres, and still hold it dear today as a big part of our chilhoods. Also, a quick tip, for those who want a copy of the big album, I would hurry and get one because it is also a limited edition and only five thousand copies will be made.
E.T.'s Initial Arrival
I was only two years old when E.T. first came out (June 11th, 1982) so I hadn't even started school yet, although I did get my first pair of glasses later that year. There is one big event that I remember from 1982, my dad's graduation from the Naval academy in San Diego after which those who had kids treated us to a trip to Disneyland, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.
See that cute kid in the blue and white jacket and glasses? Yep, that was me hanging out with my favorite mouse back in '82. I kind of looked like a very young Rick Moranis. Lol!
Getting back to E.T., I still find it hard to believe that that cute little blond chick playing Gertie was a very young Drew Barrymore. Rounding out the rest of the very talented human cast were Henry Thomas as Elliott, Robert McNaughton as Michael and Dee Wallace as their mom Mary, along with Peter Coyote as the man known only as "Keys" who was the leader of the group that was after E.T. throughout the film, and E.T. was voiced by Pat Welsh. Now any story about a boy and his dog is sure to touch more than a few hearts, but when the dog is traded in for a space alien it becomes a real
tear jerker. Poor E.T. gets left behind during a routine trip to Earth to gather plant samples for use back home after wandering away from the ship and getting a lovely eye full of the nearby city. He then gets chased by a group of humans who seem bent on capturing him and ends up running into Elliott during his escape (almost literally). They are afraid of each other at first, until Elliott treats the little fellow to some Reece's Pieces candy. Funny story about that by the way, it seems that they were originally going to use M&M's for that scene but for some reason the folks at Mars weren't interested in it so they refused to give their permission. Meanwhile, Reece's Pieces had just come out that year so Universal asked to use them instead and the folks at Hershey's, owners of the rights to the Reece's candies, eagerly (and wisely) excepted. Well, Mars' loss is Reece's' gain I suppose. In any case, Elliott reveals E.T.'s presence to Michael and Gertie in time as he desperately tries to help his new friend return to the stars and along the way E.T. learns things about Earth such as foods, pets and traditions, and even picks up some broken English. At one point E.T. builds a communications device using a Speak & Spell for the keyboard and a fabric stripped umbrella for the radar dish and successfully sends a message to his family to come back and pick him up, but our little heroes aren't out of the woods just yet (so to speak). They end up having to go into a final showdown with Keys' men after finally being captured in their own house and even manage to save E.T. from the brink of death before escaping back to the landing site in the pine forest (the same spot from the movie's opening), which includes the famous moon flight scene, in time for a very heartfelt goodbye. To this day I still cannot
even think about that scene with out welling up with tears. It also turns out that Keys is really an okay guy and revealed at one point that E.T. had come to him when he was Elliott's age. Apparently he had been waiting for E.T. to return that whole time, and now that he had
returned but had also run into a problem, Keys wanted the same thing as Elliott, to help their now shared friend return home.
Remember the original VHS tape for E.T., the one with the green clip on top and green film spools inside?
It was the only VHS tape that I remember being made that way and I still don't know why
they made it like that. It was gifted to me by mom that year although I don't remember the occasion but I guess it would have to have been Christmas since that was the only gift giving holiday for us that followed the film's release. This is all to the best of my memory, remember I was only a baby at the time. If memory does serve correctly though this was my very first, very own VHS tape. How ironic that the first live action movie I had ever seen should also be the very first one I ever owned. Sadly I no longer have it because I got rid of it when the twentieth anniversary version came out.
Now that I could get the movie complete with all of the deleted scenes restored into it, what did I need the original version for, right? Well now I have the best version yet so that should do me.
E.T.'s Initial Impact
Naturally a movie of such magnitude would get a huge merchandising campaign. The market for E.T. was pretty much the same as any movie with a big budget and a story line and characters that are easy to work with. You name it, you could probably get it, from toys to tee shirts to lunch boxes. Mom got me a stuffed E.T. with vinyl "skin" which sadly deteriorated over time (mostly due to hungry moth larvae while he was in storage) and I was forced to throw him away.
This is what my little buddy looked like. I miss him now
The Sequel That Never Was
In July of 1982, shortly after the release of the film, Spielberg announced that a sequel was being written and the working title was E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears
. I know, it sounds dark just by the title, it would seem that they were planning to go in that direction with this one. In the sequel Elliott, Michael and Gertie were to get abducted by evil aliens, which would effectively confirm that there are evil races in that universe, and it would mostly focus on Elliott being tortured for information on E.T.'s whereabouts while he tries to contact his little pal for help with E.T. and his family coming in to save the day in the third act. One can only begin to imagine how this would all turn out. Sadly imagine is all we can do since Spielberg later changed his mind and decided to pull the plug half way into the film's production. He did come up with an excuse though as he has been quoted as saying about the sequel: "It would do nothing but rob the original of it's virginity". Whatever that
means. From what I understand the half written script for the movie is still in storage somewhere in the Universal Studios warehouse, the only remaining physical remnant of the E.T. sequel that never happened. Actually, judging just by that still image, presumably the only one that we have if sources are to be believed, it might be a good thing that this movie was never made. It looks less like a family friendly movie and more like a childhood killer. Yikes!
Turn On Your Heartlight
That September Neil Diamond released the single "Heartlight" which was inspired by the movie after Diamond saw it with his friends Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach. Interesting fact: the trio were required to pay Universal $25,000 for the use of ideas and scene references from the movie making "Heartlight" one of the most expensive songs to have been produced in the 1980's. Today you can download it from Amazon and iTunes for $1.29, which is practically a steal considering it's original cost to make. Most of the song's lyrics, besides the main chorus, sound like they may have been assembled in a hurry in order to get the song out in the same year as the movie. In a way "Heartlight" acts as a sort of musical sequel in that it gives us a glimpse of what may have been going through Elliott's head after E.T. left and, of course, his pleas for his amazing new friend to return. It is very beautiful and sweet and if I had a "1980's Must Listen" list, this would definitely be on it.
Finally in November E.T. almost became the biggest factor in the near destruction of the video game industry.
That holiday season Atari released E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
for Atari 2600 following the success of the movie and as a result the game became a huge seller, it was even fully endorsed by Spielberg after he was given a private session with it. Atari also started a huge Christmas themed ad campaign in the hopes of getting people pumped over it.
This would come back later to bite them all in the rear ends because it was only after the Christmas rush was over that they realized their mistake. Because they had to rush production in order to get the game ready in time for the holiday rush it was bound to lack in quality. Sure enough, before the year was even over, millions of copies of the game came pouring back in with people asking for refunds. It seems that there was a glitch that caused most, if not all, players to get stuck in pits (still shot seen above) with no way to get out. It was so bad that the executives at Atari were at a loss over what to do with all of these returned game cartiges, aside from the fact that the Atari company as a whole nearly went out of business from having to give everyone's money back, so they put there heads together and came up with a plan...they buried the game cartiridges in the desert and to this day E.T. for Atari 2600 remains notorious as the worst video game ever made. A video documentary was recently made about these events and also acted as a final closure to the story. It is called Atari: Game Over
and it is free to watch on Microsoft Video.
Yes, you read that correctly, I said FREE
! It was released on November 20th, 2014 and is just over an hour long. I have it on Xbox 360 and I really enjoyed it, it is both interesting and
funny. The young men who wrote the concept for the video were also the hosts and they conducted a dig in the landfill where the games were supposedly buried. Lo and behold, they actually found them, and they attracted quite an audience too. I do own a copy myself (just the cartridge and no, it's not from the dig), I keep it with my complete-in-the-box copies of the NES games The Goonies II
and Metal Gear
The second movie may not have happened, but that didn't mean that we would have to be left forever without a sequel. Three years later we finally got one, although I'm sure that not everyone knows about it.
Written by William Kotzwinkle, author of the film's novelization, and based on a story concept by Steven Spielberg, the book picks up where the movie left off. E.T. finally returns to his home world but, instead of being welcomed back with open arms, he is penalized and demoted for having broken one of their laws while on Earth, presumably when he wandered off and got himself left behind and then into trouble. He is then sent into exile to serve his time and, while there, uses his telepathic link with Elliott to see how his friend is doing, only to find out that as Elliott grows older he is beginning to forget certain aspects of E.T. from his adventure on Earth. (Hey, you knew I would squeeze that in here somewhere, right?) E.T. then decides to attempt an escape in order to return to Earth and reunite with Elliott, although he may have to break every law on his home world in order to do so, which would essentially make E.T. his world's greatest criminal. This sounds like it makes a far better sequel than Nocturnal Fears because the tone is not quite as dark and scary but is more along the lines of the movie.
For several years the "E.T. front", as it were, had gone quiet and nothing more seemed to come of it. That changed however at the turn of the decade when Steven Spielberg decided to give us a new treat and this, in turn, has kept E.T.'s legacy alive. Although, at one point we almost lost this one forever.
The first E.T. Adventure
opened in Universal Studios, Orlando in 1990 and it's initial success allowed for a second one to open at Universal Studios Hollywood a year later, in 1991. Ten years later, in 2001, a third E.T. ride opened in Universal Studios Japan. On this dark ride (indoor ride) visitors embark on a bike ride with E.T. to help him save his home world from literally wilting to death since only his psychic touch can restore it (as explained by E.T.'s teacher Botanicus). First you out run NASA and the police in a re-enactment of the escape scene from the movie and then go on a journey through space to the Green Planet with E.T. along for the ride. He will then give the Green Planet his life giving touch and restore it to it's former glory while it's other inhabitants, including adorable baby E.T.s, put on a celebration. The ride, of course, lets passengers off in the gift shop where you can get your own stuffed E.T. companion, or a t-shirt, or whatever your little heartlight desires. Sadly we have since lost two of these rides: first the one at Universal Studios Hollywood closed on March 14th, 2003 and it's building now houses Revenge of the Mummy
, then, on May 10th, 2009, the ride in Japan was closed, although that one apparently hasn't gone through much of a change because it currently goes as Space Fantasy: The Ride
. In any case, after hearing about the closure of the rides in California and Japan, and learning that the one in Florida was also going to be closed, Steven Spielberg was quite angered and sent the executives at Universal a nasty message in which he threatened to stop cooperating with them if they even so much as touched the Florida ride. In other words, no more Florida E.T. ride, no more Steven Spielberg movies from Universal. Ouch! And so, as a result of Spielberg's valiant efforts, the ride in Florida is still in operation as of 2017 and heck, it has even gotten a refurbishment this year. I just wish that Spielberg could have also saved Back to the Future: The Ride
. We have the footage from that one on one of the newer discs though, so I suppose that is good enough.
E.T. Makes A Cameo...
In A Galaxy Far, Far Away!
I just thought I would point out one last little tidbit before closing out. In 1999 George Lucas finally released the first installment of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
because, as the subtitle points out, "every saga has a beginning".
The prequels may not have gotten as much love as the classic trilogy, but do yourself a favor and pop in episode one again, and when you do, take a close look around the Galactic Senate chamber for a little surprise...
Pretty cool, huh? Looks like a few members of E.T.'s race were present for Padme's appeal to the senate for help fighting the Trade Federation back on Naboo. These little guys appeared in the movie due to a suggestion from Spielberg to Lucas for them to show up in a large group of alien characters, and I guess Lucas thought that this would be the perfect scene for them. It kind of makes you wonder though, does this mean that our galaxy, E.T.'s galaxy and the Star Wars galaxy all exist in the same universe? Hmmm...
Well, that is about it for now, the article is long enough and that is pretty much all of the E.T. material covered. I did just get this new addition for my computer desk though:
E.T. launches out of the space ship and scurries across my desk, like how he ran in the movie. It's fun and a good stress reliever. Also, I could swear
I saw this toy in the store one day as a kid, in Toys R' Us I think. This would make sense because according to it's manufacturing company NECA this is a reproduction of a toy that was originally released in 1982. Also a final shout out to Steven Spielberg:
Thanks for the sweet childhood memories man and here's to hoping that E.T.'s magic will remain strong for several generations to come. I will see you all next time, work schedule permitting. Until then retrojunkers, Nightwatcher phone home. Er
, I mean, Nightwatcher out.