ET: The Extra Terrestrial and the blu-ray from Netflix had a lot of interviews and special features that told a lot about how the film was produced. I remember seeing it several times in the theater in the early 1980s. I saw it in the initial run with my parents, but during the summer camp film series, ET was featured for several years. Then I saw it on TV a couple of times in the 1990s. I think it's safe to say that I haven't seen it for more than 20 years.
I had forgotten quite a few of the movies more powerful scenes and definitely the emotional intensity of the film.
The 25th anniversary re-release definitely had some enhancements, but the enhancements didn't stick out.
In the interview after the film, Spielberg revealed that he only made changes that he would have made in 1982 if the technology had existed because he felt that they had made a perfect film. For the special edition, he did add scenes that were initially cut for run-time or because the ET puppet messed up the scene. Every cut scene greatly adds to the texture of the movie and do not jut out at all.
The only change that was not based on 1982 technological limitations was Spielberg editing the shotguns into walkie talkies because in the original cut the shotguns are aimed at the children and Spielberg later felt awkwardly about that. There are still shotguns in the movie and other firearms, but in that specific scene they are edited out.
It is NOT as awkward as South Park would have you believe.
Some surprising things about ET that I learned from the special feature and reading up since we watched the movie:
- Spielberg constructed the story based on his own life and those of his sisters after his father left. Elliot is a fantasy version of Spielberg. The other components for the story came from a concept that Spielberg had drafted called "Night Skies" about aliens that terrorize a family in suburbia while the youngest child befriends one of them. This was drafted when the studio demanded a sequel for Close Encounters. Night Skies was scrapped, half of the concept became the other components for ET while the other half of the concept became Poltergeist.
- The initial draft of a script was so perfect that there were no revisions requested and they used it as the shooting script with improvised script changes while shooting.
- ET is a plant. Neither male nor female. He's a plant, which is why he's built the way that he is, his feet can dig into the ground and he can absorb nutrients from the soil. In the deleted bathtub scene, he immerses completely and enjoys soaking up the water.
- The moon shot that was so famous is all practical effects. The moon footage was filmed organically and the silhouette of ET and Elliot are added in post. They are a 2-D puppet construction.
- ET is ten million years old. His species have been exploring the universe for longer than humans have been alive. The expedition to Earth was to gather plants to compare them to samples collected tens of thousands of years ago.
- Spielberg initially thought ET could be from Alpha Centauri but nothing was stated in the film about this. Later he decided that they must be from further away because Alpha Centauri is in our galaxy. When Lucas included the ET aliens in Star Wars, Spielberg accepted the modification and the species then was part of the Star Wars galaxy... whichever one that is.
- There were two books written, the first, a novelization of the film, gave a lot of Spielberg approved enhancements to the description of ET himself and the reasons for being on Earth. The second book, entitled "E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet", reveals that the Children of the Green Planet is a translation of their species. The book then goes on to mention several other names other extraterrestrials have given their homeworld, including Brodo Asogi, Vomestra, Od-Di-Pa V, Tum Lux O-Ty, and Alata Zerka. All of these names translate to "Green Planet". The accepted name now for reference in the Star Wars universe is Asogian. The homeworld, in Star Wars galactic common, is Brodo Asogi. The planet's location is the subject of some debate, but it seems that it is part of the outer rim and the species is one of the few to actively do extra-galactic exploration.
- When Henry Thomas auditioned for the part, he improvised a scene based on cues and thought about the day his dog died in order to bring more emotion to the scene, he cried, Spielberg cried, everyone cried, he got the part.
- Both Spielberg and Mathison wrote a story treatment for a potential sequel to E.T. during its initial theatrical run. Dated July 17, 1982, the treatment is titled “E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears,” and takes place the summer after the events in the first film. The story describes a plot in which Elliott and his friends are abducted by a mutated race of E.T.s led by an evil entity named Korel who is looking for Zrek, another alien stranded on Earth. Eventually, E.T. manages to save the group of kids and helps them back to Earth. Ultimately, Spielberg decided not to do a sequel because doing so "would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity.”
- Spielberg rejects any calls to produce a sequel for ET and he maintains creative control to specifically prevent this from happening. He says that ET is deeply personal to him and he believes that they made the most perfect film possible.