When Steven Spielberg came close to making an ET sequel

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E.T: The Extra Terrestrial may be one of the most beloved films of the 80s, but there were once plans for a much darker sequel. We dig into the story.

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When it comes to iconic images in blockbuster cinema, few can beat Steven Spielberg’s shot of Elliott and ET flying across the screen on a bicycle as a full moon fills the frame, and John Williams’ magnificent score crescendos over it. That is just one of the many aspects of 1982’s ET: The Extra Terrestrial which has led to it becoming embedded in popular culture.

The highest grossing film of all time in the US upon release, until it was usurped by Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park in 1993, the fact that we never saw a follow-up from the notoriously money hungry Hollywood is surprising. But for a while, there was talk.

ET of course followed the titular alien as it works together with Henry Thomas’ Elliott and his siblings Michael and Gertie, played by Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore, to “phone home” and return to his home planet. Originally titled E.T. And Me, screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote the original script in less than two months, with Universal eventually purchasing it for $1 million. It would turn out to be one of the best business decisions the studio ever made.

Produced on a budget of a little over $10 million, the film went on to gross a whopping $734 million. As the box office gross climbed higher and higher, Spielberg and Mathison put together a treatment for a sequel. And it got a little way down the track too.

ET: Nocturnal Fears, which you can read the treatment for here, saw Spielberg take the story is a much darker direction. Picking up where the original left of, the first section of the story deals with the kids’ loneliness as another school year comes to an end. With ET gone, they have little to look forward to. Another spaceship is introduced, but this time the creatures onboard are described as “carnivorous.

Their leader, Korel, commands his crew to disperse into the forest to acquire food. “As the squat aliens leave the gangplank, each one emits a hypnotic hum which has a paralyzing effect on the surrounding wildlife”.

Peter Coyote’s character Keys makes a return in this story, having entered into a relationship with Dee Wallace’s character Mary. He now espouses the lessons he learned from his experience with ET, even crediting him for his new career path as a doctor as the tale develops.

The story continues as Elliott and his friends eventually end up back at the clearing, but things are very wrong. Mutilated cattle have been found in the surrounding area and shadows dart across their field of vision. The next scene is perhaps one of the reasons why the film was never made, as it describes how the kids are surrounded by the creatures, who are carrying dagger like instruments. Elliott barely escapes with his life, almost being torn apart by what Spielberg and Mathison describe as the aliens’ “razor sharp teeth”. The kids are then taken onboard the craft and interrogated about the whereabouts of ET. Spielberg and Mathison write that “the pain is tremendous for Elliott and he breaks down and begins screaming for E.T.’s help”.

It’s at this point that it starts to make sense why Spielberg chose not to make this film. While elements of it would surely have made for some exciting scenes, there is little of the fun and magic of the original. In fact it may well have been too frightening for the family audience for which it would have been intended.

It has to be said, though, that the following scene, in which Elliott’s limp body is carried to a cage in the ship, does make many film fans yearn to see Spielberg’s filmed version of the line which simply reads “A hatch opens to reveal E.T. with his glowing finger raised and his heart-light pulsating”.

The other difficulty with this particular story is the ending is, in essence, exactly the same as the first, as ET’s mothership descends to vanquish the evil aliens and ET leaves again.

Spielberg himself said that “sequels can be very dangerous because they compromise your truth as an artist. I think a sequel to E.T. would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity. People only remember the latest episode, while the pilot tarnishes”. He knocked the project on the head.

But that isn’t quite the end of the story.

In 2015, a four minute advert was produced for NBC’s 93rd Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade called A Holiday Reunion. Spielberg served as a consultant on the film, and Henry Thomas reprised his role as Elliott for the first time in over 30 years. Now he has a family of his own. Julianne Hoyak played his wife, Grace, while Zebastin Borjeau and Alivia Drews played their children, Elliott Jr. and Maggie.

The short film saw ET return to Earth to celebrate the holiday season, with director Lance Accord utilizing a practical puppet when animating ET. Williams also authorized the use of his music for the film. Sky used the film as its Christmas advert in 2019. You can watch the full version right here…

That’s likely as close as we will ever get to a proper sequel to ET.

In 2015, Mathison very sadly passed away, having only recently completed her third collaboration with Spielberg, The BFG. Spielberg has repeatedly stated that he won’t revisit it, a sentiment expressed by members of the cast when asked.

Perhaps that is for the best, because ET still stands as one of the most beloved films in the history of the artform, and to sully that with a sequel seems unimaginable….

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