Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are two of the biggest movie makers of all time and have been close friends since their college years. By all accounts, the two mega-directors deeply respect each other and consult one another on how to go about shaping the Zeitgeist. So it was puzzling when Spielberg decided to digitally alter his classic film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for its 2002 theatrical re-release so that, among other things, the police officers attempting to chase Elliott and his friends were holding walkie-talkies and not rifles. I mean, did he learn nothing from George Lucas’ gigantic HURR DURR when he altered the 1997 re-release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope to portray Greedo firing at Han Solo first, thereby altering Han Solo’s persona as a total badass and POSSIBLY REWRITING HISTORY AND NERDERY AS WE KNOW IT O HAI GUYS THESE FILMS HAVE FAN BASES THAT TEND TO GET WORKED UP OVER THINGS LIKE THIS?
That is, did Lucas at no point say to Spielberg, “Yeah, just don’t. Your vision really isn’t worth the amount of shit that you’re going to get for that?” Apparently not. Because he went ahead with the change and, predictably, people went bananas, as they are wont to do when you tinker with an indelible experience of their childhood.
Spielberg tried to defend the decision by saying something about how having guns pointed at children made him feel icky. Critics of the change accused him of trying to be too politically correct. But I guess, considering that this was only three years after the Columbine High School shootings and with school shootings in general becoming a more common and horrifying reality, it kind of made sense at the time.
However, Spielberg came to regret the changes and vowed the the Blu-Ray release of the film would be restored to its original 1982 version. And sure enough, the trailer that was released over the weekend for the Blu-Ray version, which will be released this October, has the officers fully strapped.
As far as I know, E.T. was the first movie that I saw in the theater. (I can’t get confirmation of this from my parents because they don’t remember, which is understandable since they had one whole kid’s worth of memories to curate.) I don’t remember being really scared by any of it, except for one thing, and it wasn’t guns or even the fact that NASA will just roll up into your ‘hood wearing space suits because maybe the valley is Mars now. No, what really messed me up were the keys on the waist of Peter Coyote’s character, the government official who comes to study E.T. and Elliott. The camera focuses on those keys a few times and something about them freaked me the hell out. More than alien visits or guns or weird machines or cryogenic coffins, those jangling keys to me meant danger, captivity, and horrific separation. But that’s part of what always made it so brilliant to me. The things that seem like they should be scary aren’t and we understand what our real fears are.
I last watched E.T. several years ago with my son who was seeing it for the first time. I can’t remember if we saw this altered version or not. All I know is that we both had serious ugly cries at the end, and that’s all that really matters.