Who the heck is Steven Spielberg? I’d never heard of him before E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
I didn’t really pay to much attention to directors at that time. I’d seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind but it “wasn’t as good as Star Wars”, I’d not seen Jaws coz it was scary, and bizarrely I didn’t catch Raiders of the Lost Ark until it was on TV. I can’t understand how I missed that classic at the cinema, but I did.
E.T. for me was apart from waiting for the next Star Wars film was a big summer blockbuster. If you could attend a cinema somewhere you had to go see E.T.
At this time my Grandma was very much into her cute weird aliens and was a big fan of Yoda from Empire Strikes Back, which by this time she had seen.
It was E.T. frenzy that summer. Toys, badges, t-shirts, cuddly E.T. dolls and more. Tron didn’t get a look in.
“E.T. Phone Home” was the catchphrase of the moment and everyone and their sister would be quoting lines from the film. Including that one…. but wait.
An actor called Pat Welsh (1915-1995) provided the voice for E.T. and incidentally also provided the voice for Boushh, Princess Leia’s bounty Hunter disguise in Return of the Jedi, the following year.
She was discovered by Ben Burtt, the sound effects guy from the Star Wars films (he invented the sounds of R2, Lightsabres and laser blasts) and got her distinctive gravelly voice from smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. She was paid reportedly $380 for her services.
“E.T. Phone Home” was the line that Elliott and Gertie said in the film. E.T. him/her/itself actually said “E.T. Home Phone.”
I used to spend a lot of my summers down with grandparents whilst mum and dad worked and that summer during the yearly visit we headed to the old Ashton cinema to see what all the fuss was about.
We sat transfixed throughout the entire movie. It made us sad, happy, laugh and mostly cry during the more traumatic scenes. Having to say goodbye to E.T. at the end was a sad/happy moment for the whole audience. It tugged at all the heart strings. I loved it and probably saw it a few more times at the cinema.
It is chock full of iconic scenes, including poor E.T. getting left behind at the beginning, the initial meeting between Elliott and E.T. in a night filled with the sounds of crickets. Other scenes included the flying bike ride and the silhouette across the giant moon. There was lots of hugging and a lot of the time I felt like I needed to give Gertie’s a tissue for her nose.
All wrapped in a sometimes subtle and definitely rousing score by the great John Williams. Which obviously I had to own.
For an 10 year old Henry Thomas portrayed Elliott with a vast array of emotions, Drew Barrymore as Gertie was 6 years old and provided a lot of subtleties when acting against the creature at the time and according to co-star Dee Wallace playing the mom, Drew could easily burst into tears on cue.
Henry Thomas was perfect, and proved his young acting skills in this powerful audition which got him the leading human role.
The first thing we did — because I knew Henry was 10 and Drew was six and Robert MacNaughton [Elliott’s older brother Michael] was 14 or 15 I think — I shot the whole film in continuity. So we began at the beginning and ended at the end. So at the beginning of the movie, E.T. could have been a coyote out in the backyard. By the end of the picture on the last day of shooting, they were actually saying goodbye to E.T. And so there was an emotional curve that was taking place in everybody’s collective subconscious, just based on the fact that we were telling the story one page at a time, one day at a time.Steven Spielberg for Entertainment Weekly (2012)
As a Star Wars fan I loved the pop culture references throughout the film. This included Elliott introducing E.T. to Star Wars figures, a Yoda Halloween costume that E.T. thought was someone from “home”, BMX bikes, my first encounter with a little game called Dungeons and Dragons.
As you grow into an adult with kids you get a different perspective of any film featuring families. In 1982 I felt like Elliott, and come to think of it… I still feel like Elliott, but still understand the struggles of a single mom with three kids to look after.
E.T. the creature was an amazing piece of work, created by Carlo Rambaldi, the same creature designer behind King Kong and the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a mix of puppet and small people in a suit, Tamara De Treau, Pat Bilon and Matthew DeMeritt, a 12 year old boy who was born without legs used his hands to walk in the rubber suit.
From this film on I started to follow the director as he became more and more prevalent in the industry from his future directing endeavours to Steven Spielberg produced through TV’s Amazing Stories, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and even the produced and directed Always from 1989, a kind of Ghost story with planes and fire and a John Williams score.
That was one other constant with Spielberg’s directed movies, his use of John Williams creating the soundtracks from Jaws, Indiana Jones, Shindler’s List and beyond.
Buy either album now! I particularly love the Drew Struzan painted cover who also painted film posters for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, The Goonies, E.T. and the Muppet Movie to name a few.
By the end of it’s cinema run it became the highest grossing film of all time, beating the original Star Wars from 1977/78. That was until Jurassic Park took its place in 93.
When we first entered the cinema I remember seeing a souvenir stand with various versions of E.T. available including leather/vinyl, plastic and soft rubber versions of the character plus badges and other cool stuff.
I don’t remember that many souvenir stands in cinema’s much during those film days, but if it was there, I had to have something. I’m not sure at what point during the visit but my gran gave into my pleading but she happily bought me my very first E.T.
And here is that very figure.
It’s a hard plastic version with a pull string connected internally to plastic record. Very similar to the record featured in the Action Man Field Commander Backpack. I’m not breaking it open to see what colour the record actually is.
Just so you can see and hear the current state of the ET toy, here’s a short video.
The other figure is a curious thing. No indication that it was official and I’m sure I remember seeing these on market stalls, no branding and it kind of looks like ET, but not quite. I’ve seen other images saying it’s a bootleg, but I’m keeping it anyway.
I did have one of these soft vinyl plushy type ETs. They were very strange looking and made from what felt like a leather settee your parents would tell you to make sure you didn’t spill anything on.
Unfortunately my own version recently started to peel and I’ve stored it away in a safe place. I’ve no idea where it is. Probably in the same place they keep the Ark of the Covenant.
Another curiosity at the time was the good old sticker albums. This one below was produced by Panini with Minicards in London who would provide you with any missing stickers once the shops had stopped selling them.
I do seem to still be missing 39,105,106 and 108. If anyone has them, unfortunately I seem to have run out of any swaps. I also wish that my younger self was better at putting stickers in the album.
I also remember having the ET Storybook and novel which I’m sure had M&M sweets instead of the Reece’s Pieces in the film. According to articles they were going to be M&Ms in the film but Mars, Inc, the owner of M&Ms refused as they didn’t want them to associated with aliens.
What were they expecting? I guess at the time, most aliens in films and on video tended to bleed acid and burst out of your chest. There weren’t many cute aliens around.
A very recent find was a birthday card for my 15th from my mum and dad.
It featured the classic painting of Elliott and E.T.s fingers touching the iconic image based on the Michelangelo painting the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City.
I’ve since inherited a couple of newer ETs from about 2012 when they rereleased the special edition of the film. A soft talking plushy one and an interactive edition. I’ve not had any batteries in the interactive one for a few years.
Speaking of the Special Editions. In 2002, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the film they produced an extra special edition version, probably based on the Star Wars Special Editions released in 1997.
This featured new effects such as a CGI ET in places with blinking eyes and a more expressive face, extra added trees, and they infamously removed rifles from government officers and replaced them with walkie talkies. Have a look.
Both versions were released on DVD in 2002.
For it’s 35th anniversary in 2017 the Blu-ray and 4K releases featured the original untouched version. The 2002 is now not to be seen unless you have it in your collection. I might just have it somewhere.
I don’t have that one.
I think that just about exhausts my memories of the original film showing and things along the way.
I’m not going to mention the infamous Atari VCS video game that “brought down the entire video game industry” and got buried in a Mexican landfill because Atari needed to rid themselves of excess unsold inventory.
It was nice to see the sequel finally get released as an advert back in good old 2019. 🙂
See you next time.
As an extra special outro, why not look at some of my artwork from 1984. I did these in my last year of school.