Study Guide

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Director

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E.T. was directed by Steven Spielberg, a reclusive art house filmmaker with a penchant for making small, independent films about vegetables and… just kidding. E.T. was directed by Steven Spielberg, one of the most popular and influential filmmakers of the last half-century and winner of close to two hundred awards for filmmaking, including three Academy Awards.

From Boys Scouts to Man-Eating Sharks

Spielberg began making movies at age 12 in order to earn a Boy Scout badge for photography. (The "Win Lots of Oscars One Day" badge hadn't been invented yet.)

He followed up this first film, about a gunfight, with a 40-minute war movie called Escape to Nowhere. Three years later, at age 16, he shot a full-length science fiction film, Firelight, and screened it at his local movie theater. And we thought nailing our driver's test on the first try was an accomplishment.

The point is this: Steven Spielberg has been making movies about adventure from the very beginning. From Jaws (1975) to Jurassic Park (1993), adventure is his modus operandi. We're talking about the guy who made the Indiana Jones movies. His interest in science fiction was apparent from the start as well, and continues through films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Minority Report (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005).

Where the Dads At?

Spielberg isn't all about giant sharks and laser beams, though. Child-parent relationships are at the center of many of his films, especially fathers who aren't around much, or even at all.

Whether it's the workaholic dad in Hook (1991) or the "Sorry I Wasn't Around, So You Named Yourself After the Family Dog" dad in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), many of Spielberg's films feature some arguably bad dads. So what's with all the shade thrown at fathers? Chalk it up to Spielberg's childhood and his own parents' divorce.

Don't pull out the tissue box just yet, though: Spielberg and his father have a strong relationship now—and from great tragedy comes great art (and a $3.6 billion net worth).

When it comes to Spielberg's hallmarks as a director, E.T. is a veritable buffet. There's adventure, aliens, and an absent father. There was also an opportunity for Spielberg to reevaluate himself as a filmmaker.

Walkie-Talkie Controversy

On March 22, 2002, a 20th-anniversary edition of E.T. was released on DVD, and everybody cheered. Then they actually watched the movie, and they were significantly less happy. Several shots from the original theatrical release of the film had been changed.

Some of these had to do with E.T.'s movement. Spielberg had never been stoked with the herky-jerky way the original animatronics looked, so he brought in the big guns at Industrial Light and Magic to smooth things out. 

Viewers weren't thrilled.

More problematic, however, were the actual guns in the film—namely the fact that for the 2002 re-release Spielberg had them removed entirely. Here's the deal: In the original film, as Elliott and his friends try to escape with E.T., they run into gun-toting federal agents. Cops pulling guns on kids? Scary stuff. In the 20th-anniversary edition, those guns were replaced with walkie-talkies. Not so scary. Film buffs were furious, and critics accused Spielberg of being too politically correct.

A mere seven months later, on October 22, 2002, a two-disc 20th edition of E.T. was released on DVD. This release included both the 2002 revision and the original theatrical release of the film, so viewers could choose which version of the film graced their awesome home theater setups.

But it doesn't end there! A 30th-anniversary edition of E.T. was released on Blu-Ray on October 9, 2012. How many versions of the film did it include? Just one: a fully restored version of the original film, guns and all. It even reinstated the original animatronics. "There's going to be no more digital enhancements or digital additions to anything based on any film I direct," Spielberg told Ain't It Cool News in 2011. "I'm not going to do any corrections digitally to even wires that show… I think letting movies exist in the era, with all the flaws and all of the flourishes, is a wonderful way to mark time and mark history."

So if you were worried about the velociraptors in Jurassic Park being replaced with adorable animated iguanas, you can rest easy.

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