STEVEN Spielberg’s 1982 mega-hit ET: The Extra Terrestrial is generally regarded as a classic though personally it’s never done much for me, especially with all that icky Spielberg shmaltz that floods the film.
Biographer Joseph McBride wrote that ET’s genesis came in 1960 when young Spielberg created an imaginary alien companion as a way of dealing with his parents’ divorce, quoting thus: “He was a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn’t feel I had anymore.”
In 1982, the times were right for ET, and for Spielberg who was on his way to becoming the world’s biggest director, something he would achieve with ET, which grossed nearly $800 million, a record at the time.
The pop culture references, chaotic humour-laced scenes (with children speaking words that children shouldn’t say, which was seen as edgy and humorous at the time, sitting oddly well with the film’s family-friendly elements), special effects (still a big deal at the time) and then-novel notion of a cute yet alien-looking visitor were all elements that pushed the right buttons at the time.
Unsurprisingly, a sequel was mooted and the story treatment for what became known as ET II: Nocturnal Fears was produced by Steven Spielberg and scriptwriter Melissa Matheson in July 1982.
It was only an early draft of an idea, but it’s easy to see why Nocturnal Fears never saw the light of day (and it wasn’t because the title have might caused people to mistakenly assume it was a film about Elliott’s struggle with puberty).
The idea of evil ET’s coming to Earth and capturing and torturing Elliott is way, way outside the thematic ballpark established in the first film, which itself started life as a more horror-based story called Night Skies about a family terrorised by aliens, before Spielberg decided to make the Disney-influenced film that we all know. Perhaps Spielberg thought the original idea had some elements still worth pursuing.
The following extract is from the article The Story behind ET II by James White, October 2009, at www.totalfilm.com.
The story opens with the treetops of a forest being disturbed in much the same way as the original film, evoking the opening scenes as a strange light appears in the sky.
A mothership, similar to the one kids around the world know and love, lands and opens up, disgorging some familiar shapes, who waddle down a ramp.
We cut to Elliott and his family as they prepare to spend their first summer without their otherworldly pal.
Much as it’s particularly tough for the children, Elliott, Gertie and Michael have bonded since their experiences and constantly share stories about his time on Earth, much to the chagrin on their mother, Mary (Dee Wallace), who wishes that they would move on a little more.
Back to the landed mothership: The aliens on board are EVIL. They have landed on Earth in response to distress signals.
These aliens are searching for a stranded extraterrestrial called Zrek, who is sending a call for help.
The evil creatures are 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 paralysing effect on the surrounding wildlife.
We soon learn that these nasty new arrivals are an albino faction of ET’s
civilization, who have been at war with Zrek’s people for decades.
We learn that Elliott's father has returned, albeit briefly, and has officially divorced his mother, who is now dating Peter Coyote’s “Dr Keys” (as he is referred to in the treatment, and not actually given a proper name).
Keys’ life was dramatically affected by his encounter with ET and now he’s acting as a surrogate father for Elliott and company.
Elliott, meanwhile, has never given up hope that he will see the creature again. He has ET’s communicator assembly set up on his roof and with the arrival of the new aliens, he starts to sense something.
He also has the geranium plant that ET brought back to life– but it has been dead since the little waddler left Earth.
But when he senses that his friend could be coming back, he gathers his siblings and friends and heads out to the countryside.
Arriving at the clearing where ET left, the kids are delighted to discover the new mothership.
But they’re in trouble– Korel arrives at the top of the ship's ramp and telepathically questions the youngsters about Zrek’s whereabouts.
When they answer that he went home, Korel, enraged with the thought that they are lying, stuns them and his evil minions close in.
Korel and his team question them endlessly about Zrek and tortures them when they stick to the story about him having left the planet.
Meanwhile, Mary and Keys come home from a date to discover an empty house. Disturbed, they start to look for the kids and notice a strange sound coming from the roof.
ET’s communicator system is going nuts, and the keyboard read-out keeps repeating the words ET HELP ELLIOTT SOON.
When they climb back down, the pair sees the geranium, which is blooming back to life. From this, they somehow figure out that they should head for the clearing.
Having tortured Elliott to the point of exhaustion, Korel and the invading aliens dump his unconscious form in a cage with his friends.
But there’s a hum from outside the ship and the hatch slides open to reveal– you guessed it– ET!
With his heart light pulsating and his finger pointed almost like a weapon, he makes
Korel and the others freeze and quickly helps Elliott recover.
After helping the kids out, he reprograms the evil alien mothership and sends it flying off to a remote corner of the galaxy.
The reunion is sweet but short-lived as ET’s own ship arrives to take him home again, and Elliott must once more say goodbye to his friends. The end.
How about that crazy crap, eh?
How lame is the way that ET just turns up to save the day at the end?
ET's real name Zrek sounds like a discarded character from one of those dodgy 80s fantasy films.
Spielberg was wise to shelve this one. Too bad he did end up tarnishing the film’s legacy by replacing the government agents’ guns with walkie talkies in the 2002 20th anniversary cut. Now, that’s lame.
In other ET trivia, Michael Jackson provided narration and a song Someone in the Dark to the soundtrack album/audio book that accompanied the film’s release.
The album (and song) were withdrawn from sale by record label MCA after it breached conditions agreed with Jackson’s regular label Epic, making both the album and the single Someone in the Dark highly sought-after collector’s items.