At some point in the late ’90s, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided to go back and make changes to some of their most iconic films, using modern visual effects techniques to alter — and, they believed, improve — certain scenes. During the press tour for Ready Player One, Spielberg reflected on his decision to alter E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the uproar it created among fans, and indicated that it was one mistake he wouldn’t repeat.
The subject came up during the Hollywood press junket for Ready Player One, with a journalist asking Spielberg if he had considered revisiting any of his other movies.
“When E.T. was re-released, I actually digitized five shots where E.T. went from being a puppet to a digital puppet,” Spielberg recalled (as reported by SlashFilm). “And I also replaced the gun when the FBI runs up on the van — now they have walkie-talkies.
Calling it a “really bad version of E.T.,” Spielberg said he was initially inspired to make the changes after seeing Lucas do something similar with the original Star Wars trilogy. The revised version of E.T. was eventually released in 2002 for the film’s 20th anniversary.
“I took my cue from Star Wars and all the digital enhancements of A New Hope that George put in,” he said. “I went ahead, because the marketing at Universal thought we needed something to get the audience in to see the movie, so I did a few touch-ups in the film.”
The outcry from fans was both loud and immediate, with audiences particularly incensed by Spielberg’s decision to remove the classic, practical effects that brought the film’s titular alien to life. The negative feedback was intense, according to Spielberg, and made the studios take notice at a time well before Twitter and Facebook offered an easy way to make their complaints heard.
“In those days, social media wasn’t as profound as it is today. But what was just beginning erupted in a loud negative voice about, ‘How could you ruin our favorite childhood film by taking the guns away and putting walkie-talkies in their hands?’ among other things,” said Spielberg. “So I learned a big lesson. That’s the last time I ever decided to mess with the past. What’s done is done, and I’ll never go back into another movie I made, or have control over, to enhance or change it.”
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