Steven Spielberg Regrets Replacing ‘E.T.’s Guns With Walkie Talkies
For the 20th anniversary of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, director Steven Spielberg released a “Special Edition” of the film, with some minor changes. In addition to fixing some of the old practical special effects, Spielberg also chose to remove the onscreen appearances of guns in the hands of police officers. Using then-cutting-edge CGI, he replaced the firearms with walkie talkies in a handful of shots.
In this regard, Spielberg was no doubt influenced by his good friend and frequent collaborator George Lucas, who a few years earlier had updated the visual effects in his original Star Wars trilogy with his own “Special Editions.” Although controversial among fans, the Special Editions of Star Wars made Lucas millions of dollars. Lucas was an avowed fan of tinkering with his movies; they were his works of art, he’d argue, and if he could improve them (in his eyes anyway) why not? He was not happy with how certain elements of the films looked in the 1970s and ’80s, because visual effects were not capable of fully capturing what he had in mind at the time.
A few years later, Spielberg — who had revised at least one other movie of his in the past for home video — followed suit with the updated E.T.
Spielberg’s changes were not especially well-liked, but they didn’t provoke nearly as intense a response because, well Star Wars fans are a lot more intense than E.T. fans. Even so, Spielberg now says his feelings about the guns in the movie have changed and he “should have never messed” with the scene. Spielberg also said he regrets the decision to replace his original E.T. with the Special Edition.
In an interview at the Time 100 Summit, Spielberg said:
I should have never messed with the archives of my own work, and I don't recommend anyone do that. All our movies are a kind of a signpost of where we were when we made them — what the world was like and what the world was receiving when we got those stories out there. So I really regret having that out there.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two versions of E.T.:
Comparing the situation to recent controversies about the removal of certain insensitive passages from author Roald Dahl’s books, Spielberg said he was against making those sorts of changes to old works of art as well. “For me, it is sacrosanct. It's our history; it's our cultural heritage. I do not believe in censorship in that way."
Personally, I don’t particularly mind if a director wants to change their own movies. I’d like to be able to see the original versions as well — especially when I look at some of the changes George Lucas made to Star Wars through the years — but when a filmmaker thinks they can improve their work in some way, I’m curious to see the results. Now, do I think such an approach often works out? No! It almost never does. But I am willing to approach the material with an open mind. Of course, if someone forces such changes on an artist, that’s another issue altogether.
You can watch Spielberg’s full appearance for Time below...