The Story Behind ET II

Ever since ET: The Extra-Terrestrial arrived in cinemas, rumours have floated about a sequel.

The most recent were in May of this year, but Steven Spielberg has always seemingly said that he won't make a new film with the character.

But back in 1982, as the original stormed the box office, he certainly had ideas.

This is the story of a film that might have been...

1. Night Skies

To tell the story of ET's proposed sequel, you really have to go back in time, to 1960, and Steven Spielberg's parents' divorce.

The lonely young man created an imaginary alien pal to help him deal with the emotional fall-out, later claiming the creature to be "a friend who could be the brother I never had and a father that I didn't feel I had anymore."

The tumultuous emotions of family break up and the extra-terrestrial pal would surface again, later in life, when Spielberg was enjoying his early run as a successful filmmaker.

With Close Encounters a huge success, he began to consider ideas for a follow-up, and his thoughts took him in a much darker direction, and during a collaboration with John Sayles, he dreamt up the concept of Night Skies.

If Close Encounters had been the hopeful side of contact with alien races, Night Skies was the twisted, terrorizing mirror image of abduction and abuse by creatures not from this planet.

It focused on a Kentucky farming family whose remote outpost is assaulted by evil alien types.

While Spielberg's naturally hopeful nature shifted away from that, the concept of nasty visitors from space would surface again.

But before that, there was the small matter of a subplot from Skies that Spielberg grasped on to.

Once thought of as a small, but powerful part of the overall story, Buddy the alien would come to the forefront.

Next: ET is born


2. ET is born

In 1980, Steven Spielberg was shooting Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Sick of the Tunisian portion of the shoot, with its harsh heat and crew sickness, the young director found himself frequently distracted and prone to daydreaming.

"I might have taken leave of my senses," recalls Spielberg.

"Throughout the production of Raiders, I was in between killing Nazis and blowing up flying wings and having Harrison Ford in all this high serialized adventure, I was sitting there in the middle of Tunisia, scratching my head and saying, 'I've got to get back to the tranquillity, or at least the spirituality, of Close Encounters.'"

With his thoughts once more turning to alien visitors, he began talking to scriptwriter Melissa Matheson about the ideas in Night Skies.

The two ditched the scarier aspects and instead focused on the character of "Buddy", the lone friendly creature, who befriends an autistic member of the farming family.

In the original Skies story, Buddy ends up abandoned on Earth and this became the main plot for a new script, which Mathison wrote in eight weeks, entitled ET And Me.

While it would go through two more drafts before Spielberg submitted it to studios (with a friend of main character Elliott deleted and scenes such as ET getting drunk and the big final chase added), the director was delighted with the final form of the screenplay.

Columbia Pictures, at the time, however, was less thrilled.

The studio had been expecting a hardcore sci-fi thriller in the vein of Night Skies, and declined to pick up the "wimpy Walt Disney movie". Regrets? They've had a few...

Sid Sheinberg of MCA Universal, however, loved the concept and offered money to begin research into creating the perfect creature.

It would take a while, though...

Next: The trouble with ET


3. The trouble with ET

ET wasn't exactly the easiest creature to create.

After spending money on developing ideas and models for the planned Night Skies, Rick Baker wasn't exactly in the best of moods when it came to the man who shut it down.

Designer Ed Verreaux, meanwhile, ploughed $700,000 into the creation of a prototype creature, which The Beard deemed useless.

In the end, he turned to Carlo Rambaldi , who designed the animatronics, while various teams worked on the look of his face, which blends the likes if Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway (no, really).

Finally, at a cost of $1.5 million, the director had something he could shoot with.

Thanks to a combination of little people Tamara De Treaux and Pat Bilon, and 12-year-old Matthew De Meritt, who was born without legs, ET had movement. The voice - a gurgling rasp - would come later.

Spielberg dubbed the final beastie something "only a mother could love." The Mars company agreed and refused to let him use M%26Ms as ET's sweet of choice.

The Hershey Company saw an opening and offered Reese's Pieces instead. The rest is movie marketing history.

Now he just needed to film the thing...

Next: ET's shoot


4. ET's shoot

The production for ET kicked off in September 1981 under a tight veil of security.

Paranoid that someone would leak the plot and copycat films would flood out, Spielberg insisted that the cast - including Dee Wallace and Henry Thomas - read the script behind closed doors.

The shoot in various chunks of LA was called A Boy's Life to avoid raising suspicion and all those on set had to wear ID badges.

It was a largely smooth production period, switching between a Culver City high school, Laird International Studios in the city and suburban locations in Northridge and Tujunga.

Spielberg shot chronologically (as much as possible, though some shots were later completed at a redwood forest in Northern California), which allowed his young main cast - Thomas as Elliott the lad who befriends ET, Drew Barrymore as his sister Gertie and Robert McNaughton as brother Michael - to bond with the poo-coloured critter on set.

Another helpful aspect was keeping the puppeteers as far away from the set as possible, so the children could maintain the illusion of working with a "real" alien.

And every adult, save for Dee Wallace, who plays the kids' mother, are only seen from the waist down in the first half of the movie, helping to generate a kids-eye view of events.

Despite the complicated nature of ET, Spielberg was able to finish shooting in 61 days, four days ahead of schedule.

With visual effects and John Williams' iconic score added, the waddling creature was ready to meet cinema audiences.

The movie was previewed in Texas, scoring high marks from viewers and got its official premiere at the closing gala of the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.

And then it opened in America...

Next: Success breeds sequel ideas


5. Success breeds sequel ideas

Everyone knows what happened next: ET was a massive blockbuster hit, opening to a then-incredible $11 million in the US alone, and staying at the top of the box office charts for a startling six weeks.

Even more impressively, it was released on June 11th 1982 across the pond, and stayed either at first or second position until January the next year, earning $359 million in domestic tickets.

Roger Ebert proclaimed it as an instant classic, saying, "This is not simply a good movie. It is one of those movies that brush away our cautions and win our hearts."

Hershey, which had switched in its Reese's Pieces chocolates, saw profits surge 65% off the back of the movie's success.

And such was its impact that the movie was re-released in 1985 and scored another $40 million from American audiences.

At the 55th Academy Awards, it was nominated for nine Oscars and while it lost out to Gandhi for Best Picture, even that film's director, Richard Attenborough was certain it would scoop the prize.

ET still went on to scoop four Oscars, including score, sound and Visual Effects.

In 1994, it was selected for preservation by the US National Film Registry.

But let's go back to July 1982, with Spielberg and Mathison considering sequel ideas.

With the film already a massive success, it was seemingly natural for the writer and director to be pondering a follow-up - these days, the studio would have greenlit another film within hours of the first box office figures.

Yet the pair were hesitant. Could they replicate the ingredients that made ET work so well?

It's here that the darker themes of Night Skies began to creep into their minds again, as the pair ramped the tension for a nastier tale of alien encounters...

Next: The story, part one


6. The story, part one

The treatment for what became known as ET II: Nocturnal Fears was produced by Spielberg and Mathison in July 1982.

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'd move on a little more.

And now for our favourite part of the treatment, as we're sent 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."

Yes, ET's real name is apparently Zrek.

"The evil creatures are carnivorous. Their leader, Korel, commands his crew to disperse into the forrest 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. And, oh yes - they've been at war with "Zrek"'s people for decades.

All together now: Dun dun duuuurr!

To be continued...

Next: Shooting starts


7. The story, part two

We learn that Elliott's father has returned, albeit briefly, from New Mexico, and has officially divorced his mother.

But there's good news too, since she's now dating Peter Coyote's "Dr Keys" (as he's 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'll 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're lying, stuns them and his evil minions close in...

To be concluded...

Next: The story, part three


8. The story, part three

Elliott and co are now prisoners of the nasty new alien arrivals.

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 see the geranium - which is blooming back to life. From this, they somehow figure out that they should head for the clearing.

Korel and the invading aliens have tortured Elliott to the point of exhaustion and dump his unconscious form in a cage with his friends.

But then 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.

Cue the sound of a thousand childhood hearts breaking all over again...

Admittedly, the story is only in very rough treatment form, but it hardly seems to have the same meat or impact as the original ET.

The plot, in this early form, is brutally simplistic - evil aliens arrive, take the kids hostage, ET rescues 'em. And for a sequel to a movie about the character, he's barely in it.

We'd hope that any final draft would add the required layers of subtlety and theme to this bare skeleton.

But we'll never get to see that happen (which which is probably for the best), since Spielberg decided against the idea.

Why? Glad you asked...

Next: So what happened?


9. So what happened?

The easiest answer to why Nocturnal Fears never saw the light of day is that Steven Spielberg came to his senses.

According to the director, moving ahead with the sequel "would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity." Which is a charming way of saying that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

There is one semi-official sequel to the movie, tie-in novel ET: The Book Of The Green Planet, penned by William Kotzwinkle, who wrote the movie's novelisation.

In the story, we follow ET's return to his home planet, called Brodo Asogi and the trouble he gets into there.

He ends up demoted and breaks every rule when he tries to return to Earth.

The book formed the basis for ET Adventure, which first began at the Universal Studios theme park in Florida. Several other versions have since arrived and closed at parks such as Universal Hollywood and Universal Japan.

But while Nocturnal Fears was quickly shelved, the whispers of sequels refused to die as easily.

Even in May this year, that highly regarded bastion of US journalistic excellence, The National Enquirer, reported that Spielberg and Drew Barrymore had been having meetings about a new ET story.

"Steven and Drew are being very secretive about this baby," said one 'source'.

"But they want to do this project and work together. Steven has an incredible story in mind for the sequel that will bring E.T. back to Earth."

Bear in mind that Spielberg has consistently gone on the record stating that he won't make another ET.

Despite that, we're worried that the rights will be handed over to some young wannabe as part of a "reboot" decades in the future.

Let's hope it never happens...

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Freelance Journalist

James White is a freelance journalist who has been covering film and TV for over two decades. In that time, James has written for a wide variety of publications including Total Film and SFX. He has also worked for BAFTA and on ODEON's in-cinema magazine.