It's the 30th anniversary of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the groundbreaking "boy and his alien" movie. And a brand new book illuminates everything about the making of the film. We pored over E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: from Concept to Classic, and while we were admiring the gorgeous art and behind-the-scenes photos, we were also learning a ton of weird secrets about the making of E.T.
Here are 11 things you probably didn't know about E.T.:
1) Screenwriter Melissa Mathison didn't want to do it.
Steven Spielberg had to keep nagging the Black Stallion screenwriter to do it. And then he enlisted the aid of Harrison Ford, whom she later married, to get her to write the script for him. And then he got producer Kathy Kennedy on her case as well, and Kennedy and Ford finally won her over to write a first draft.
2) Mathison asked Harrison Ford's sons what powers E.T. should have
She asked Ford's kids, Willard and Benjamin, what powers they'd like an alien to have, along with some other kids. They mentioned obvious things like telepathy and telekinetic powers, but then the kids also mentioned the ability to heal, which surprised Mathison. "They weren't talking about saving someone's life by healing. They were talking about taking the 'owies' away," said Mathison.
3) E.T. is neither male nor female.
In fact, E.T. is a plant, not an animal, and has no gender whatsoever, according to Mathison's first draft.
4) E.T. has glass eyes.
The people making the E.T. dummy were doing eyes that looked too "painted" for Spielberg, and didn't have enough depth — so he asked around to find someone who does glass eyes, because glass eyes look real except that they don't move. E.T. ended up with two oversized glass eyes, which were spaced so far apart that actors could only look at one eye at a time during their scenes with the alien.
5) E.T.'s legs were a boy who has no legs in real life.
At least in some scenes. Different people were in the E.T. suit during different scenes where E.T. is walking around, but in some of the key scenes, E.T. was a boy named Matthew who didn't have any legs but could walk on his hands. Matthew was E.T. during the scenes where he gets drunk, for example. Also, E.T.'s hands were a professional mime wearing alien gloves, in some key sequences.
6) E.T. was Spielberg's response to the "stalled space program."
That's what Spielberg said in 1981, adding: "If the government won't fund the space program, to allow people's imagination to soar, then all I can do is make movies that bring space down to earth and make it more accessible to the imagination."'
7) An early draft of the script had E.T. healing J.R., who'd just been shot on Dallas.
That idea got scrapped pretty quickly, though.
8) Henry Thomas had a hard time saying "penis breath."
Because he was brought up to believe that kids didn't say things like that. He decided in the end, though, that this was two anatomical terms together, so his grandmother would probably be okay with it.
9) Harrison Ford plays the principal of Elliott's school
but his scenes all got cut in the end. You wouldn't have been able to see much of him, anyway, just the back of his head and his tweed suit as he taps a pencil — because Spielberg tried not to show the faces of adults in the film, other than Elliott's mom. He mostly shot adults from the waist down. While the principal lectures Elliott, the boy starts rising off the ground because E.T. is doing some levitating at home.
10) E.T.'s spaceship was originally going to be a flat flying saucer-shaped thing
But designer Ralph McQuarrie came up with a diving bell-shaped item instead.
11) The studio tested out multiple possible titles for the film.
Including Upon a Star, E.T. and Me, and The Landing. And the studio found that audiences did not think of E.T. as an abbreviation for "extra terrestrial," leading to the initials being combined with the explanation for the final title.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: from Concept to Classic is an absolutely indispensible book for anybody who's interested in the origins of one of science fiction's all-time great alien characters. Plus anybody who's interested in learning more about the unconventional methods that Spielberg used to get such real-seeming performances out of his child actors, and how Spielberg managed to create an alien who felt like a real person, should definitely pore over the tons of insights in this book.
It includes the complete screenplay by Melissa Mathison, including some scenes that didn't wind up in the final cut of the film and tons of annotations. And it's chock full of quotes from Spielberg, Mathison and the stars of the film. This book will make you appreciate Spielberg's most wonder-filled movie in a brand new light, and make your giant orange heart glow with appreciation.