Rick Baker Shares Designs From Night Skies, The Project That Evolved Into E.T.

By David Wharton | Updated

This article is more than 2 years old

Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a certified science fiction classic, one of the best family adventure films ever made, and the title character is one of the most iconic creature designs ever to hit the big screen. But there was a time when the story of a stranded extraterrestrial and the boy he befriends hadn’t yet coalesced in Spielberg’s mind, and instead he was set to make a very different alien film: a science fiction/horror flick called Night Skies. Now makeup maestro Rick Baker has shared pictures of some of the alien designs from Spielberg’s aborted Night Skies project on Twitter, including some that definitely resemble the eventual look of E.T.

Night Skies was originally intended as a sequel to Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg had no interest in doing a Close Encounters sequel, but after Universal had churned out Jaws 2 against his wishes, he didn’t want Columbia to make Close Encounters 2 without him either. While researching Close Encounters he’d heard the story about the so-called “Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter,” wherein a Kentucky family was allegedly terrorized by alien beings. Spielberg used the story as the basis for a short treatment called, initially, Watch the Skies. In a story that was described as “Straw Dogs with aliens,” a group of extraterrestrial scientists bedevil a rural family, dissect their livestock, and generally make pains of themselves.

Spielberg only wanted to produce, not direct or write the screenplay, so he hired John Sayles (who wrote the original 1978 horrorfest Piranha) to flesh out the treatment into a full script, which was eventually renamed Night Skies. Sayles gave the aliens nicknames and personalities, including the menacing Scar, the cute Squirt (seen above), and Buddy, who resembled the eventual E.T. and who would have befriended the unfortunate Night Skies family’s young autistic son. Buddy would also eventually turn against Scar to protect the family. Even E.T.’s glowing finger would have made an appearance in Night Skies, albeit in nowhere near as benevolent a manner: Scar would have been seen killing farm animals with a glowing finger.

While Night Skies was still coming together, Spielberg hired Rick Baker to build a working prototype of Scar, which you can see in Baker’s tweet below. It’s an amazing creation and I would have loved to see this creepy bastard brought to life. E.T. ain’t gonna phone home because the calls are coming from inside the house…

Unfortunately, as Baker’s caption in the above tweet reveals, Spielberg eventually decided he wanted to replace the horror of Night Skies with the more family friendly tale that became E.T. In Neil Sinyard’s 1987 book Films of Steven Spielberg, the legendary director recalled that he soon began doubting that Night Skies was the way to go. Spielberg said:

I might have taken leave of my senses. 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.’

After Harrison Ford’s girlfriend Melissa Mathison read the Night Skies script and reacted strongly to the notion of the friendly alien bonding with the young boy, the path away from Night Skies was set, and Mathison went on to write the script for E.T.. Unfortunately, Rick Baker had already spent a reported $700,000 building the Night Skies aliens, only to have Spielberg decide to go in a completely different direction. It’s certainly understandable that Baker wasn’t a happy camper, and so it was Close Encounters creature designer Carlo Rambaldi, rather than Baker, who created the titular alien for E.T.. But how much does E.T. owe to Baker’s Night Skies work? Draw your own conclusions.

He looks more like “E.T.’s creepy molesting uncle” if you ask me.

Some of the ideas from Night Skies were resurrected in Spielberg and Mathison’s proposed E.T. sequel E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears, which would have, among other things, had the evil aliens killing wild animals with their brains and, eventually, abducting and torturing Elliot for information about E.T. (whose real name is Zrek, FYI), because they all think Zrek is, like, the worst. E.T. himself would only have showed up briefly at the end to rescue Elliott and friends before using his own telepathic powers to explode the heads of his enemies, Scanners style. (I may have made that last part up.) Thankfully, Spielberg eventually came to his senses and decided Nocturnal Emissions Fears would “do nothing but rob the original of its virginity.” Ahem.

You can read a copy of the batshit-crazy nine-page Nocturnal Fears script treatment right here. (Link opens a PDF.)