Steven Spielberg regrets removing the guns from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
There’s been a recent push to alter the original texts of the works of Roald Dahl to fit in with today’s cultural norms, but this isn’t new behavior; going back and censoring works of art has taken place for hundreds of years. As Variety reports, Steven Spielberg regrets adjusting one of his classics due to today’s societal and cultural pressure. At issue is the removal of all guns from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a change made with the 20th-anniversary release in 2002 that replaced the guns with walkie-talkies.
While it may seem like a small change, the scene with officers chasing Elliot and his friends with guns was part of the nearly-perfect original theatrical release, and in 1982, it wasn’t widely seen as controversial. Though an intense scene for small children, it conveys the terror felt by the characters at the moment and is ultimately overtaken by the joy and wonder over watching bicycles fly as E.T. is united with his friends and able to return home. Steven Spielberg was blunt about the change when asked, explaining, “That was a mistake, I never should have done that.”
The Jurassic Park director went on, “‘E.T.’ is a product of its era. No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are, either voluntarily, or being forced to peer through. E.T.’ was a film that I was sensitive to the fact that the federal agents were approaching kids with firearms exposed and I thought I would change the guns into walkie talkies… Years went by and I changed my own views.”
When asked about the recent Roald Dahl controversy, Steven Spielberg continued and doubled down on his stance, “For me, it is sacrosanct. It’s our history, it’s our cultural heritage. I do not believe in censorship in that way.”
It’s worth noting that the changes made to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial by Steven Spielberg aren’t the same as what George Lucas did to the original Star Wars trilogy. Changing which character shoots first or adding Jabba the Hutt to the first film fundamentally alters the film, while replacing guns with walkie-talkies doesn’t have the same impact. Yet any change does alter the original film and undercuts the artistic intent; even if done for a good reason, it’s still an alteration.
Instead of changing the original movies, it would be more beneficial for everyone if older films were instead updated via a remake. Steven Spielberg is doing that with his next film, Bullit, a remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen classic that features some of the greatest car chases ever filmed. There’s nothing inherently flawed with the film that needs to be remade, but it’s also nearly 60 years old, and modern audiences haven’t had a good car chase on the big screen, outside of The Fast and The Furious, since The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a nearly perfect movie that never needs a sequel or a remake, and as Steven Spielberg admits now, no changes done to censor content for a modern audience.