The Unlikely ‘E.T.’ Universe
The Xfinity commercial wasn’t the first time E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial advertised telecommunications
This week, Universal owner Comcast released ‘A Holiday Reunion,’ a four-minute Xfinity commercial that acted as a sequel to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, complete with Henry Thomas reprising his role as an older Elliott opposite the titular alien. The commercial/short film, which was approved by director Steven Spielberg, is essentially a mini-version of recent film sequels like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where an old and young protagonist (in this case, Elliott’s kids) get to compare notes as history repeats itself: it is likely the closest we’ll ever get to a feature length follow-up.
Is it cynical exploitation of people’s nostalgia for one of Spielberg’s most personal films? Certainly, but believe it or not, the ship sailed on that issue a long time ago, as British Telecom (BT) exploited the character’s acronym for an advertising campaign two decades ago:
That also wasn’t the only time E.T. has returned to Earth: in 1985, Berkley published a book sequel by William Kotzwinkle (the author of the film’s official novelization), titled E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet. The book, illustrated by David Wiesner, saw E.T. finding himself an outcast on his homeworld after his experiences on Earth, and Elliott starting to go through puberty. The book set up a sequel where E.T. returns to Earth, which never transpired: as evident from the BT advert, E.T. must have got lost in the UK while in transit.
The book also establishes E.T.’s homeworld was “named by many ages — Vomestra, Brodo Asogi, Od-Di-Pa 5, Tum Lux O-ty, Alata Zerka, all of which translated to — the Green Planet.” Brodo Asogi became the name used in Star Wars tie-in media when George Lucas inserted three E.T. lookalikes in the Senate sequence in 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. (The Asogian senator was dubbed Grebleips, which is “Spielberg” in reverse.) The cameo seems to imply the Lucas of Spielberg’s universe somehow became aware of the events of E.T., and decided to add his kind to the Galaxy Far Far Away.
Was another film ever considered? Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison did write a treatment for a sequel, called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. The pitch (which can be read here), harked back to E.T.’s roots as the unproduced thriller Night Skies, introducing a group of evil aliens whom E.T. has to return to save his human friends from. Spielberg commented, “Sequels can be very dangerous because they compromise your truth as an artist. I think a sequel to E.T. would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity.” Syfy Wire quipped that perhaps the reason the treatment was so bad was so it would permanently put an end to any talk of a sequel.
In a statement provided to Variety, Henry Thomas said the Xfinity commercial would provide fans with “everything they want out of a sequel without the messy bits that could destroy the beauty of the original and the special place it has in people’s minds and hearts.” Having seen the commercial, I now wish Spielberg had directed it as a film, with more of the original cast instead of the cringe-inducing product placement. It’s understandable why he took this route though: Mathison died in 2015, one year before her last collaboration with Spielberg (2016’s Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG), and as the commercial demonstrates, any sequel would’ve sorely needed her touch.