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SYFY WIRE E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Steven Spielberg Reveals How a Memorable Father-Son Moment in Jaws Helped Inspire E.T.

Spielberg still had Jaws' Chief Brody on the brain as his filmmaking career moved into the '80s.

By Josh Weiss

One of Steven Spielberg's greatest cinematic strengths has always been his seemingly effortless ability to depict family life (broken or otherwise) on the Silver Screen.

Of course, those everyday interactions between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters have almost aways served as something of a cathartic stunt double for the director's own turbulent upbringing. But the filmmaker's penchant for delving into the emotional waters of family dynamics goes well beyond the heartache of divorce and into wider anthropological territory. 

"Exploration of human behavior fascinates me," the director admits in Spielberg: The First Ten Years.

For More on Jaws:
Model Who Posed As Ill-Fated Swimmer for Iconic Jaws Poster Preaches Shark Protection
How Steven Spielberg's First Theatrical Movie (and Box Office Bomb) Led to Jaws
Steven Spielberg Recalls How a Man Puked on the Theater Floor During an Early Screening of Jaws

Spielberg: The First Ten Years Explores Steven Spielberg's First Seven Movies

The cover of Spielberg: The First Ten Years by Laurent Bouzereau

Written by Laurent Bouzereau — longtime producer of the supplemental documentaries found on the home release editions of Spielberg's movies — the book chronicles the seven films that officially kicked off a hallowed Hollywood legacy: Duel (1971), The Sugarland Express (1974), Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), 1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). The 256-page tome, published by Insight Editions, features definitive Q&A interviews with the man himself, as well as a collection of never-before-seen production stills from the aforementioned titles.

In the middle of their conversation about the shark thriller (now streaming on Peacock alongside its three sequels) that invented the modern summer blockbuster, Bouzereau asks Spielberg about the memorable scene where a morose Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) sits at the kitchen table shortly after receiving a sharp slap on the face by a grieving Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro).

Racked with guilt and unsure of what to do next, the exasperated police chief of Amity Island sips a glass of alcohol and buries his face in his hands  — only to discover his younger son, Sean (Jay Mello), has begun to mimic his every move. The interaction breaks Brody out of his depression and offers the audience a small respite by way of genuine human connection. It truly feels like something that could happen between any parent and child the world over.

How a Single Scene in Jaws Influenced E.T. the Extra-Tesrrestrial

"I think we improvised that moment on the day — I wanted Roy to show he was depressed, and his son imitates him," Spielberg recalled. "It lightens up the mood, and Brody can see that he does have a life outside his job, that he has children and a family."

The scene came back to him years later while developing the script for E.T. alongside Melissa Matheson. "I wanted a similar scene where E.T. imitates Elliott, which leads to them communicating for the first time. I thought, 'Hey, if it worked in Jaws, it could work in E.T.'"

The complete Jaws quadrilogy is now streaming on Peacock. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, meanwhile, is available to purchase from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Originally published Jul 31, 2023.