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SYFY WIRE Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg admits editing the guns out of ‘E.T.’ in later cut ‘was a mistake’

’I do not believe in censorship in that way,' says the legendary director after a change of heart.

By Benjamin Bullard
1982: American film director and producer Steven Spielberg (left) points to something in the distance as he directs American actor Henry Thomas in a scene on the set of his film, 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'.

After-the-fact edits to some of the biggest blockbusters of all time have for years been a hotly-debated topic among lovers of the original Star Wars trilogy, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and other big-screen classics whose massive fan bases prize the movies as key pieces of their own pop-culture pasts.

Now legendary director Steven Spielberg has weighed in with regret on the digital tweaks he made to the 20th anniversary home edition of E.T. that released to video back in 2002. Speaking recently at a master class at the Time100 Summit, Spielberg said he was wrong to alter his art to give transitory social issues a wide berth, and that he should never have digitally removed firearms in the film from the hands of the federal agents who were chasing Elliott (Henry Thomas) on his BMX bike, opting instead to replace the weapons with walkie-talkies.

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“That was a mistake; I never should have done that because E.T. is a product of its era,” said Spielberg, via TIME. “No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are either voluntarily or being forced to adhere to.”

“Years had gone by and I changed my own views,” he further explained of the switch. “I should have never messed with the archive of my own work, and I don’t recommend anybody really do that. All our movies are a kind of a measuring; sort of a signpost of where we were when we made them — what the world was like and what the world was receiving when we got those stories out there. So I really regret having that out there.”

Spielberg’s remarks came this week, although his change of heart over E.T.’s guns-for-gadgets CGI swap took place long ago. By the time the movie’s 30th anniversary had rolled around in 2012, the 20th anniversary walkie-talkies were gone from the FBI agents’ hands, replaced once more by the weapons the agents originally were brandishing.

“I got overly sensitive to [some of the reaction] to E.T. and I thought if technology ever evolved [I might go in and change some things]” Spielberg said in 2012, via NBC News.  “…It was OK for a while, but I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T.

The freedom of art versus the pressures of political shibboleths were firmly on the director’s mind in his recent TIME talk, which also touched on a recent revisionist push to dial down the descriptive language in classic Roald Dahl kids’ stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“Nobody should ever take the chocolate out of Willy Wonka!” he joked, “and they shouldn’t take the chocolate or the vanilla or any other flavor out of anything that’s been written…For me, it is sacrosanct. It’s our history, it’s our cultural heritage…I do not believe in censorship in that way.”

Joking that he had yet to touch on the movie Western genre in his prolific career (“Don’t send me scripts!” he teased), Spielberg shared his censorship thoughts in the wake of his most recent film, Universal Pictures’ The Fabelmans. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the 2022 movie portrays a semi-autobiographical account of Spielberg’s early fascination with film during his post-WWII growing-up years in the desert southwest.

Via Deadline, Spielberg's next project could be a remake of the classic 1968 action thriller Bullitt, with Bradley Cooper reportedly set to play the movie’s titular San Fransisco detective — a role first made famous by Steve McQueen. More recently, though, Spielberg has hinted he's still undecided about which film idea he's likely to tackle the soonest.