Steven Spielberg Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg on why he'll never digitally alter a past movie again

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Mar 22, 2018, 12:53 PM EDT (Updated)

Legendary director Steven Spielberg is busy making the rounds right now to promote Ready Player One, his adaptation of Ernest Cline's best-selling novel that traffics heavily in nostalgia for various pop culture properties, including classic Steven Spielberg movies. That means Spielberg is fielding questions not just about his new film, but about his old ones as well. 

In Ready Player One, characters can enter a virtual reality world called OASIS that allows them to, among other things, interact with digital representations of pop culture icons like the Iron Giant, the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, and more. The film gave Spielberg a massive sandbox to play in, and in many ways allowed him to revisit some of his own work. So, does that mean he'd ever consider repeating what he did with E.T. in 2002 and give another of his classics a few digital tweaks?

Speaking at a Ready Player One press junket in Los Angeles on March 15 (which SYFY WIRE attended), Spielberg put that idea to rest. In his eyes, it didn't work well with E.T., and it wouldn't work well now.

“When E.T. was re-released, I actually digitized five shots where E.T. went from being a puppet to a digital puppet. And I also replaced the gun when the FBI runs up on the van – now they have walkie-talkies. So there’s a really bad version of E.T. where I took my cue from Star Wars and all the digital enhancements of A New Hope that George put in," Spielberg said. "I went ahead, because the marketing at Universal thought we needed something to get the audience in to see the movie, so I did a few touch-ups in the film.

"In those days, social media wasn’t as profound as it is today. But what was just beginning erupted in a loud negative voice about, ‘How could you ruin our favorite childhood film by taking the guns away and putting walkie-talkies in their hands?’, among other things. So I learned a big lesson. That’s the last time I ever decided to mess with the past. What’s done is done, and I’ll never go back into another movie I made, or have control over, to enhance or change it.”

Spielberg's reference to longtime friend and collaborator George Lucas further highlights his point that digital alterations to classic films like Star Wars and E.T. caused a significant backlash among fandom even in the days before you could voice your opinion with a hashtag.

Lucas' continued revisions to Star Wars inspired an entire documentary outlining the fan response, and Lucas and Spielberg together were the focus of a South Park episode in which the idea of a digitally altered Raiders of the Lost Ark was mocked. Even today, after those responses, there's likely still a market among some moviegoers for digitally revised versions of various classic films, but for now, the only revisitation Spielberg is comfortable with seems to be telling new stories that reference the old ones.

Ready Player One is in theaters March 29.