Happy Birthday E.T.

Sunday, 16 December 2012, 7:00PM – 8:00PM

“They handed me an improvisation opportunity – ‘you’ve found a friend and someone is trying to take it away from you’. I went with that and everyone responded to it. They were crying and I was crying and they said, ‘Kid, you got the job.'”
Henry Thomas on his audition for the role of Elliott, in front of Steven Spielberg.

Thirty years ago, on the 9th of December 1982, a family movie was released in the UK which would be critically acclaimed as a timeless story of friendship. ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’ drew on the real story of director Steven Spielberg’s parents’ divorce and follows a young boy, Elliot, and his siblings who make friends with a stranded alien and try to help him return home.

To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, this hour-long documentary ‘Happy Birthday E.T.’ tells the story behind the movie, which has been voted the UK’s favourite family film ever. From the making of the film and the casting of the main roles, to bringing E.T. to life and the immense secrecy surrounding the making of the film, the documentary explores how a family film went on to become a huge blockbuster, surpassing Star Wars to become the highest grossing film of all time, a record it held for 10 years.

‘Happy Birthday E.T.’ includes unseen footage of Steven Spielberg plus new and exclusive interviews with Henry Thomas (Elliott) Dee Wallace Stone (Elliott’s Mum), Robert MacNaughton (older brother, Mike) and Erika Eleniak (the girl Elliott kisses). It also features the people behind the scenes who helped bring the film to life including casting director Mike Fenton and Caprice Spencer Rothe, the mime artist who performed E.T.’s hands.

Of the intense secrecy surrounding the film during production, actor Robert MacNaughton (Mike) explains: “They sent us the script…and we read it, but then we had to give it back. And then we just got the scenes for that day, so I never actually had a physical copy of the script all the way through the filming.”

The documentary also takes actor Henry Thomas, who as a 10-year-old played Elliott, back to the suburban Californian house where much of the film was shot, for the first time in 30 years.

The programme uncovers surprising facts behind the making of the film. Spielberg shot the film in script order to get a genuine emotional response from the child actors. So when E.T. departs at the end, the tears are all real. The face of E.T. was modelled on a cross between Albert Einstein and a newborn baby and cost $1.4 million to create. Also, when E.T was seen dying, all the doctors in the shot were real, including Spielberg’s own doctor – as he believed they would be more convincing than actors.

Three decades on, Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece still attracts huge audiences whenever it is shown on television and continues to engage with new generations of viewers. ‘Happy Birthday E.T.’ offers a new insight into the magic of E.T.’s timeless appeal.

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