Story Treatment by Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison
Even before the summer of 1982 was half over, it had become obvious that Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was well on its way to becoming not only the highest grossing film of the summer, but of all time. It seemed that critics and audiences alike where captivated by Spielberg’s story of a young boy who befriends a stranded alien and helps him escape the government and return home. By the end of its initial theatrical run, the film had pulled a little over $359 million at the box office, out-grossing Star Wars’ $307 million record set five years previously. And, as is often the case with successful films, everyone’s thoughts soon turned to sequels.
At some point during the heady excitement of E.T.’s opening weeks, Spielberg and E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison sat down and quickly collaborated on a nine page story, dated July 17, 1982, treatment titled E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.
The story opens with the landing of a familiar looking spaceship in a familiar looking forest clearing. A hatch slides open, revealing a familiar silhouette. But the extra-terrestrials inside aren’t the friendly scientists like E.T. was. They are an offshoot of E.T.’s race, an albino mutation who are evil and have been at war with E.T.’s people for decades. The aliens, under the command of one called Korel, are investigating the distress signal sent by E.T. in the first film. The interior of their ship is filled with “large plants and animal-like beasts in cages of light.”
Meanwhile, the school year is just about ending for Elliott and his siblings Michael and Gertie. They children are closer to each other thanks to their adventures, though there is an undercurrent of loneliness, as the three miss their alien friend. Their mother Mary – who is now dating the key-jingling scientist who led the government’s search for E.T. – is concerned and hoping that time will help ease her three children’s depression. On the roof of their home is E.T.’s improvised radio, still pointed out to space, listening for a message. (This is an idea from the first movie’s original ending. Some time after E.T. had departed Earth, we are shown Elliott, Michael and their friends sitting around the kitchen table. They are once again playing Dungeons & Dragons, but this time Elliot is clearly in charge of the game. The camera begins to rise away from the group, through the kitchen skylight to the roof where the radio is revealed pointed skyward. Although cut from release the scene did appear on the laserdisc and DVD release as an extra feature.)
Elliott soon gets a feeling that E.T. may have returned and he, along with Michael, Gertie and their friends head out to the forest clearing where E.T. left Earth. There they discover the alien’s ship and are captured. In perhaps a twist on the originals film’s capture and examination of E.T. by government scientists, the children are examined by Korel and the other extra-terrestrials. Korel also tortures Elliot for information about E.T., whose real name we learn is Zrek. It is during this torture that Elliot screams out for E.T.’s help, a plea that echoes through the woods and possibly up into the stars.
Back at Elliott’s home, Mary and Dr. Keys discover that the children are missing. Going up to the roof, they find a message on E.T.’s radio- “ET help Elliott soon.” The two rush out to the forest clearing.
E.T. finally arrives, freeing the children from their cages. He reprograms Korel’s ship to head for “a remote corner of the galaxy.” Elliott and E.T. have a tearful reunion before E.T. reboards his own mothership and again heads back into the stars.
While the treatment is obviously not much more than the skeleton of the proposed story, there are a few flaws inherent in the material. The biggest problem is that there isn’t much story material for a two hour film. Also, with the film’s title character, E.T., not appearing until the film’s climactic scenes, the movie runs the high risk of angering audiences who would be expecting him to be the focal point of the story.
The idea for the evil offshoot of E.T.’s race can be traced back to another unrealized Spielberg project Night Skies. Conceived as a follow-up to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Night Skies was to be the story of a family whose home is terrorized by aliens. Spielberg pitched the story to executives at Universal Studios as “Straw Dogs with aliens,” while screenwriter John Sayles, who had been hired to develop the script, has stated that he used the 1939 Henry Fonda western Drums Along The Mohawk as a model. Pre-production on the film had begun with up and coming special effects whiz Rick Baker designing the attacking aliens, when Spielberg decided to pull the plug on the project to instead concentrate on another story of aliens on Earth which would become E.T.. Spielberg would recycle the family-under-siege idea, substituting the aliens with the supernatural, for Poltergeist which he co-wrote and produced.
It wasn’t soon after the writing of the treatment that Spielberg decided to drop the idea of doing a sequel. Perhaps Spielberg realized that it would be a fool’s errand to try and follow-up one of the most critically well-received film of its time. As he was reported to have remarked at the time, a sequel to E.T. “would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity.” Frank Sanello’s biography Spielberg: The Man, The Movies, The Mythology reports the director saying a bit more pragmatically at the time “I’m not about to join the Wall Street generation.”