Saturday 7 December 2019

Pat Stacey: Sky Christmas ad with E.T. just tramples on a movie classic

Pat Stacey wishes E.T. had stayed home...

Sky's Christmas ad 2019
Sky's Christmas ad 2019
Sky's Christmas ad

Thirty-seven years after he first melted the hearts and troubled the tear ducts of cinemagoers the world over, the wrinkly, saucer-eyed star of Steven Spielberg’s beloved classic E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is back on screen, albeit only for a few minutes.

The adorable little alien surprised everyone when he turned up on TV last week in Sky’s Christmas advert – although if you want to be pedantic about it, it’s actually a tweaked version of an American ad for TV and wifi provider Xfinity, which is also owned by Sky’s parent company Comcast.

In what’s being cynically touted as a mini-sequel, E.T. pays a visit to see his old pal Elliott, played by the now grown-up star of the film, Henry Thomas, at Christmas.

“You came back!” cries Elliott, who then introduces him to his own family. Elliott’s kids then introduce E.T. to all the wonderful technological marvels that have been invented since he was last here: the internet, virtual reality headsets and, of course, Sky’s movie channels.

“Show me Christmas favourites,” says Elliott into his voice-responsive remote, as they all snuggle up on the sofa to watch a seasonal film.

Later on E.T. uses a little holographic device to shows Elliott his family back on his home planet. I’m pretty sure the device isn’t available in the shops this Christmas.

After that, the ad shamelessly recreates a couple of iconic scenes from the film as E.T. and Elliott’s kids fly through the night sky on their bikes, silhouetted against the moon, and have an emotional farewell on the mountain.

“I’ll be right here,” croaks E.T., giving Elliott’s son the little holographic gadget. If the kid has any brains, he’ll patent the thing immediately.

I say the ad “surprised” everyone. In my case, however, a more appropriate word would be “appalled”. It’s not the first time famous films have been hijacked to sell things in TV adverts.

A 1990s Ford ad spliced together footage of Dennis Hopper driving a Ford Cougar and scenes of him riding his chopper in Easy Rider, creating the illusion he was racing his younger self.

At least Hopper was still alive to consent to his anti-establishment film being used to flog cars, and also to collect the cheque for selling out.

Poor old Steve McQueen had no such choice. He was long dead when another advert used early, wobbly digital effects to yank him out of the cool, Highland Green Ford Mustang Fastback he drove in Bullitt and put him inside a Ford Puma.

But the E.T. abomination is the most egregious example of this sort of thing we’ve seen so far. Spielberg’s 1982 classic is the most adored family film of all time, as well as the one from the director’s oeuvre that’s closest to his heart. It’s a film about the innocent wonder of childhood. This is a quite nauseating exercise in the worst kind of cynical button-pushing.

Far from conjuring up heartwarming memories of the original, as many on Twitter have claimed, it sullies it. If you want heartwarming memories, watch the bloody film.

Apparently, Spielberg was “consulted” before the ad was made. But that doesn’t mean he had the power to stop it happening. Universal owns the rights to the film and its characters, and is itself owned by – you guessed it – Comcast. We’ll never know what Spielberg truly feels about having his beloved film crapped on from a height.

He’s repeatedly said he’d never make a sequel to E.T. And yet, at one point in his career he briefly considered doing just that. During E.T.’s first cinema run, Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for a sequel called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. It would have seen Elliott and his friends being kidnapped by evil aliens and eventually rescued by E.T.

The document has been floating around on the internet for a while now. Frankly, it reads like a horror movie scenario.

Luckily, Spielberg changed his mind almost immediately, feeling a sequel would spoil the magic. If only Comcast, Sky and Henry Thomas felt the same.


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