EXCLUSIVE: A short film reuniting the creature from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Henry Thomas, who played Elliott in the 1982 Steven Spielberg film, is premiering Thursday on NBC, Syfy and on the website of Comcast Xfinity. You can watch it above.
Titled A Holiday Reunion, the film has a running time of a bit more than four minutes. It shows E.T. returning to Earth and reconnecting with Elliott, who now has a wife and two children who bear a striking resemblance to a young Thomas and Drew Barrymore, who played Elliott’s sister, Gertie. Along with nodding to signature elements from the original, the film briefly plugs Xfinity. (“It’s called the Internet,” Elliott’s son explains to E.T. “A lot’s changed since you were here,” his father notes.)
A two-minute version aired on NBC’s broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and also will be included in movie theater pre-shows during the long holiday weekend. Syfy will play the longer version during linear airings of the original E.T. on Thursday evening. A 30-second edit will run during ad breaks of not only NBC’s primetime NFL telecast but also NFL games on CBS and Fox, and then across the dial throughout the holiday season.
The campaign is slated to air through January 5, accompanied by presence in the retail stores of Xfinity, a broadband and video platform serving 31 million U.S. households.
“The audience is going to get everything they want out of a sequel without the messy bits that could destroy the beauty of the original and the special place it has in people’s minds and hearts,” Thomas said.
E.T. played for months in theaters, grossing $359 million in the U.S. and another $304 million internationally en route to nine Oscar nominations and four wins. Subsequent re-releases of the film have boosted its worldwide cumulative gross to nearly $800 million. Spielberg at one point pondered some ideas for a sequel but soon moved on, sensing too much creative risk in trying to top a classic.
The filmmaker responded favorably, though, when the idea of an E.T.-centered reunion around the theme of “connection” was pitched by Comcast’s ad agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Spielberg never took the creative controls but was consulted throughout the process.
Lance Acord, an accomplished cinematographer known for films like Lost in Translation and Adaptation, directed A Holiday Reunion. He has specialized in recent years in directing commercials, earning numerous awards for distinctively cinematic spots like The Force for Volkswagen and Misunderstood for Apple.
On a corporate level, the promotion allows Comcast to present its portfolio of businesses in a single, synergistic initiative. The company declined to specify a budget for the film, but it is certainly not a cheap-looking affair. It combines a cornerstone Universal Pictures property with Comcast’s marquee broadband and video platform, delivering the message via NBCUniversal networks and Comcast digital properties. In the UK and Western Europe, Sky branding and devices will be substituted for Xfinity. Comcast bought the leading international satellite operator in 2018 for $40 billion, outbidding Disney and wresting control of a signature Rupert Murdoch property. Sky’s technology is the backbone of Peacock, a major new Comcast streaming service launching next April.
In A Holiday Reunion, “Our goal is to show how Xfinity and Sky technology connects family, friends and loved ones, which is so important during the holidays,” said Peter Intermaggio, SVP for Marketing Communications, Comcast Cable. “The classic friendship between E.T. and Elliott resonates around the world.”
Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of GS&P, said the aim was to de-emphasize geek talk. “People don’t care about technology inherently,” he said. “They care about the way it connects them to other people. This story is an emotional reunion between two characters we know and love. It’s a perfect story for the holidays at a time when our emotions are very close to the surface.”
Long before E.T. cemented his place in Hollywood, Spielberg made clear his suspicion of the nascent concept of franchise building by stepping away from Jaws after its initial installment. In a 45-year career directing features, just four of his films have been sequels. Nevertheless, even before shooting began on his reunion, Thomas understood why the director had embraced the idea of revisiting E.T. “Looking at the storyboards, I could see exactly why Steven was really behind it,” he said, “because the integrity of the story isn’t lost in this retelling.”
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