The new short, directed by Lance Acord, debuted on Thanksgiving morning and has circulated widely both online and on linear TV. It promotes Comcast’s Xfinity broadband and video service, though the screen time for the brand is limited. Henry Thomas, who played Elliott in the original film, returns in the concept that E.T. returns to Earth to visit Elliott now that the boy has grown up and has a family of his own. (Because Universal owns E.T., the property could be mobilized fairly easily once Spielberg gave his blessing.
“It’s Steven Spielberg’s baby,” Thomas said in the making-of the featurette. “He’s very particular about this film. So I’ve always viewed any attempt to revamp the character or showing it in a different context as a thing that’s never going to happen.”
Much of the new featurette shows how the E.T. character was brought to life by the crew in a blend of old and new techniques. Instead of an animatronic creature, the alien is a “rod puppet,” moved around the set by puppeteers who later were wiped away from the finished footage via computer means.
Acord said relying more heavily on CG for the main character would have been problematic. “The tactile presence of the puppet” elicited more realistic performances from the cast, he said, especially Elliott’s children, who play in the snow with E.T. and sit on the couch watching movies through Xfinity.
In Spielberg’s work, Acord said, “He’s not afraid to really go to a place that’s sentimental, that’s emotional. So really, the homage would be, can we create an emotional story in such an abbreviated telling?”
Many Easter eggs are included in the reunion film. A framed photo of the family dog and a recreation of the jury-rigged device that activated the Speak & Spell toy and helped E.T. communicate with his home planet are among many nods to the original.