In the pantheon of “fixing” films for modern-day audiences or “perfecting” them into a director’s true vision, there is no greater argument against doing this than “Maclunkey.” However, on a far smaller scale, though possibly more problematic, is the 2002 release of the 20th anniversary edition of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: In that film, which was painstakingly remastered for re-release, director Steven Spielberg made the inexplicable decision to censor himself by removing all the guns from the film and replacing them with walkie-talkies. While a small controversy at the time, the move made little to no sense given that no one in the world complained about there being guns in E.T., let alone the fact that none of them are even fired.
It seems that Spielberg himself now realizes it was kind of a dumb move, saying that he regrets the decision. “That was a mistake,” he said at the recent Time100 Summit (cued up below). “I never should have done that because E.T. is a product of its era. No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are, either voluntarily, or being forced to peer through.”
“I should have never messed with the archives of my own work, and I don’t recommend anybody do that,” he said, staring straight through the camera into George Lucas’ soul. “All our movies are a kind of a signpost of where we were when we made them, what the world was like, and what the world was receiving when we got those stories out there. So I really regret having that out there.”
The topic of re-editing one’s own films into something different isn’t truly a major cause for concern as it doesn’t really happen all that often, but Spielberg’s comments came up at a time when the works of authors like Roald Dahl and Ian Flemming are being updated for modern sensibilities. Clearly, Spielberg thinks that’s crap now, but 20 years ago he didn’t… or maybe, to paraphrase another one of his films, he just got caught up in the fact that he could and never thought about whether or not he should.
In case you’re wondering, current copies of the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on streaming platforms have the guns back in place, and Steven Spielberg is done censoring his own films.