Steven Spielberg Talks ‘ET’ and More at TCM Classic Film Festival – Deadline
The long-awaited live-to-Hollywood return of the TCM Classic Film Festival arrived Thursday night with a big event: the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece AND The Extra Terrestrial. TCM has had to go virtual for the past two years, so getting back to normal with the four-day festival in the heart of Hollywood is welcome news, and the vibe was on point at Coachella for movie nerds. Sporting an all-new remastered Imax print, the beloved film has never looked better and was particularly impressive taking every inch of that giant screen at the TCL Chinese Theatre, where the gala took place.
Previously announced appearances by co-stars Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore failed to materialize as each was stuck with prior commitments and unable to make the trip, but other stars of the film, including Dee Wallace and Robert McNaughton, were also presented to the public. like several craftsmen who worked on the film, including editor Carol Littleton, production designer Jim Bissell, and sound designer Ben Burtt, among others.
But it was Spielberg’s presence that really got the crowd moving as he sat down for a 27-minute Q&A with primetime TCM host Ben Mankiewicz ahead of filming the film. Mankiewicz deftly weaved conversation through the early days of the multi-Oscar winner’s storied career, including his first studio job – which, at 22, directed none other than Joan Crawford in Rod Serling’s TV pilot. Gallery at night. This movie-loving audience of TCM’s golden age certainly enjoyed hearing about that, but Spielberg assured there was no evidence of any “Mommie Dearest” personality in his relationship with the screen legend; in fact, he pointed out that she installed Pepsi Cola machines (her husband at the time was a major player at Pepsi) and provided cast and crew 24/7.
There was also talk of his classic 1971 ABC TV movie Duel and a shrewd story about how the network paid for the reshoots so the truck could be shattered instead of the more subtle Hitchcockian approach the young director had shot. Of course pre-HEY classics Jaws (1975) and Dating of the Third Kind (1977) have been talked about, including Spielberg stating that casting great French director François Truffaut in the latter was one of the high honors of his career to date. He also admitted the next movie he did, the epic comedy 1941, was indeed a critical and box office failure but because it was so successful with the other films, the studio gave it carte blanche. He pointed out that for about 20 years it didn’t have a pretty reputation, but I saw it in a nice print at the American Cinematheque a few years ago and it really is a movie worth a second look. It was much better than I remembered – although, as Spielberg now says, “We did a comedy without laughing.”
Finally the conversation landed on all things AND, with many interesting reveals, including the fact that ET’s original voice was none other than Spielberg’s friend Debra Winger, who provided the voice for an early version. “The first 50 people I showed the movie to saw it with Debra Winger as ET,” he said. As always, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the end credits rolled. Check out the full conversation by clicking the link in the photo at the top of the post.
In this Q&A, Spielberg also talks about the infamous audition tape of Henry Thomas, who plays the lead role of Elliott. A scene reading of the script didn’t go so well, so they decided to ask young Thomas to improvise something after it was explained that the authorities were trying to kidnap a creature he had been hiding in the House. The rest is history. You can hear Spielberg’s voice confirming he got the job in the end. Check it here:
Spielberg returns to the festival tonight to help present (along with George Stevens Jr. and Margaret Bodde) the world premiere of Warner Bros and Film Foundation’s new 4K restoration of George Stevens’ Oscar-winning 1956 classic Giant, which starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean (in his third and final film). TCM recently announced that it has expanded its partnership with a multi-year financial commitment to The Film Foundation, which was founded by Martin Scorsese 30 years ago and has restored 900 film classics so far. Scorsese and his handpicked colleague Spielberg Giant for this restoration.
“Anything that claims to be called Giant better have the goods to deliver on such a lofty promise,” Spielberg said in a statement announcing the TCM Classic Film Festival premiere. “Edna Ferber and George Stevens have gone way beyond the title to bring such an epic American story to the big screen, and I’m proud to have been part of the team restoring this classic film.”
The new 4K restoration was completed by sourcing both original camera negatives and protective RGB separation positives for the best possible image and high dynamic range color correction for the latest in camera technology. image display. The audio is primarily from a 1995 copy protection of the Original Magnetic Mono soundtrack. Picture and sound restoration was carried out by Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services: Motion Picture Imaging and Post Production Sound.
Meanwhile, among other special highlights of this year’s festival will be the Sunday screening of the Oscar-winning 1952 western high noon, celebrating his 70th birthday in style at noon. Among those who introduced him will be star Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, who will then take the freeway to USC, where she will also talk about high noon at the USC School of Cinematic Arts screening for the premiere of its six-month-long Gary Cooper exhibit featuring all manner of artifacts from Cooper’s iconic career. She will join me on a post-film panel that also includes Amanda Foreman, daughter of the film’s screenwriter Carl Foreman, and Glenn Frankel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. Gary Cooper won his second Best Actor Oscar for the film, which might be even more timely now than when it was made.