Steven Spielberg Regrets Editing Guns Out of E.T.: 'No Film Should Be Revised' for Changing Standards

Steven Spielberg famously — and awkwardly — replaced firearms with walkie talkies for the 20th anniversary theatrical release of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," and the results have been laughed about for two decades now.

Steven Spielberg is taking a stand for the integrity of a film and the era in which it was made, arguing against making changes to existing movie — after he did just that to “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” two decades ago.

In an attempt to be more sensitive to then-modern viewers, Spielberg digitally changed guns that federal agents were carrying into walkie talkies for one scene. It was awkwardly done, didn’t look great, and got everyone’s attention for all the wrong reasons.

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More than 20 years later, Twitter still likes to use this altered scene as an argument against trying to alter cinema classics. In the years since making the changes to his own classic, Spielberg has come to agree with them.

“That was a mistake,” the acclaimed director said during a master class at the Time 100 Summit, per Variety. “I never should have done that.”

He went on to say that his movie “is a product of its era.” Many film purists have argued this point in relation to many films far more controversial than guns in “E.T.,” including Disney’s stance of permanently vaulting “Song of the South” for it’s rose-colored depiction of the slave-era South.

“No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are, either voluntarily, or being forced to peer through,” Spielberg argued. He said that because the agents were “approaching kids with firearms exposed,” he decided to make the change, but he’s since “changed my own views.”

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“I should have never messed with the archives of my own work, and I don’t recommend anyone do that,” he said, directing these remarks to other filmmakers who may consider tweaking their films to suit constantly changing values.

“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,” he said, adding, “So I really regret having that out there.”

The discussion inevitably led to the headline-making news that the Roald Dahl estate and publisher will be making substantial changes to some of his most iconic work — including the WIlly Wonka novels and “James and the Giant Peach” — in an attempt to make them more palatable to modern audiences.

Discussing changes to pop culture has been around for decades now, dating back to decisions about what to do regarding early Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon shorts that had racist depictions of minorities.

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Should they be vaulted like “Song of the South” or, as Warner Bros. opted to do, prefaced with disclaimers warning about insensitive content, acknowledging that they are and have alwyas been wrong, and putting those artistic choices in the historic context of their day?

“Nobody should ever attempt to take the chocolate out of Willy Wonka! Ever!” Spielberg joked about the Dahl changes, before going on more seriously, “For me, it is sacrosanct. It’s our history, it’s our cultural heritage. I do not believe in censorship in that way.”

Spielberg has spoken out about his regrets before, acknowledging that he was “overly sensitive” to some reactions to the film before making the change. He also put the guns back in for the film’s 30th anniversary release on home media.

But don’t worry, those walkies will live on forever as a cautionary tale to others in cyberspace.


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