Steven Spielberg Regrets Making One Major Mistake in E.T.
Spielberg removed guns from the 20th anniversary edition
Director Steven Spielberg has warned filmmakers not to repeat a mistake he made himself: Censoring films in hindsight. Spielberg removed guns from the 20th anniversary edition of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, replacing the weapons carried by federal agents as they pursue the children sheltering the titular alien. He ultimately restored the guns for the 30th anniversary edition. Read on to find out what else he said about editing films to fit current sensibilities during a master class at the Time 100 Summit in New York City this week.
Films "Signpost" of "What the World Was Like"
"No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are either voluntarily or being forced to peer through," said Spielberg, whose 1982 film was a critical and commercial smash and is now considered a classic. Films are "a signpost of where we were when we made them and what the world was like," he said. For the 20th anniversary re-release, Spielberg digitally removed the guns brandished by authorities. "I never should have done that," he said, the UK Times reported.
"I was sensitive to the fact that the federal agents were approaching kids with firearms exposed and I thought I would change the guns into walkie-talkies," he explained, according to the Times. "Years went by and I changed my own views." Films are products of their own time, Spielberg said, expressing regret that he "messed with the archives of my own work." He advised other filmmakers not to make the same mistake. "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. "So I really regret having that out there."
"I Do Not Believe in Censorship That Way"
Spielberg was asked about a recent example of the phenomenon in the literary world. Recently, the publisher of Roald Dahl's classic books announced that certain references that are considered offensive today would be removed or changed. "Nobody should ever attempt to take the chocolate out of Willy Wonka. Ever," he said. "For me, it is sacrosanct. It's our history, it's our cultural heritage. I do not believe in censorship in that way," the director added.
The Roald Dahl Controversy
In late February, Penguin's British division Puffin Books announced that they had teamed up with "sensitivity readers" to publish new editions of Dahl's books. These versions removed words like "fat," "ugly," "black," "white," and "crazy" to make them less offensive by modern standards. Controversy erupted, with critics and literary figures decrying the move. Author Salman Rushdie called it "absurd censorship" and said the publisher "ought to be ashamed." Penguin soon announced there were no plans to change the texts in the U.S.
Online Commenters Respond
"Spielberg is 100% right. Pandering to the sensibilities of the easily upset or offended, whether in books, film, TV or any other medium, just leads to infantile blandness. Give a content warning if you must, but otherwise, artists, hit us as hard as you like and keep us awake to the harsh realities of life," one online commenter said about the director's talk at the Time 100 event. "We can thus look forward to all guns, aeroplanes, ships and tanks being removed from every WW1 & WW2 movies. Oh and while they're at it, Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito: there, everything's nice now," another wrote. "On current sensibility it should have the kids with m16's shooting up the town," another said.