E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Book Adaptation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial The Movie and The Screenplay, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Fiction Affliction #4: E.T. was actually a botantist all along. Meanwhile, Elliott and Michael are casually assumed to be molesting their younger sister Gertie by their mother, who desperately wants to get laid.

“‘E.T. phone home my motherfuckin’ ass, bitch.” Made with Midjourney AI

E.T. and Me, a Brief History

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and I have some history. It was actually the very first movie I ever saw in the theaters. It was summer of 1982. I, along with pretty much everyone on planet earth, got swept into the theaters to see the story about the creepy raisin-wrinkled, potato-shaped alien puppet played by a 12-year old with no legs befriend some other annoying 12-year old boy who screams a lot.

I fell asleep. Not because the story was boring. Far from it. But because I was a newborn baby. I apparently conked out in my mother’s lap. She took me to the theater (I didn’t get in myself, of course). And you’re very welcome to all the adults who attended that viewing, who were no doubt worried about an infant screaming and crying and ruining their Steven Spielberg-directed experience, when in actuality I was quiet and took a nap the whole time. I was the best baby, by all reports.

But we’re not here to discuss the movie, or my infantile cinema exploits. We’re here to talk about the E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial book adaptation by a guy named William Kotzwinkle, of the movie (and screenplay) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial written by Melissa Mathison.

Coincidentally, this is the very first movie adaptation book I’ve ever read. And the fact that it’s of E.T., the first movie I ever saw, just makes that perfect. I might start reading more movie adaptation books in the future. They’re never things I’ve been drawn to read before, as they seem redundant, and even pointless. If a story has first been presented in a visual medium (and presented really well), what’s the point of reading the movie in a book? Unless you’re desperate for more details about the movie.

Overall, this “movie book” (“mook?” “boovie?”) was, let’s say reliable. Except for some weird spots, which I’ll get to in a moment.

“Cute cartoon E.T.” Made with Midjourney AI

E.T., A Somehow Cute Butt Nugget Jesus

If you are one of the five people who never saw E.T., or think E.T. is actually some annoying show for morons about entertainment news, then let me refresh your memory. E.T. is about a little alien who looks like a mishappen turd, who gets stranded on our planet, befriends a lonely adolescent kid, and then must escape evil government scientists who want to probe his anus, or do some kind of ghastly experiments on him, before finally getting picked up by his people in a giant spaceship that looks like a Boston album cover. The alien has a magic finger that glows and heals things, he can levitate objects, and has a “heart-light” in his chest that glows when he gets emotional. He’s E.T. The exact kind of grotesque, creepy butt nugget-monster you envision as the perfect alien hero in a kids movie.

Seriously, it’s crazy to me how something as ugly as E.T. ever worked on screen. He looks like he belongs in Eraserhead. You think of recent kiddie-friendly movie characters like Sonic the Hedgehog (after the VX artists fixed his face, of course), or Baby Yoda. Those are all certifiably adorable and very huggable alien creatures. Then you have E.T. Good lord. I guess Melissa Mathison was going for irony, or subverting expectations? I don’t know. But E.T. will never not look like nightmare fuel. It’s a testament to Steven Spielberg’s directorial powers that he was able to take a monster turd baby and turn it into Jesus Christ.

Anyway, Kotzwinkle’s mook/boovie expands on some of the mythos of the mysterious E.T., while adding in a little bit of weirdness and outright creepiness. For starters, E.T., or the “space traveler,” or the “voyager,” — he’s given a dozen different nicknames in the book — is a botanist by trade. His species visits different planets to explore plant life when it blossoms. He’s ten million years old, and appears plugged into the cosmic energy source. He can communicate telepathically. Or, at least he can send wavelengths of energy like a rod of plutonium to people around him. He’s immensely intelligent. And evidently, he doesn’t need to use the bathroom.

A Word on E.T.’s Diet and Magical Colon

Oh, yes. A word on E.T’s apparently magical digestive system. The three-foot tall alien spends a minimum of a few weeks in Elliott’s bedroom closet, and not once does the issue of him needing to expend bodily waste ever arise. So either E.T. teleports his organic refuse away from himself, or he expels it through his breathe, similar to how we humans expel fat.

That actually happens, by the way. We lose most fat through exhalation.

Additionally, E.T. seems capable of subsisting off of a diet of Reese’s Pieces, Oreo Cookies, Coke, and beer. You’d think a creature aged in the millions of years would have developed very specific and not-very-adaptable dietary needs. I mean, I’m only 40, and if I eat Mcdonald’s, my insides swell up like balloon animals, and I become racked with self-loathing for three days. But E.T. is able to adapt to a “balanced” diet of sugar and carbs that only a 12-year old human kid could tolerate. That may work in the movie, but in the book, I expected more info about E.T.’s alien physicality. Both in the interests of realism, and filling in the gaps of disbelief suspension that the movie effortlessly glides over. I’m not saying it had to be Michael Crichton-level, complete with a visual guide of E.T.’s insides. But more details would have been nice.

E.T., a Swiss Army Knife Character Who Talks to Plants

E.T.’s mysterious bowel and bladder operations aside, the tiny alien can also harness enough energy to destroy the planet. When E.T. is captured by government scientists after falling sick, he has a kind of transfiguration with “dragon forces” at the edge of the cosmos, which threaten to not only kill him, but channel enough power through him to destroy the earth. But E.T. stays his hand (or glowing finger) due to Elliott, the boy he has bonded with at that point.

All of that is fine and dandy. Until you get to E.T.’s Deus ex machina resurrection in the government lab. An event largely unexplained, save for a few lines about the life force of the universe or earth or something shining through, and reinvigorating the pint-sized alien back to health.

Earlier in the story, E.T. overhears Mary reading Gertie the scene from Peter Pan when Tinker Bell drinks poison and must be brought to life via audience participation. This serves as foreshadowing to E.T.’s later Lazarus moment, sure. But not really a satisfying explanation. You can have science or magic. But not both.

And here again, more details would have been beneficial. Like perhaps E.T. possesses the biochemical ability to synthesize sunlight into “energy packets” that he can store within his body and use later. Similar to a solar battery. That would explain his heart-light, his glowing finger, and his uncanny ability to survive off of junk food with no ill effects. It would also tie in thematically with E.T’s job as a botanist. Maybe the reason his species studies plants is beacause they share similar DNA. Or are creatures that descended from plants, evolving a higher consciousness over millions of years.

Plants even talk to E.T.. And not just the famous potted geranium he takes with him. Grass and cucumbers, too, who even share with him gossip on the strange human family he stays with.

There are some subtle environmentalist themes in E.T. that predate the Na’vi in Avatar. Except the E.T. alien species are deeply connected to nature on a wavelength level, rather than through USB hair plugs. They can commune with plants and animals, though not necessarily control them. E.T. hides from the family dog Harvey early on, grabbing a cucumber for use as weapon.

Here to sex you up. “E.T. with a cucumber.” Made with Midjourney AI

E.T., and the Strange Undercurrent of Perverse Sexuality

Speaking of firmly gripped stiff cucumbers, E.T. strikes up an amorous attraction to Mary, Elliott’s mom. The “willow creature,” as he calls her. Fantasizing himself as the man in her life, having honed in on the middle-aged mother’s poor romantic prospects. Even suffering a bout of self-doubt and incel inferiority when he considers how grotesque and ugly he is compared to the divine form of Mary.

If only he had a chance to show her what he could do with that magical glowing finger of his. Oh, how a steamy interspecies affair might have blossomed!

E.T.’s cougar wet dreams aside, I couldn’t help but notice (and be put off by) the bizarre hints of molestation and sexual impropriety throughout a book derived from a corny family movie. As I mentioned at the top, Mary seems to think it’s only a matter of time before her boys do something godawful to their little sister Gertie. And by godawful, I don’t mean stealing her dolly. The poor mother constantly frets about sex perverts in general. Sexual molesters and molestation are, in fact, mentioned multiple times. Here are just a few passages:

Page 35:

Either that, or a shy sex fiend had selected her vegetable garden in which to perform unnatural acts.”

Why? she wondered

Why me?

Page 53:

She dried off — and a dream of the recent night rose out of her morning fog: a dream about a man, but a very short man, with an enormous potbelly and a funny, waddling walk.

Must be the pervert.

Page 73:

“Oh, God…” She arose from the kitchen table. What savage ritual was her family enacting now? It sounded like they were pulling Gertie’s pants down. In twenty years, Gertie’d be trying to recollect it, on a psychiatrist’s couch.

Then, later, after Elliott kisses the girl in class, and gets brought into the principal’s office, there’s this little tidbit on page 194:

His predecessor [the principal’s] in the office had been a sexual offender, retired early after several private incidents in the supply closet became public.

What??? Why include such a random, sordid, and unnecessary detail like that? Especially in a scene in which an adolescent boy is left alone with an adult male in a school office? Why make the reader think about that when it has no context within the story?

By the way, the scene with the principal was originally shot for the movie, and even featured a cameo by Harrison Ford, before ultimately being cut. While Elliott was being lectured on the importance of good behavior, E.T. was supposed to telekinetically make the boy float up to the ceiling, shocking the principal.

Hey, enough movie trivia, let’s get back to sex perverts, please →

So, what the hell is the deal with the sexual molestation themes and mentions rife through the book? Even to the point of accusing main characters of perversions? It’s so out of place and odd. This is a story about a little alien befriending a kid and trying to get home. There’s nothing in that that would suggest the need, or signify the appropriateness, of a kiddie diddler theme. This isn’t Les Misérables, or something. A deep, profound, dramatic work exploring the dark underbelly of human nature.

The movie itself, of course, is glib, sunshiny, and corny as all get out, possessing nothing in its construction that would indicate even a subtle hint of a filthy molester theme. Maybe some of the teen kids joke about it. I don’t remember every line. But this sexual deviance aspect strikes me as something added by the adaptive author.

And its presence constitutes a mind-plaguing mystery.

Might it have been added in a crude attempt at dark humor? Perhaps. Sexual molestation maybe wasn’t taken quite as seriously in ’82 as it was later, and certainly is now. Hell, it wasn’t uncommon for grown men to date high schoolers back in the ’60s and ’70s. College professors sometimes openly dated their students. Sexuality back then was a wild thing, compared to today’s more puritanical, woke environment. You can thank AIDS, STDs, and social movements like the Moral Majority, and its left wing counterpart, #MeToo, and others, for the brick walling of America’s sexual energy. But back then, people were more relaxed and laissez-faire about lasciviousness.

It’s to the point where I have to wonder if Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison even looked at this book adaptation, and whether or not they gave the OK on its publication. Did they know about the added sexual molestation themes? If so, were they copacetic with the whole deal? Or did the studio just see the adaptation as another big wad of money, and didn’t give a flying fuck what the hell else might have been thrown in for some extra spice? Remember, at one point E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was the highest grossing film of all time. Even today, when factoring in inflation, it’s still in the top five releases ever. It was in theaters for a WHOLE year, for Christ’s sake. Who watches that film, and then goes, “Man, you know what would richly expand this finely woven nolstagic tapestry about the innocence of childhood and friendship? Sexual molestation.”

It truly boggles the mind.


So, what is verdict on the E.T. book adaptation as a whole? Hmmm…it’s a mixed bag. As a mostly faithful screen-to-text version of the hit movie, it’s kind of what you’d expect. As a book unto itself, lacking the context of the movie, it kind of sucks.

We jump around constantly between different character POVs, for instance. We’re in E.T.’s head, then Mary’s, then Elliott’s, then Harvey’s, then a whole bunch of other minor or far less interesting characters we don’t really care about. We also jump briefly into Keys’ (the antagonist) POV. Yes, I’m aware that sort of narrative is 3rd person “omniscient” POV. But for a story like this, I think it would have made more sense if we had been in Elliott’s perspective the whole time. Or perhaps E.T.’s. I think that would have grounded the story more in the realm of childhood, where it belongs.

Further, and this is my biggest issue with this book adaptation (aside from the molestation innuendos), is that it hardly expands on the mythology that the movie only hints at. A movie only has 120 minutes to convey a world. But even a short book may have 200+ pages. I wanted to learn more about E.T.’s background. We could have seen his childhood, or middle-age. Learned more about his species. We could have delved more into Keys and the government agency he runs that tracks extraterrestrial intelligence, which is a sort of precursor to Men In Black. Or at least learned the guy’s real name. We could have even seen Mary and her ex-husband when they were married. What caused the split in their marriage after so many years, and three children together? We also could have seen more from the perspective of the aliens still on the Mother Ship that left earth. What were they doing the whole time? When did they receive the signal from E.T.? Does E.T. have family of his own? Parents? Children? Cousins? Siblings? Like mentioned previously, we could have learned about what makes E.T.’s biology tick, instead of ascribing every one of his powers to essentially magic.

Not that E.T. ever conveyed much of a world beyond the boundaries of the titular alien and Elliott’s relationship. We don’t really have to know, of course. The whole experience is all about simulating the feelings of childhood in the viewers. But if you’re going to take the time with a book adaptation, why not go all out and at least come up with something clever?

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial the book adaptation doesn’t really add anything, so you’re best just sticking to the movie.

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