Steven Spielberg Slams Woke Edits to Hollywood Classics, Including His Own

(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

“I never should have done that,” to E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Oscar-winning movie director Steven Spielberg told the Time 100 summit earlier this week. He was referring to politically correct digital edits he made for the movie’s 20th anniversary re-release.


In one of the original edit’s most chilling moments, kids are seen making their escape with E.T. on bicycles, pursued by armed federal agents with an interest in the alien creature. Back in 2002, Spielberg used digital effects to replace agents’ pistols and rifles with harmless — and silly-looking — walkie-talkies. A scene of genuine drama was turned into a mood-destroying giggle in order to please “modern sensibilities.” That’s a move Spielberg now regrets, and more recent home video releases have the original scenes restored.

“No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are either voluntarily or being forced to peer through,” Spielberg explained.

Steven Spielberg Slams Woke Edits
Apparently those rifles were just too triggering for the kids of 2002. (Screencap courtesy of Universal Pictures.)

“For me, it is sacrosanct. It’s our history, it’s our cultural heritage. I do not believe in censorship in that way,” he said, according to the Daily Mail writeup of the conference.

But here’s where I’m going to take small issue with one of my favorite directors (West Side Story and Ready Player One excepted, of course):

I should have never messed with the archives of my own work, and I don’t recommend anyone do that. 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.


Sometimes a director feels he didn’t get it quite right on the first edit. A perfect example is one of my favorite movies, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. The troubled production of that film is worth a movie all its own — in fact, it was — and Coppola ended up having to leave a lot of precious footage on the cutting room floor.

Coppola tried to rectify that with his 2001 re-edit, Apocalypse Now Redux. But with a runtime of three hours and 16 minutes — 44 minutes longer than the original — it was just too long. The added and lengthened scenes added much for the diehard fans like me but, in the end, Redux dragged.

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The third time must be the charm, though. Coppola tried again in 2019 with Apocalypse Now: Final Cut and at a comparatively trim three hours, he found the right balance between restored footage and pacing. This, at long last, was the Apocalypse Now audiences should have been treated to in 1979.

But there was never any memory-holing: if you preferred the original edit to the Final Cut, or even Redux, you can still watch them. Best of all, Coppola personally oversaw the 4K remastering of all three films into a single 2019 release. It’s a delight for fans who want to witness the progression and evolution of the director’s vision.

That’s unlike some other directors I could mention [cough, George Lucas, cough].


No one will ever watch the classic Star Wars trilogy again. Lucas destroyed the original edits during the creation of the “Greedo Shoots First” so-called “Special Editions.” Lucas was never a good editor, as his 1997 re-dos prove. It was his first wife, Marcia, who saved 1977’s Star Wars from ignominy with the fast-paced edit that established Han Solo as the perfect rogue. The only way to watch the original is if you still have a low-quality VHS version stashed somewhere in the basement.

George should never have been allowed to butcher and memory-hole the originals, but they were “his” films, even if the finished product was in vital ways the work of others like Marcia.

Spielberg himself released two further edits of his 1977 classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The 1979 Special Edition wasn’t all that special, actually. Showing Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss in one of his best and most difficult roles) wandering around the interior of the alien spacecraft at the end sullied the mystery and wonder of Spielberg’s first edit. But, like Coppola, Spielberg nailed it on the third try with the 1998 Director’s Cut.

Again, unlike what Lucas did to Star Wars, all three of Spielberg’s cuts are available for purchase in a single Blu-Ray release. No history has been erased.


But there’s a vital distinction I haven’t mentioned yet.

Sometimes, when a director goes back to revisit and re-cut a movie, it’s to correct defects that might have bothered them for years. That’s fine and, speaking as a viewer, it’s an education in moviemaking, being allowed to compare the original to something closer to the director’s vision.

But altering a movie’s meaning to please modern sensibilities, like Spielberg did with the federal agents in E.T.‘s 2002 release — that’s nothing but digital vandalism, a trashing of our culture.

It makes my heartlight shine to read that Spielberg has come down firmly on the side of free expression and, perhaps with someone of his stature doing so, more writers and directors will follow.


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