The story I'm about to relay began, I believe, in 1983. After E.T. waltzed out of theaters and into the hearts of America, nobody was really ready to let the guy drift off into the Neverland of once-popular movie characters who only pop up years later in calling plan commercials or conversations among the high. E.T. was special, and few wanted to let him go. Steven Spielberg caught on to that, and with his moral head held high, he used E.T.'s extended popularity for charitable purposes. In this case, the Special Olympics.
Now obviously, E.T. and the Special Olympics ain't PB and J. It was an intriguing mix -- a little tough to swallow, but engaging all the same. A percentage of the sales from E.T. videocassettes went to these Olympics, and while that would've been more than sufficient considering the supermoogawoog millions made in tape sales, Spielberg wasn't finished. So, the public wanted more of E.T., eh? A "sequel" of sorts? Fine, that's just fine. Steven would give them a sequel, and to be nice, he'd even broadcast it on network television for free. There were just two small catches, though. First, the sequel would only be half a minute long. Second, the storyline would revolve around E.T. frowning at challenged kids who couldn't do a high jump. The second one was the bigger catch.
It's something we don't see much of anymore -- honest, genuine charity. Okay, maybe E.T. isn't really a celebrity, but assuming he was for a moment, picture what'd it take for him to do something like this in today's world. We're obviously too image conscious, a trait so blatant and forefront that we've got no choice but to openly admit it. So much riding on every decision -- one false move and you're branded a "fucker" for fucking forever. The only way E.T. would do something like this in today's society is if he needed to perform some damage control on a previous assault charge. The point is this: even if what I'm about to show you is rooted in stupidity, it's still an admirable thing. The "Special Olympics" are a can't-lose charity for people who want to be do-gooders. I don't care if you're just wearing a cheap felt ribbon in support -- if you mention the "Special Olympics," you just sound so completely virtuous. Hell, I feel like a better person just by typing it. Try it out, it's incredible. Special Olympics Special Olympics Special Olympics. I bet I'd grow a halo if I kept that up for ten minutes.
I sometimes forget that there's plenty of stuff I've come across yet to be mentioned on the site -- believe me, E.T.'s done a lot of strange shit. The movie is relatively bulletproof, but the alien himself has this aura of blasphemy around him. You've got E.T. record albums voiced by Michael Jackson, complete with a fold-out poster of the two stars holding hands. You've got an Atari game so championed for its awfulness that the sordid tale about thousands of unsold copies being buried in a New Mexico desert still prevails today. You've got Coors Light's promotional past littered with flyers featuring a bartender-themed E.T. getting absolutely toasted. Deep within that shell of niceness and goodwill, E.T.'s always chosen the rebellious roads.
So, while we should judge what we're about to see on its clear merit, it's hard not to view this as another of E.T.'s attempts to thumb his nose at the obvious. This guy could've done anything. Carson, afternoon talk shows, the evangelist circuit -- all the money spots could've been his. Instead, he's chosen to follow up that legendary movie with...well, this...
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The commercial begins with E.T., hiding in the bushes, watching some kid practicing his jumping skills for the Special Olympics. That's not speculation, either -- the kid's wearing a "Special Olympics" t-shirt, complete with some kind of wacky insignia that looks like a group of stick figures with six arms each. Having six arms seems more like a plus than a handicap to me, but what do I know? Anyway, Little Tim is really, really bad at this whole jumping gig. Kid just has no hangtime at all -- you'd think they'd break down and enter him into the baton race instead, but I guess that'd be kinda defeatist considering what the competition was meant to represent.
Again and again, Tim keeps falling down. He just can't make it over that pole no matter how hard he tries. They were actually treading into pretty morbid territory with the "challenged kid fails at spots" montage, but to be honest, he's still leaping with five times the skill of yours truly. Not that this should be surprising -- after all, I haven't left this chair since 1996. Well, once I did, but only because the pizza guy couldn't understand the map I taped to the door with directions to my desk. Getting back on track, the commercial makes you feel sort of uneasy, because that's what we're sort of taught to sort of think when watching mentally or physically challenged kids trip onto the ground forty times in a row. If nothing else, at least it got your attention.
And with your attention held, they prepared to hurl a major curveball. Right after watching this poor kid repeatedly smack his head against the safety mat, you find yourself staring at a voyeuristic extra-terrestrial...
Yup, it's the real deal -- E.T. retains the great creature effects and humanoid movements he displayed in the movie, only this time, he's using those lifelike qualities to express concern for his makeshift home team's chances at winning the Special Olympics. Frowning and teary-eyed, E.T. caps off the Montage From Hell with a more subdued type of angst, making this commercial just about the most depressing thing I've ever seen. Think about it: the alien looks miserable even when he's just eating trails of candy -- can you imagine how down he appears in reaction to the Kid Who Could Not Jump? Daughters standing aside their fathers' caskets would do better in livening up a party.
I've included a download following the review so you can check it out for yourselves, and trust me, I'm not overstating things. The first half of this ad delivers more sadness than a thirty-second video featuring hordes of puppies getting run over. Fortunately for those on the verge of breakdown, we're about to head down a more uplifting track. E.T.'s all about helping people, right? That's his thing, isn't it? Well, maybe -- maybe he can offer Little Tim a tip on how to jump two feet off the ground without potentially fracturing his spine. As the alien finally exists the sanctity of the bushes for his holy mission, you can clearly read the thoughts behind his expressions: "this kid has enough problems!"
So Tim's sitting there, all depressed and shit. His coach insisted that he "did fine," but really -- we all saw what happened. It was brutal, a pitiful display. The Special Olympics wasn't gonna live up to its name with that kind of performance. At least not in a good way.
Besides, that coach is always so reassuring -- sort of loses its effect after a while. There's only so many times that Coach Smith could tell Tim that falling on his left ear was doing a "good job," so by this point, his opinions were kinda moot. What Tim needs is a new voice of support -- someone who doesn't seem to have any vested interest in sparing his feelings, and preferably, someone who has a really cool extending neck and a heart that lights up.
E.T. waddles up to Tim, sits beside him, and while he doesn't offer anything in words, the alien's mere presence seems to sprinkle hints of positivity into Tim's otherwise bleak outlook. You know, in watching the commercial, you'll notice that there really doesn't seem to be anything "wrong" with Tim -- it's definitely not one of those "shock spots" that makes you realize what's going on in the world by showing you the subject at its grittiest bottom line, but on the flipside, it's a smidge easier to brush off since Tim looks like any old white kid who can't jump. To make the spot work, the audience needs some sign of Tim's plight, no matter how small. I think we just got it.
Some freaky brown monster just crept up and sat next to him on a bench, pointing its ghastly fingers around like pistols and grunting like the ass of a gorilla. Damn kid didn't even flinch. Now we know he's handicapped somewhere.
In the end, the ploy worked. E.T.'s comforting gaze and creepy handshake reinstall a sense of pride in Little Tim, and he's once again ready to take on all comers in the Special Olympics. He's gonna take home that gold trophy AT ANY COST. These are the lessons E.T. teaches, hear them and learn them, live them and eat them.
Believe it or not, this ad was immensely successful in its day. Actually, I think it touched the public so much that they even included the clip on one of the E.T. DVDs -- though not the regular versions, rather one of the Special Limited Collector's Foil-Laced Remastered Califragilistic Mega Editions. You know, the ones that cost more. The pics used in this article come off a tape from its original airing, smacked between a commercial for Friendly's and a commercial where someone's not going to pay a lot for their muffler. Let me tell you -- time stands still when you're watching this thing. Granted, it only stands still for a few moments, but it's still time standing still and time standing still is still something. I feel bad for typing 'still' so many times there, so I guess I should make myself feel like a better person again. Special Olympics Special Olympics Special Olympics!
Works every time -- I'm telling you, it's incredible.
Anyway, Timmy goes to the Special Olympics and Timmy wins the Special Olympics. It's the feelgood experience of a lifetime.
Off in the distance, E.T. beams with pride. He's helped Tim overcome his unfortunate demons, and somehow, this has enabled the boy to jump much higher than he formerly could. The spot was played and replayed for months, and given the public's fascination with E.T., it brought more attention to this particular cause than most anything else possibly could've. Strange skits featuring aliens hiding in bushes and depressing montages notwithstanding, that's all that really counts. He's not the most likely spokesperson for the topic at hand, but hey, whatever works.
Obviously, our friendly little space creature ain't quite the star he used to be. That's routine, but even the allure of his past was hurt a bit with the anniversary celebration and subsequent re-release in more recent years. For the millions spent on "retouching" the film and the gagagillions spent on advertising, there was a hefty amount of empty seats in the theaters with "E.T." marquees outside of 'em. The prematurely assumed merchandising blitz that never really arrived left E.T.'s investors with oodles of unsold toys that the stores still can't unload, and while the celebration probably ended with a little more black than red, it was far from a success worthy of such of defining flick. Or some shit. I don't even know what I'm talking about here. I hate last paragraph wrap-ups. I think I was getting at something about E.T.'s unfortunate slide down pop mountain, but I keep scrolling back to that "kid falls down" montage and losing my concentration. Here's the video clip, I think you'll understand my dilemma...
Enjoy, it's a doozy. The clip will make you lose all sense of who you are and who you've been, leaving you in a daze where nothing seems right and better judgments are obscured. That's my justification for the following. It makes me feel better about it.
Special Olympics Special Olympics SPECIAL OLYMPICS!!!!!!!
RETURN TO X-E!