E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was a huge hit in 1982, and its titular character quickly eked out a gigantic slice of pop culture pie, becoming immortalized with everything from dolls to tricycles to the worst Atari game ever made. To some degree, any movie star slash cute creature with that much success would be expected to have a deep run of product spin-offs, but with E.T., I’m constantly surprised by just how deep the merchandising went. Case in point: Dude had vitamins.
E.T. Vitamins arrived in 1983, and while I was probably old enough to pick and choose my own toys and video games by that point, I probably wasn’t of age to really give a shit about my personal vitamin brand. I was born and bred on grape-flavored Barney Rubbles, but it’d stand to reason that at least a few E.T. maniacs were down with their daily allowance of iron being delivered in the shape of E.T.’s weird head.
The product would be totally irrelevant if not for its absurd commercial. In it, E.T. sneaks into some family’s house and leaves a package of his vitamins on the breakfast table. When the groggy kids descend from the top floor with eggs on the brain, they act like it’s fucking Christmas morning, running to the table with smiles as wide as spaceships, in total disbelief that they are the proud owners of E.T. Vitamins. I could understand the brouhaha if they caught the alien in the act, but E.T. was long gone by the time they got down there. Here, watch the commercial. Can you justify someone making that much of a fuss over a pack of vitamins? No, you cannot.
Upside: The commercial is brilliant from a production standpoint. Working from a limited budget, its creators had no access to a real E.T. puppet or costume, cleverly using silhouettes and one measly light-up prop finger to suggest his presence. It totally works. Took me three views to realize that I hadn’t once seen any aliens.
I just hopped into my neighbor’s DeLorean and picked up a batch of the good stuff, and as you can see, the true merit of eating E.T.’s vitamins was in owning the wicked E.T. figural thingamajig that came with it. It’s not quite an action figure, but it’s still more than just a bottle.
Strangely, you can’t detach the figure from the bottle by any natural methods. This meant that any kid who pined for E.T. Vitamins also forced their parents to make room for a giant, ugly E.T. figure in the medicine cabinet. If a little boy subscribed to the theories of animism, he’d have a hard time reconciling the fact that poor E.T. had nobody to talk to besides a bottle of Tylenol and a couple of half-eaten Rolaids packs. No wonder he wanted to go home so badly.
The vitamins came in four flavors, and each had a different E.T. scene printed on top, ranging from his iconic finger-point, to the iconic bicycle-over-the-moon, to a not-so-iconic random spaceship that looked less like E.T.’s flying car and more like a gladiator helmet. Of course, I’m using the pictures on the back of the package for reference. Can’t use the vitamins, as they’re speckled and rancid, and smell not unlike a bucket of tar mixed with oyster sauce.
It’s hard for me to write about E.T., because every time I do it, I get all teary thinking about how much I want E.T.’s “Glow Blasts” Chips Ahoy cookies. They don’t make those anymore. I’m sad now. Bye.