Finally! A Look At The NIGHT SKIES Aliens By Rick Baker
NIGHT SKIES has been something of a curiosity for a few friends and me for many years. For those of you that don’t know, Spielberg’s E.T. actually started out as a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The story goes that Spielberg heard of a report about a Kentucky family that was terrorized by a group of aliens in the 1950s and he was interested in showing that side of extraterrestrials. Sure you get lured in with the friendly waving and music, but then what?
In April 0f 1980, with Spielberg producing, Rob Cobb (conceptual artist, production designer of Conan the Barbarian) was set to direct a script by John Sayles know then as Close Encounters 2. Later it became Night Skies, a film that would rely on 11 unique, believable, extraterrestrial designs. John Landis suggested Spielberg talk to Rick Baker, who was then working on An American Werewolf In London. When the two met to discuss the project Spielberg described a script along the lines of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs with creatures that needed distinct personalities. Baker was eventually given character descriptions. A few were Scar (a badass), Squirt (a cute little guy) and Buddy ( a creature like the eventual E.T.).
Well, while off shooting Raiders of the Lost Ark and melting Nazis Spielberg found he was having doubts about such a hostile alien story. Melissa Mathison was in Tunisia visiting her boyfriend, Harrison Ford, and Spielberg talked to her about a different type of story involving a little, lost, friendly alien. She apparently wept. Previously this tactic had been used to get out of speeding tickets. This time it really paid off!
When the shoot wrapped in October of 1980 Spielberg met with Baker and told him he had changed his mind. Gone were the 11 intricate creatures he had been working on. Gone was the Sayles script. Gone was Ron Cobb. It was time to redesign a cute, nice alien for a Melissa Mathison script to be directed by Spielberg himself. It seems that budget and timing, due to his commitment to Landis on Werewolf, kept Baker from what would eventually become E.T.
So, at long last, I no longer only have an artist rendering from the “Letters” section of Cinefantastique Volume 13, Number 4. Rick Baker, the make up fx master himself, has posted some of the creature designs from Night Skies on Twitter.
Is this why Carlo Rambaldi shit talked an unnamed effects crew to Time magazine back in 1982? Is this why Baker was not given permission to publish pictures after the E.T. media blitz began? There are a lot of similarities in design alone. Who knows how much of the mechanics Baker developed for Night Skies made their way to E.T. too.
So a curiosity from my youth has some concrete answers from the 10 time academy award nominee, seven time Oscar winner himself. Follow @therickbaker on Twitter for more photos from his amazing career.
UPDATED 5/25 : More photos continue to be shared from @therickbaker after this article was published. They have been added here along with the drawing from Cinefantastique’s “Letters” section mentioned in the article.