LOS ANGELES — E.T., that beloved movie alien, has returned to Earth — to do a commercial.
Comcast, the owner of the Universal movie studio that distributed the creature’s blockbuster 1982 film, has placed him in a new longform commercial for the company and its broadband, cable and satellite products. In the ad, which debuted during the Thursday broadcast of the annual “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” on Comcast’s NBC, E.T. returns to see his friend Elliott.
The character is once again played by Henry Thomas, the same actor who portrayed him decades ago.
“The audience is going to get everything they want out of a sequel without the messy bits that could destroy the beauty of the original and the special place it has in people’s minds and hearts,” said Thomas, in a statement provided by Comcast.
The ad — more than four minutes long in some versions — marks a bold bet by the Philadelphia entertainment giant that it can use its revered intellectual property for commercial purposes without upsetting some fans who might blanch at the notion.
To be sure, a new generation of consumers does not have the same connection to the Steven Spielberg movie as some people who saw it in the early 1980s. Hearing the famous phrase “E.T. phone home” may prompt a current audience to ask why the alien won’t text. And E.T. has never been immune from marketing. After all, the placement of Reese’s Pieces in the original movie helped boost that then-new product to untold heights. But he’s never been explicitly used in this fashion in prior appearances.
The new ad, crafted by Omnicom Group’s Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, shows E.T. back on Earth once more, in a grown Elliott’s front yard. He hangs out with the man’s family, who show him how to surf the web with Comcast’s Xfinity and use an Xfinity remote to call up holiday movies on a big-screen TV. He helps Elliott’s kids fly on their bicycles, a nod to one of the most memorable scenes in the original. A graphic on-screen urges viewers to “Reconnect for the holidays.”
Comcast approached Spielberg with the concept, according to a person familiar with the matter, and secured his permission for the effort. The director, this person said, appreciated the theme of connection at holiday time. Spielberg was consulted throughout the process.
The spot will get prominent airing around the globe. Comcast said the ad will run through Jan. 5 in nine different versions for the United States and in different versions that tout the company’s Sky satellite service rather than Xfinity in Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy.