A few weeks back, a Comcast commercial disguised as an E.T. reunion hit the web, showing the lovable alien returning to earth to reunite with a now-adult Elliott (played by original actor Henry Thomas) and his kids. The reason for his return journey is never quite made clear, but he sure does get to see how the offerings of cable companies have grown since 1982. The ad may have been a crass way to bring the character back to life, but any sort of sequel or reboot would probably be just as cringeworthy and packed with even more product placement.
It’s hardly the first time that someone tried to cash in on the E.T. craze. The movie was such an enormous success in 1982 that stores were flooded with bootleg E.T. T-shirts, dolls, keychains, jewelry, and pirated VHS tapes.
“MCA/Universal has filed 25 lawsuits, has more than 260 cases under investigation, and has won a preliminary injunction against a company that sold a half-million phony E.T. dolls,” People reported that year. “Of particular concern are the illegal videotapes, which the filmmakers fear will cut into box office receipts as E.T. is distributed around the world. In Britain, where the film opened last week, as much as half the potential audience may have already seen it on bootlegged tapes.”
The lawyers for MCA/Universal probably never imagined they’d have to go after Neil Diamond, too, but that’s what happened after his song “Heartlight” hit the airwaves in September 1982. He wrote the tune with his friends Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach after they saw the movie together at a New York theater. The song never mentions the movie by naming of any of the characters, but the title refers to the moment near the end when E.T.’s heart illuminates as he’s saying goodbye to Elliott. The lyrics essentially tell the broad strokes of the film from the perspective of Elliott, down to the bicycle ride “across the moon.” (Here’s the original video for “Heartlight.”)
The song hit Number Five on the Hot 100 (Diamond’s last song go that high to this day), but MCA/Universal felt he was cashing on their property. Diamond likely would have won in a court battle since the song is so vague, but they wound up settling out of court for a reported $25,000.
“Heartlight” fell out of Diamond’s set list in the late Nineties, but it made a triumphant return as the final encore of his 2015 world tour. It lit up hearts every single night and no slick movie-studio lawyers could take that away from him.