The alien that won't stay dead
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
By Chris O'Neal 05/01/2014
As a child, the titular alien from E.T. the Extra Terrestrial frightened me. Not only does he resemble a sentient poo, but his creaky, groaning voice made for panic attacks late at night when the house settled or a vagrant wind disturbed a tree. The worst part of the film came when E.T. went ghost mode and turned into a white bugaboo. No amount of Reese’s Pieces could absolve my pure terror of the alien creature, and I was happy when he died.
Then one day my dad took me to the house of a friend who owned an Atari 2600 system. This must have been around 1989 because The Real Ghostbusters was on and I was content to cement myself in front of the television for a marathon. Until I saw it: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Video Game. Vague memories of being tormented by the creature rolled over me like the bicycle that Elliott and the alien monster flew off on, but my fascination with the even-by-1980s-standards ancient Atari technology won out.
In popped the cartridge, on came the system and, much to my surprise, a game that looked nothing like the alien turd of my nightmares. Just two-dimensional light green to dark green blobs and a patch of colors that somewhat resembled a rectangle. I suppose the point of the game was to move the alien in order to make contact with the colors, but I never did figure it out. Instead, I tried in vain to get the alien out of a corner and, after 20 minutes of struggling, gave up — and so did Atari, years ago.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Video Game was a massive financial flop for the company and had the potential to bring down the entirety of the budding video game industry. Acquiring the rights and producing the game yielded a loss of more than $100 million for Atari, and so the company buried them. Literally. Atari took the video game cartridges — some 700,000 remaining — and buried them in a landfill in New Mexico.
Or so was the theory. More like an urban legend. Speaking with other adolescent friends after my close encounter of the extraterrestrial kind, the largest kid of the bunch said that his dad had told him that his friend’s son had the same game but it was taken away by the government and buried in New Mexico. I believed him 100 percent.
Turns out, the big kid was right. Maybe not about the men in black, though.
Just last weekend, excavators uncovered a treasure trove of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Video Game in a landfill outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico, confirming the urban legend. The game’s creator, Howard Scott Warshaw, undoubtedly invited to the excavation as part of a documentary being filmed regarding the myth, was on hand to witness the event.
Of the hundreds of thousands of cartridges, none is in working condition, apparently, which may or may not be a good thing. If you were to phone a young Chris O’Neal in 1989 to ask if E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial should ever rear its ugly head in the new millennium, the conversation would go as follows.
You: Would you be happy to play E.T. again in 30 years?
Child Chris: No. He died and I’m glad he’s dead. He should stay dead and I’m sorry he came back to life in the movie, too.
Thirty years from now, folks may uncover thousands of copies of Duke Nukem Forever in a landfill somewhere in the desert. My advice: leave it be. Sometimes dead is better.
Chris O’Neal is on the lookout for juice boxes of Ecto-Cooler. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.