Abandoned Sequels: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND 2: NIGHT SKIES - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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When we didn't make contact...

In late 1977, after the successful reception of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Steven Spielberg expressed interest in filming a sequel or a prequel. Columbia Pictures certainly wanted another installment. After all, on its initial release Close Encounters Of The Third Kind grossed $288 million worldwide, becoming, at the time, the studio's most successful film to date.

However, in 1978 Spielberg changed his mind, refusing the idea of continuing the story of Roy Neary, the everyday blue-collar worker played by Richard Dreyfuss, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object, or anything else connected directly to Close Encounters because the filmmaker felt that...
"The army's knowledge and ensuing cover-up is so subterranean that it would take a creative screen story, perhaps someone else making the picture and giving it the equal time it deserves."
But, Spielberg also didn't want Columbia to make a sequel to Close Encounters without him, which had just happened with Universal Pictures' 1978 sequel to his first big-hit, Jaws, so he came up with a compromise. as the director had been dissatisfied with the final cut of Close Encounters (Columbia were experiencing financial problems, and were depending on this movie to save their company, which it did, so had refused Spielberg's request for additional filming time) he suggested a new director's cut of the film to satisfy the now-contracted sequel obligation. Columbia agreed on the condition that he show the inside of the mothership, and so in 1979 gave Spielberg $1.5 million to produce what became the "Special Edition" of the film.

As well as this additional filmed footage/newly edited release, Speilberg also suggested developing a horror film for Columbia, which would be Close Encounters-like in nature. Initially titled Watch the Skies (which had also been a working title for Close Encounters), the story would be based on the 1955 Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter, where a Kentucky family claimed that they had been terrorised by gremlin-like aliens. Columbia eagerly agreed to this too.

In Spielberg's original treatment for Watch the Skies, eleven malicious extraterrestrial scientists try to communicate with chickens, cows, and other livestock in an attempt to discover which of Earth's animal species are sentient, before turning their unwelcome attentions on a human family and dissecting their farm animals.

Spielberg approached Lawrence Kasdan to flesh out his Watch the Skies treatment into a fully-fledged script, but Kasdan passed as he was too busy writing The Empire Strikes Back, so Spielberg turned to John Sayles (who had written Joe Dante's Roger Corman-produced Jaws spoof Piranha, which Spielberg had loved). Due to "Watch the Skies" already having been registered as the title for another film, the first draft of the screenplay, completed mid-1980, was renamed Night Skies, with Sayles citing his inspiration as the 1939 film Drums Along the Mohawk and the 1956 John Wayne film The Searchers - western takes on the base-under-siege genre.

Sayles screenplay featured five aliens (cut down from Spielberg's original eleven) including Scar (named after a Comanche Indian badguy in the The Searchers), Squirt, and Buddy, who was kind and befriended the human family's autistic son. Sayles's script opened with Scar (who was described in the script as "a real badass", having a beak-like mouth and eyes like a grasshopper's) killing farm animals by touching them with a long bony finger which gave off an eerie light, and ended with Buddy, marooned on Earth by his mean-spirited peers, cowering under the shadow of an approaching hawk.

Word first got out that Spielberg was developing an "equal" to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind when NASA announced that the filmmaker had paid to reserve cargo space for the 1980 inaugural Space Shuttle flight, in order to film the Earth and Moon from orbit for the new opening sequence. Spielberg admitted a film was in development but revealed that, as he was under contract to direct his next movie for Universal, he would be producing Night Skies but not directing it. Instead, Spielberg suggested that Tobe Hooper, best known for directing and co-writing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, take the helm, with Night Skies set to begin shooting after Spielberg returned from filming Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

During the location filming for Raiders, Spielberg chose make-up and special effects master Rick Baker (who at the time was also working on John Landis's An American Werewolf in London) to design and create the alien creatures for Night Skies. Baker built a working prototype of the lead alien that cost $70,000 and thrilled Spielberg and co-producer Kathleen Kennedy when they saw a videotape of it. Spielberg instructed Baker to continue creating all the aliens for the film.

With so much work done, and everyone involved appearing so enthusiastic, why didn't Night Skies ever go before the camera? Well, it seems the production of Raiders Of The Lost Ark was causing Spielberg to have second thoughts about Night Skies. In Niel Sinyard's 1987 book The Films of Steven Spielberg, he's quoted as saying...
"I might have taken leave of my senses. Throughout [the production of] Raiders, I was in between killing Nazis and blowing up flying wings and having Harrison Ford in all this high serialized adventure, I was sitting there in the middle of Tunisia, scratching my head and saying, 'I've got to get back to the tranquillity, or at least the spirituality, of Close Encounters.'"
While on the set of Raiders, Spielberg read the Night Skies script to screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who was there to see her then-boyfriend and future husband Harrison Ford) and she cried after hearing it because,
"...the idea of an alien creature who was benevolent, tender, emotional and sweet... and the idea of the creature's striking up a relationship with a child who came from a broken home was very affecting."
Spielberg and Sayles parted amicably in late 1980, the filmmaker deciding to close the door on Night Skies and together with Mathison begin planning a new concept. Mathison dubbed this film ET and Me, but 18 months later it would be known to audiences all over the world as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. A film that would dethrone Star Wars as the highest grossing movie of all time, a title it held for a decade.

However, that was over a year and a half away, and in January 1981 not everyone was happy with Spielberg's new direction. Rick Baker had by now spent $700,000 on unused Night Skies designs, models and animatronics, and had a huge fight with Spielberg, which led to Carlo Rambaldi (who had previously designed alien creatures for Close Encounters) doing creature designs for E.T..

John P. Veitch and Frank Price, the then-president of Columbia's worldwide productions and the-then president of Columbia Pictures, were also both very unhappy with the emergence of ET and Me and Spielberg's decision to drop his horror themed concept, categorically stating they did not want to make "a wimpy Walt Disney movie".

Unperturbed, Spielberg approached his long-time friend and then-president of MCA, the then-parent company of Universal Studios, Sid Sheinberg. Sheinberg negotiated a deal, essentially buying the "ET and Me project" from Columbia, repaying them the $1 million that had been used thus far to develop Night Skies/E.T. and offering Columbia 5% of the eventual film's net profits. John P. Veitch later said that,
"I think that year we made more on [E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial] than we did on any of our films."
Although Night Skies as a film would never reach production status, it directly inspired several other Steven Spielberg pictures released in the years shortly after its development. As well as E.T., the treatment was paramount in the development of Poltergeist which kept the family set-up and changed the alien concept to the paranormal, plus saw Spielberg hire Tobe Hooper to direct.

After E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial massive success, Spielberg and Mathison's proposed E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears, another sequel Spielberg had a change of heart about during production. Had it gone into production, the film would've been a more horror-tinged sequel akin to Night Skies with malicious, animal-mutilating cousins of E.T.

Gremlins then took the Night Skies concept of having one innocent and kind member of a species of otherwise mean-spirited creatures, and also included an early easter egg in the form of "Watch The Skies" being advertised on a movie theater marquee, co-billed with "A Boy's Life", the working title for E.T.

In 2014, Rick Baker would release images of the aliens he created for Night Skies, and although his falling out with Spielberg saw him have no involvement in the eventual production of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial it's clear to see just how much of an influence his designs were for the titular character...

So even though Steven Spielberg abandoned his sequel to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, it never abandoned him, and the film's legacy lives on in several other of his classic movies.

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