Rick Baker Night Skies aliens

After Close Encounters of the Third Kind became a hit, Columbia Pictures wanted a sequel. Director Steven Spielberg did not, but the one thing he wanted less than a sequel was for Columbia to make one without him. So he set about developing a much darker, horror-tinged film that would act as a follow-up to Close Encounters. It was originally called Watch the Skies (which was also an early Close Encounters title) and eventually referred to as Night Skies. John Sayles scripted, and Rick Baker was hired to design the alien concepts.

Rick Baker has been posting images of his designs on Twitter, and they’re wonderful to see. Several will look very familiar, too. Because while Night Skies was never made, concepts from the film ended up in several other Spielberg projects. E.T. adopted several big ideas from Night Skies, and films such as Poltergeist and Gremlins took concepts and pointers. (A theater marquee seen in Gremlins also advertised Watch the Skies.) See more below.

Here are Baker’s tweets, which give a bit of context for each image. The full-size images are in the gallery below.

There’s some rich movie history there. Not just in the fact of the designs themselves, but in what they channel (actor Edward G. Robinson seems to have been a big influence) and in what they influenced. The E.T. links are obvious. It was while Baker made these concepts, as Spielberg was making Raiders of the Lost Ark, that the director decided he needed to do something less dark than Night Skies. He has said,

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.’”

That led to Spielberg reading the Night Skies script to Harrison Ford’s then-girlfriend Melissa Mathison. She would go on to write E.T.

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