What David Lynch Got Right About E.T. Creator Carlo Rambaldi

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 13 2012 2:57 PM

R.I.P. Carlo Rambaldi, Creator of E.T.

Carlo Rambaldi with ET
David Lynch suggested that Carlo Rambaldi put his own likeness into his creations.

Photo of Carlo Rambaldi in 2010 by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Special effects master Carlo Rambaldi, creator of E.T., died in Italy on Friday. Rambaldi won Oscars for best visual effects for Alien and E.T., and a special achievement award for his work on the 1977 King Kong.

Rambaldi’s job was to take the fantastical visions of others and find a way to bring them to life, and at this he was a virtuoso. His depictions of mutilated dogs for the Italian film A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) were so convincing that they landed director Lucio Fulci in court on charges of animal cruelty. Fulci was saved from two years in prison when Rambaldi demonstrated his animatronic creatures in court, showing that no animals had been harmed.

While Rambaldi made his reputation in the blood-soaked horror films of Italian directors like Fulci and Dario Argento, his masterpiece was the title character for E.T. After director Steven Spielberg spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an earlier prototype that never measured up, Spielberg turned to Rambaldi. Rambaldi worked between 15- and 20-hour days to finish the creature, which—in its various incarnations—was capable of over a hundred different movements.

Artists are often thought to live on in their creations, but this may be almost literally true with Rambaldi. Rambaldi created the alien creatures for David Lynch’s Dune, and in a later interview Lynch said that he thought that he could see Rambaldi—not just his sensibility, but his likeness—in his creations:

I have a theory about Carlo Rambaldi: He always builds himself. And so, somehow, the Navigator looks to me a bit like Carlo Rambaldi. And E.T. looks exactly like Carlo Rambaldi!
Advertisement

While Rambaldi certainly also looked outside himself for his designs—Spielberg suggested that the alien’s face should be a combination of a newborn baby and the eyes of Albert Einstein, while its butt should waddle like Donald Duck’s—but looking at the two together I can’t help but see a resemblance. Similarly, while no one would want to be compared to one of Rambaldi’s gassy, spongy Navigators, Lynch may have been onto something.

Regardless, there’s no better way to remember Rambaldi than by watching the magic of his creations. Rambaldi himself even said that, no matter how aware he was of the strings that pulled his puppets, the illusions still moved him. Speaking of E.T., he said, “When I finally saw the finished movie, even I cried a little.”

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.