Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

“This means something. This is important.”

For the follow-up to 1975's blockbuster Jaws, director Steven Spielberg jumped genres, from horror/thriller to sci-fi, for 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg wrote the screenplay for the film, based on a book called The UFO Experience by one Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who appears in a bit part during the finale.

Muncie, Indiana, regular guy Roy Neary has a nice family, a nice house and a fine job as an electrician. But when the town’s electricity starts to surge and black out, everything changes. En route to the supposed source of the blackout, Roy stops to check a map and is honked at by a driver behind him. When another set of lights bears up on him, Roy tries to wave the car by…but it’s no car this time. The “head lights” hover into the air above his truck, and then dart away.

And so Roy's obsession begins. Despite the fact that half his face is sunburned from the lights and that wife Ronnie has found articles in the local papers that prove he’s not lying, Roy is fired, and things at home turn sour. Even though he knows that his mania is no laughing matter for his wife and kids, he can’t help himself.

Roy’s passion eventually brings him to others who have had their own close encounters. There's single mom Jillian, whose little son Barry is called on frequently then eventually kidnapped (remember the steel grate in the floor ominously lifting up as they come for him?) and whisked away in a UFO. There is also French researcher Claude Lacombe (filmmaker François Truffaut), who believes music is the key to communicating with the extra-terrestrials.

Lacombe's theory and Roy’s obsession culminate in the film’s finale, when both the scientists and the real folk enthusiasts meet near Devil's Tower, Wyoming, for the aliens’ landing ceremony. The US Government tries to ward people off with a claim of a nasty nerve gas leak, but Roy and fellow believers see through the cover-up, leading to a momentous endgame.

Like so many of the heroes in Spielberg films, Roy is a man-child who comes to realize that his dreams are worth pursuing, no matter how skeptical your loved ones and the outside world remain. To this end, the film is book-ended by references to Pinocchio—Jiminy Cricket’s wistful “When You Wish Upon a Star” plays on the Neary family television at the start of the movie, and is woven into the UFO finale as well.

Released the same year as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind forever raised the bar for special effects standards. Viewers had grown accustomed to suspending their disbelief in sci-fi films, trained to look past the fake-looking aliens and space hardware and just go along for the ride. But here, the otherworldly visuals didn’t look so fake anymore, and you didn’t have to consciously suspend anything. You saw things through the everyman hero Roy’s eyes, and like him, you believed. We really aren’t alone.

There was a smattering of pre-Tarantino pop culture references throughout the film, which added to the naturalism of this family and to the plausibility of this whole scenario. Days of our Lives yammered away on the tube, the kids ate the cereal and played with the toys of the time (which in Barry’s case, actually came to life, thanks to the aliens). Left-of-center culture popped up too, incidentally…in the opening sequence, which shows various images of close encounters and believers throughout the world, Jerry Garcia can be spotted in the chanting crowd at India.

Close Encounters was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for Best Cinematography. In 1980, the film was replaced by a 132-minute version, the “Special Edition,” for which Spielberg and company actually shot new scenes. This version was re-edited, with extra scenes showing the interior of the alien spaceship, and a tighter second act—a bit less of Roy at his nuttiest, as he starts building mashed potato mountains and shoveling dirt.

Yet another version of the film appeared on network television, combining scenes from both the original release and the special edition. To put any confusion to rest, Spielberg oversaw the creation of a "Definitive Director's Edition" in 1999, standardizing the close encounters that audiences would be having from that moment on.

Movie Release History

1977 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1980 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition

Movie Sub Categories

live-action
sci-fi/fantasy
drama

Movie Studio

Columbia, Sony

Cast

Roy Neary Richard Dreyfuss
Claude Lacombe Francois Truffaut
Ronnie Neary Teri Garr
Jillian Guiler Melinda Dillon
David Laughlin Bob Balaban
Project Leader J. Patrick McNamara
Wild Bill Warren J. Kemmerling
Farmer Roberts Blossom
Barry Guiler Cary Guffey
Brad Neary Shawn Bishop
Sylvia Neary Adrienne Campbell
Toby Neary Justin Dreyfuss
Robert Lance Henriksen
Team Leader Merrill Connally
Major Benchley George DiCenzo
Implantee Amy Douglass
Implantee Alexander Lockwood
Ike Gene Dynarski
Mrs. Harris Mary Gafrey
Ohio Tolls Norman Bartold
Larry Butler Josef Sommer
Reverand Michael J. Dyer Himself
Highway Patrolman Roger Ernest
Military Police Carl Weathers
ARP Project Member F.J. O'Neil
ARP Musician Philip Dodds
Returnee #1 Flt. 19 Randy Herman
Returnee #2 Flt. 19 Hal Barwood
Returnee #3 Flt. 19 Matthew Robbins
Air Traffic Controller David Anderson
Air Traffic Controller Richard L. Hawkins
Air Traffic Craig Shreeve
Air Traffic Bill Thurman
Air East Pilot Roy E. Richards
Federale Eumenio Blanco Hawker Gene Rader
Federale Daniel Nunez
Federale Chuy Franco
Federale Luis Contreras
Radio Telescope Team James Keane
Radio Telescope Team Dennis McMullen
Radio Telescope Team Cy Young
Radio Telescope Team Tom Howard
Truck Dispatcher Richard Stuart
Load Dispatcher Bob Westmoreland
Special Leader Matt Emery
Special Forces Galen Thompson
Special Forces John Dennis Johnston
Dirty Tricks #1 John Ewing
Dirty Tricks #2 Keith Atkinson
Dirty Tricks #3 Robert Broyles
Dirty Tricks #4 Kirk Raymond

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