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Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film stars Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban and Cary Guffey. It tells the story of Roy Neary, an Indianamarker electrical lineman, whose life changes after he has an encounter with an unidentified flying object. However, the United States government is also aware of the UFOs as is a team of international scientific researchers.

Close Encounters was a long-cherished project for Spielberg. In late 1973, he developed a deal with Columbia Pictures for a science fiction film. Though Spielberg receives sole credit for the script, he was assisted by Paul Schrader, John Hill, David Giler, Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins and Jerry Belson, all of whom contributed to the screenplay in varying degrees.

The title is derived from astronomer/ufologist J. Allen Hynek's classification of close encounters with aliens, in which the third kind denotes human observations of actual aliens or "animate beings".

Filming began in May 1976. Douglas Trumbull served as the visual effects supervisor, while Carlo Rambaldi designed the aliens. Close Encounters was released in November 1977 and was a critical and financial success. The film was reissued in 1980 as Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition, which featured additional scenes. A third cut of the film was released to home video (and later DVD) in 1998. The film received numerous awards and nominations at the 50th Academy Awards, 32nd British Academy Film Awards, the Saturn Awards and has been widely acclaimed by the American Film Institute. In December 2007 it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in National Film Registry.


In the Sonoran Desertmarker, French scientist Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) and his American translator David Laughlin (Bob Balaban), along with other government scientific researchers discover a lost squadron of World War II aircraft. The planes are intact and operational, but there is no sign of the pilots. Later, at Air Traffic Control in Indianapolis, Indianamarker, an air traffic controller listens as two airline flights almost have a mid-air collision with an apparent UFO. In nighttime Muncie, Indianamarker, three-year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey) is awakened when his toys start operating automatically. Fascinated, he gets out of bed and runs outside, forcing his mother Gillian (Melinda Dillon) to chase after him.

Meanwhile, during a nearby large-scale power outage, Indianamarker electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) experiences a close encounter with a UFO on a dark country road and is soon caught up in a police chase of four UFOs. Roy becomes fascinated by UFOs, much to the dismay of his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr). He also becomes increasingly obsessed with mental images of a mountain-like shape and begins to make models of it. Gillian also becomes obsessed with sketching a unique-looking mountain. Soon after, she is terrorized in her home by a UFO encounter in which Barry is abducted by unseen beings, despite her attempts at securing her house. Meanwhile, Roy's increasingly erratic behavior causes Ronnie to leave him, taking their three children with her. When a despairing Roy inadvertently sees a TV news program about a train wreck near Devils Tower National Monumentmarker in Wyomingmarker, he realizes the mental image plaguing him is real. Gillian sees the same broadcast, and she and Roy, as well as others with similar experiences, head toward the site.

Elsewhere in the world, the pace of UFO activity is increasing. Lacombe and Laughlin investigate a host of occurrences along with other United Nations experts. Witnesses report the UFOs make distinctive sounds: a five-tone musical phrase in a major scale. Scientists broadcast the phrase to outer space but are mystified by the response—a seemingly arbitrary series of numbers repeated over and over—until Laughlin recognizes it as a set of geographical coordinates pointing to Devils Towermarker. All parties begin to converge on Wyoming. The United States Army evacuates the area, planting false reports in the media that a train wreck has spilled a toxic nerve gas, all the while preparing a secret landing zone for the UFOs and their occupants.

While most of the civilians who are drawn to the site are apprehended by the Army, Roy and Gillian persist and make it to the site just as dozens of UFOs appear in the night sky. The government specialists at the site begin to communicate with the UFOs by use of light and sound. Following this, an enormous mother ship lands at the site, returning people who had been abducted over the years, including Barry. As the communication between the humans and UFOs continue using light and sound signals, the government officials determine to include Roy in a group of people whom they have selected to be potential visitors to the mothership, and hastily prepare him. As the aliens finally emerge from the mothership, they select Roy to join them on their travels. As Roy enters the mothership, one of the aliens lingers for a few moments with the humans. Lacombe uses Kodály Method hand signs that correspond to the five-note alien tonal phrase. The alien replies with the same gestures, smiles, and returns to its ship, which lifts off into the night sky.


  • Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary: An Indianamarker electrical lineman who encounters and forms an obsession with unidentified flying objects. Steve McQueen was Spielberg's first choice. Although McQueen was impressed with the script, he felt was not specifically right for the role as he was unable to cry on film. Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman turned down the part as well. Jack Nicholson turned it down because of scheduling conflicts. Spielberg explained when filming Jaws "Dreyfuss talked me into casting him. He listened to about 155-days worth of Close Encounters. He even contributed ideas." Dreyfuss reflected, "I launched myself into a campaign to get the part. I would walk by Steve's office and say stuff like 'Al Pacino has no sense of humor' or 'Jack Nicholson is too crazy'. I eventually convinced him to cast me."
  • François Truffaut as Claude Lacombe: A French government scientist in charge of UFO-related activities in the United States. Gérard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Lino Ventura were considered for the role. During filming, Truffaut used his leisure to write the script for The Man Who Loved Women. He also worked on a novel titled The Actor, a project he abandoned.
  • Melinda Dillon as Gillian Guiler: Barry's single mother. She also forms a similar obsession to Roy's, and the two become friends. Teri Garr wanted to portray Gillian, but ended being cast as Ronnie. Hal Ashby, who worked with Dillon on Bound for Glory, suggested her for the part to Spielberg. Dillon was cast three days before filming began.
  • Cary Guffey as Barry Guiler: Gillian's young child abducted in the middle of the film. Spielberg conducted a series of method acting techniques to help Guffey, who was cast when he was just three years old.
  • Teri Garr as Veronica "Ronnie" Neary: Roy's wife. She attempts to hide the radiation burn caused by Roy's exposure to the UFOs and wants him to forget his encounter with them. Amy Irving auditioned for the role.
  • Bob Balaban as David Laughlin: Lacombe's assistant and English-French translator. They meet for the first time in the Sonoran Desertmarker at the beginning of the film.

J. Allen Hynek makes a cameo appearance at the closing scene. Spielberg's friends Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins cameo as two World War II pilots returning from the mother ship. Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead also makes a brief cameo appearance among the masses in the Indianmarker crowd scene.


Track listing

All compositions by John Williams.

  1. "Opening: Let There Be Light" (0:49)
  2. "Navy Planes" (2:06)
  3. "Lost Squadron" (2:23)
  4. "Roy's First Encounter" (2:41)
  5. "Encounter at Crescendo Summit" (1:21)
  6. "Chasing UFOs" (1:18)
  7. "False Alarm" (1:42)
  8. "Barry's Kidnapping" (6:19)
  9. "The Cover-Up" (2:25)
  10. "Stars and Trucks" (0:44)
  11. "Forming the Mountain" (1:49)
  12. "TV Reveals" (1:49)
  13. "Roy And Gillian on the Road" (1:10)
  14. "The Mountain" (3:31)
  15. "Who Are You People?"(1:35)
  16. "The Escape" (2:18)
  17. "The Escape (Alternate Cue)" (2:40)
  18. "Trucking" (2:01)
  19. "Climbing The Mountain" (2:32)
  20. "Outstretch Hands" (2:47)
  21. "Lightshow" (3:43)
  22. "Barnstorming" (4:25)
  23. "The Mothership" (4:33)
  24. "Wild Signals" (4:12)
  25. "The Returnees" (3:45)
  26. "The Visitors/Bye/End Titles" (12:32)



The genesis of Close Encounters of the Third Kind started when Steven Spielberg and his father saw a meteor shower in New Jerseymarker when the director was a young boy. As a teenager, Spielberg completed the full-length science fiction film Firelight. Many scenes from Firelight would be incorporated in Close Encounters on a shot-for-shot basis. In 1970 he wrote a short story called Experiences about a lovers' lane in a Midwestern United States farming community and the "light show" a group of teenagers see in the night sky. In late 1973, during post-production on The Sugarland Express, Spielberg developed a deal with Columbia Pictures for a science fiction film. 20th Century Fox previously turned down the offer. Julia and Michael Phillips instantly signed on as producers.

He first considered doing a documentary about people who believed in UFO's, or a low-budget feature film. Spielberg decided "a film that depended on state of the art technology couldn't be made for $2.5 million." Borrowing a phrase from the ending of The Thing from Another World, he retitled the film Watch the Skies, rewriting the premise concerning Project Blue Book and pitch the concept to Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Katz remembered "It had flying saucers from outer space landing on Robertson Boulevard [in West Hollywood, Californiamarker]. I go, 'Steve, that's the worst idea I ever heard." Spielberg brought Paul Schrader to write the script in December 1973 with principal photography to begin in late-1974. However, Spielberg started work on Jaws in 1974, pushing Watch the Skies back.

With the financial and critical success of Jaws, Spielberg earned a vast amount of creative control from Columbia, including the right to make the film any way he wanted. Schrader turned in his script, which Spielberg called, "one of the most embarrassing screenplays ever professionally turned in to a major film studio or director. It was a terribly guilt-ridden story not about UFOs at all." Titled Kingdom Come, the script's protagonist was a 45-year-old Air Force Officer named Paul Van Owen who worked with Project Blue Book. "[His] job for the government is to ridicule and debunk flying saucers." Schrader continued. "One day he has an encounter. He goes to the government, threatening to blow the lid off to the public. Instead, he and the government spend 15 years trying to make contact." Spielberg and Schrader experienced creative differences, hiring John Hill to rewrite. At one point the main character was a police officer. Spielberg "[found] it hard to identify with men in uniform. I wanted to have Mr. Everyday Regular Fella." Spielberg rejected the Schrader/Hill script during post-production on Jaws. He reflected, "they wanted to make it like a James Bond adventure."

David Giler performed a rewrite. Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, friends of Spielberg, suggested the plot device of a kidnapped child. Spielberg then began to write the script. The song "When You Wish upon a Star" from Pinocchio influenced Spielberg's writing style. "I hung my story on the mood the song created, the way it affected me personally." Jerry Belson and Spielberg wrote the shooting script together. In the end, Spielberg was given solo writing credit. During pre-production, the title was changed from Kingdom Come to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. J. Allen Hynek, who worked with the United States Air Force on Project Blue Book, was hired as a scientific consultant. Hynek felt "even though the film is fiction, it's based for the most part on the known facts of the UFO mystery, and it certainly catches the flavor of the phenomenon. Spielberg was under enormous pressure to make another blockbuster after Jaws, but he decided to make a UFO movie. He put his career on the line." USAF and NASAmarker declined to cooperate on the film.


Principal photography began on May 16, 1976. Spielberg did not want to do any location shooting because of his negative experience on Jaws and wanted to shoot Close Encounters entirely on sound stages, but eventually dropped the idea. Filming took place in Burbank, Californiamarker, Devils Tower National Monumentmarker in Wyomingmarker, two abandoned World War II [airship] hangars in Mobile, Alabamamarker and the railroad depot in Bay Minettemarker. The homestead where Barry was abducted is located outside the town of Fairhope, Alabamamarker. Roy Neary's home is 1613 Carlisle Drive East, Mobile, Alabama. The hangars in Alabama were six times larger than the biggest sound stage in the world. Various technical and budgetary problems occurred during filming. Spielberg called Close Encounters "twice as bad and twice as expensive [as Jaws]". Matters worsened when Columbia Pictures experienced financial difficulties. Spielberg estimated the film would cost $2.7 million to make in his original 1973 pitch to Columbia, but the final budget came to $19.4 million.

Columbia studio executive John Veich remembered, "If we knew it was going to cost that much, we wouldn't have greenlighted it because we didn't have the money." Truffaut said it was producer Julia Phillips' fault that the budget escalated. Spielberg hired Joe Alves, his collaborator on Jaws, as production designer. In addition the 1976 Atlantic hurricane season brought tropical storms to Alabama. A large portion of the sound stage in Alabama was damaged because of a lightning strike. During filming, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond remembered, "Every night Steve watched movies and got more ideas. He added more shots to the shooting schedule, pushing it back. One crew member said, 'Steven, if you would stop watching those fucking movies every night we would be on schedule.'" Zsigmond previously turned down the chance to work on Jaws. In her book You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, producer Julia Phillips wrote highly profane remarks about Spielberg, Zsigmond, and Truffaut. She was fired during post-production because of cocaine dependency. Phillips blamed it on Spielberg being a perfectionist.

Visual effects

Douglas Trumbull was the visual effects supervisor, while Carlo Rambaldi designed the aliens. Trumbull joked that the visual effects budget, at $3.3 million, could have been made to produce another film. His work helped lead to advances in motion control photography. The mother ship was designed by Ralph McQuarrie and built by Greg Jein. Many of the model makers attempted comical objects in the UFOs. One was an oxygen mask with lights, while Dennis Muren put an in-joke from his work on Star Wars, using an R2-D2 toy. Since Close Encounters was filmed anamorphically, the visual effects sequences were shot in 70 mm film to better conform with the 35 mm film. A test reel using computer-generated imagery was used for the UFOs, but Spielberg found it would be too expensive since CGI was new technology in the 1970s. The small aliens in the final scenes were played by local girls in Mobile, Alabamamarker. That decision was requested by Spielberg because he felt "girls move more gracefully than boys." Puppetry was attempted for the aliens, but the idea failed. However, Rambaldi successfully used puppetry to depict the larger alien that communicates with Lacombe near the end of the film.


Close Encounters is the first collaboration between film editor Michael Kahn and Spielberg. Their relationship continued for the rest of Spielberg's films. When Kahn and Spielberg delivered the first cut of the film, Spielberg was dissatisfied, feeling "there wasn't enough wow-ness". Pick-up were commissioned but cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond could not participate. John A. Alonzo, László Kovács, William A. Fraker and Douglas Slocombe worked on the pick-ups. Lacombe was originally to find Flight 19 hidden in the Amazon Rainforest, but the idea was changed to the Sonoran Desertmarker. This was an important scene added in the re-shoots. Composer John Williams wrote over 300 examples of the iconic five-tone motif before Spielberg chose the right one. Spielberg called Williams' work as "When You Wish upon a Star meets science fiction". Spielberg wanted to have "When You Wish upon a Star" in the closing credits, but was denied permission. He also took 7.5 minutes out from the preview.

Musical Score

The score for this film emphasizes and highlights the dramatic theme of the movie by reflecting the spirituality of Richard Dreyfuss’ experience with the UFOs as well as the mystical attraction that he and Melinda Dillion have towards the spaceship. Furthermore, the score of the film is evocative of the peacefulness that the space travelers represent. The spaceship can be thought of as the central character and the film expresses the qualities of the central character. The “spaceship communication” motif in this 1977 movie is a very well-known theme that is derived from a motif. Five notes are used to create this motif and are used by scientists to communicate with the visiting spaceship. It became the primary focus of the scene in which the mothership communicates tonally with earth. Although rhythmically and melodically simple, it became a dramatic device and important musical statement throughout the entire film. This score is also modernist because Williams uses a bit of an aleatoric (improvised) rhythm in “Close Encounters” when the musicians improvise freely, but rhythmically, using only certain pitches. He uses this when the young boy is drawn away from the house to the spaceship. In this scene the strings are free. The particular orchestral setting that Williams used when composing this score adds to the theme of the “mothership” in this film.

Themes and antecedents

Film critic Charlene Engel observed Close Encounters "suggests that humankind has reached the point where it is ready to enter the community of the cosmos. While it is a computer interface which makes the final musical conversation with the alien guests possible, the characteristics bringing Neary to make his way to Devil's Tower have little to do with technical expertise or computer literacy. These are virtues taught in schools that will be evolved in the 21st century." The film also evokes typical science fiction archetypes and motifs. The film portrays new technologies as a natural and expected outcome of human development and indication of health and growth.

Other critics found a variety of Judeo-Christian analogies. Devil's Tower parallels Mount Sinaimarker, the aliens as Gods and Roy Neary as Moses. Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments is seen on television at the Neary household. Some found close relations between Elijah and Roy; Elijah was taken into a "chariot of fire", akin to Roy going in the UFO. Climbing Devil's Tower behind Jillian and faltering, Neary exhorts Jillian to keep moving and not to look back, similar to Lot's wife who looked back at Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt. Spielberg explained, "I wanted to make Close Encounters a very accessible story about the everyday individual who has a sighting that overturns his life, and throws it in to complete upheaval as he starts to become more and more obsessed with this experience."

Roy's wife Ronnie attempts to hide the sunburn caused by Roy's exposure to the UFOs and wants him to forget his encounter with them. She is embarrassed and bewildered by what has happened to him and desperately wants her ordinary life back. The expression of his lost life is seen when he is sculpting a huge model of Devil's Tower in his living room, with his family deserting him. Roy's obsession with an idea implanted by an alien intelligence, his construction of the model, and his gradual loss of contact with his wife, mimic the events in the short story "Dulcie and Decorum" (1955) by Damon Knight.

Close Encounters also studies the form of "youth spiritual yearning". Barry Guiler, the unfearing child who refers to the UFOs and their paraphernalia as "Toys", serves as a motif for childlike innocence and openness in the face of the unknown. Spielberg also compared the theme of communication as highlighting that of tolerance. "If we can talk to aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind," he said, "why not with the Reds in the Cold War?" Sleeping is the final obstacle to overcome in the ascent of Devil's Tower. Roy, Jillian Guiler and a third invitee climb the mountain pursued by government helicopters spraying sleeping gas. The third person stops to rest, is gassed, and falls into a deep sleep.

In his interview with Spielberg on Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton suggested Close Encounters had another, more personal theme for Spielberg: "Your father was a computer engineer; your mother was a concert pianist, and when the spaceship lands, they make music together on the computer", suggesting that Roy Neary's boarding the spaceship is Spielberg's wish to be reunited with his parents.



The film was originally to be released in summer 1977, but was pushed back to November because of the various problems during production. Upon its release, Close Encounters became a box office success, grossing $116.39 million in North America and $171.7 million in foreign countries, totaling $288 million. and it became Columbia Pictures' most successful film at that time. Jonathan Rosenbaum refers to the film as "the best expression of Spielberg's benign, dreamy-eyed vision." A.D. Murphy of Variety gave a positive review but felt "Close Encounters lacks the warmth and humanity of George Lucas's Star Wars". Murphy found most of the film slow-paced, but was highly impressed with the climax. Pauline Kael called it "a kid's film in the best sense." Jean Renoir compared Spielberg's storytelling to Jules Verne and Georges Méliès. Ray Bradbury declared it the greatest science fiction film ever made.

Reissue and home video

On the final cut privilege, Spielberg was dissatisfied with Close Encounters. "Columbia Pictures was experiencing financial problems, and they were depending on this film to save their company. I wanted to have another six months to finish off this film, and release it in summer 1978. They told me they needed this film out immediately," Spielberg explained. "Anyway, Close Encounters was a huge financial success and I told them I wanted to make my own director's cut. They agreed on the condition that I show the inside of the mother ship so they could have something to hang a campaign on. I never should have shown the inside of the mother ship." In 1979, Columbia Pictures gave Spielberg $2.5 million to produce what would become the "Special Edition" of the film. Spielberg added seven minutes of new footage, but also deleted or shortened various scenes so that the Special Edition was still three minutes shorter than the original 1977 release.

The Special Edition featured several new character development scenes, the discovery of the SS Cotopaxi in the Gobi Desert, and a view of the inside of the mothership. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition was released in August 1980, making a further $15.7 million, accumulating a final $303.79 million box office gross. Roger Ebert "thought the original film was an astonishing achievement, capturing the feeling of awe and wonder we have when considering the likelihood of life beyond the Earth. This new version is quite simply a better film. Why didn't Spielberg make it this good the first time?"

In 1998, Spielberg recut Close Encounters again for what would become the "Collectors Edition", to be released on home video and laserdisc. This version of the film is something of a re-edit of the original 1977 release with some elements of the 1980 special edition, but omits the mothership interior scenes as Spielberg felt that it should have remained a mystery. The laserdisc edition also includes a new 101 minute documentary, The Making of Close Encounters, which was produced in 1997 and features interviews with Spielberg, the main cast, and notable crew members.

There have also been many other alternate versions of the film for network & syndicated television, as well as a previous LaserDisc version. Some of these even combined all released material from the 1977 and 1980 versions, but none of these versions were edited by Spielberg, who regards the "Collector's Edition" as his definitive version of Close Encounters.

The film was finally released on DVD in June 2001. It was released as a 2-disc set that contained the "Collector's Edition". The second disc contained a wealth of extra features including the 101 minute "Making Of" documentary from 1997, a featurette from 1977, trailers, and a Deleted Scenes section that included, amongst other things, the mothership interiors from the 1980 Special Edition. James Berardinelli felt "Close Encounters is still unquestionably a great movie. Its universal appeal gave movie-goers something to be excited about during 1977–78 as the first in a wave of post-Star Wars science fiction films broke. Today, the movie stands up remarkably well. The story is fresh and compelling, the special effects are as remarkable as anything that CGI can do, and the music represents some of John Williams' best work." Emanuel Levy also gave a highly-positive review. "Spielberg's greatest achievement is to make a warm, likable sci-fi feature, deviating in spirit, tone and ideology from the dark, noir sci-fi films that dominated the 1950s and Cold War mentality. He ultimately succeeded."

Close Encounters was given a second DVD release and a Blu-ray Disc release in November 2007. Released for the film's 30th anniversary, this set contained all three major theatrical versions of the film from 1977, 1980, and 1998 and a new interview with Spielberg who talks about the film's impact thirty years after its release. The set also includes the 1977 featurette, various trailers, and the 1997 "Making Of" documentary - though this is now split over three discs rather than as a single feature as with the 2001 DVD release.

Based on 39 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 95% of the reviewers have enjoyed the film.


Shortly after the release in late-1977, Spielberg desired to do either a sequel or prequel. He explained, "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."

The film was nominated nine times at the 50th Academy Awards, but only Vilmos Zsigmond won the award for Best Cinematography. Other categories included Direction, Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Visual Effects, Art Direction (Joe Alves, Daniel A. Lomino, Phil Abramson), Original Music Score, Film Editing and Sound. An Academy Special Achievement Award was given though for sound effects editing. At the 32nd British Academy Film Awards, Close Encounters won Best Production Design, and was nominated for Best Film, Direction, Screenplay, Actor in a Supporting Role (François Truffaut), Music, Cinematography, Editing and Sound.

Close Encounters lost the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation to Star Wars, but was successful at the Saturn Awards. There, the film tied with Star Wars for Direction and Music, but won Best Writing. Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon and the visual effects department received nominations. Close Encounters was nominated for Best Science Fiction Film. The film received four more nominations at the 35th Golden Globe Awards.

When asked in 1990 to select a single "master image" that summed up his film career, Spielberg chose the shot of Barry opening his living room door to see the blazing orange light from the UFO. "That was beautiful but awful light, just like fire coming through the doorway." Spielberg continued. "He's very small, and it's a very large door, and there's a lot of promise or danger outside that door." In 2007, Close Encounters was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congressmarker, and was added to the National Film Registry for preservation. In American Film Institute polls, Close Encounters has been voted the 64th greatest film of all time, 31st most thrilling and 58th most uplifting.

Alongside Star Wars and Superman, Close Encounters led to the reemergence of science fiction films. In 1985 Spielberg donated $100,000 to the Planetary Society for Megachannel ExtraTerrestrial Assay.




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