Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 1977
genre keywords: Drama
, and also, confusingly,
"air-traffic-controller", "clothes-on-shower", and "helicopter
", amongst others.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Spielberg, although the IMDB lists 4 uncredited writers as well.
Starring Richard Dreyfuss
as Roy Neary, François Truffaut
as Claude Lacombe, Melinda
as Jillian Guiler, and Teri Garr
as Ronnie Neary.
Music by John Williams
- he gets a special mention because music plays such an important
part in this film.
(Lacombe asks an elderly Mexican witness what he saw last night. The man's face is
sunburned, and he is crying tears of joy.)
Old Man: El sol salio anoche y me canto!
Translator: He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.
After several planes missing since 1945 suddenly appear undamaged in the desert, there is a
sudden upsurge in the number of UFO sightings. When Roy Neary has his own close encounter,
he becomes increasingly obsessed with them. He, and other people, begin having visions that
lead them to a strange place in the middle of nowhere, and they are all convinced that
something major is about to happen...
Why You Should Watch/Rent/Buy This:
Air Traffic Controller: TWA 517, do you want to report a UFO? Over.
There is no answer.
Air Traffic Controller: TWA 517, do you want to report a UFO? Over.
Pilot: Negative. We don't want to report.
Air Traffic Controller: Aireast 31, do you wish to report a UFO? Over.
Pilot: Negative. We don't want to report one of those either.
Air Traffic Controller: Aireast 31, do you wish to file a report of any kind to us?
Pilot: I wouldn't know what kind of report to file, Center.
When I was a kid, I thought this film was the most wonderful thing ever created. Funny, you
stick most kids in front of it now, they'll be bored shitless. Where are the big dinosaurs, the explosions, the CGI? And yes, Spielberg is
partly responsible for this, making his films bigger and brasher, turning kids away from his
earlier, more thoughtful work. This is an incredibly personal, beautiful piece of cinema,
made before summer movies got lazy, before blockbusters forgot how to entertain people.
But that doesn't matter. I don't care if kids don't like this. I love it. I love it the same
way I loved it back then. It's magical, joyful, scary, and fascinating. In this world,
lights are about a thousand watts brighter than they should be, cars are huge, chromed
monstrosities, America is full of large, suburban houses with mailboxes and huge expanses of
desert and oddly shaped mountains. The government really are trying to cover things
up, people really do vanish without trace, and UFOs really do exist.
From the spooky opening in the desert, with the ghostly planes looming up through the
sandstorm, right through to the amazing Devil's Tower National Monument finale, this just
feels right. Truffaut's optimistic character just wants to make friends with whatever
is out there. Neary is slowly losing his mind, trying to understand the message the aliens
have placed in his head. The scene in India where thousands of hands point straight up into
the air always makes me tingle, as does the moment when the mothership slowly cruises over
the top of the mountain. And it's not all joy and wonder, don't forget - Neary pretty much
goes mad and drives his family away. A single mother has her child stolen from her. There's
some dark, scary stuff between the bright lights.
The idea that the aliens communicate with music and lights is glorious, and I can't think of
a similar leap of imagination in any film ever since. There are so many standout scenes I
could mention: when the mothership first replies to the scientists, the light and sound
display when they finally understand each other, the tense drive through the fields of dead
livestock, the toys suddenly coming to life at night, Neary's first, terrifying encounter
which begins with the "car headlights" behind him going up instead of around, the even
scarier scene where Barry is taken, the family dinner scene, Neary's obsession with the
shape he sees in his mind, the revelation as to what the shape actually is, the hilarious
moment when Lacombe sees the people escape from the van but says nothing... I could go on,
but I'd just be listing every scene in the movie.
You've all probably seen this film fifty million times already, so I should be preaching to
the converted. But if, by some incredible chance (it's been on TV, like, twice a week for a
hundred years) you haven't seen this film - get thee hence to a DVD player, a widescreen
television, and a damn fine surround sound system. Now.
Special Edition/Director's Edition/Monkey Edition:
Laughlin: We didn't choose this place. We didn't choose these people. They were
Jesus H. Christ, this is complicated. Okay, here we go: When Spielberg finished the film,
he felt that he hadn't had enough time or money to do it properly. Tough shit SteveO, said
the suits, we need to release it. And so it came out in the cinemas, and did spectacularly
well (this version to be know from here on as the Original Version, which was 135 minutes
long). On the back of that success, Spielberg asked to be allowed to make the finishing
touches he needed. The suits said "Sure thing, SteveO, here's $2 million - but we want a
scene inside the mothership." Spielberg explained that the ending was better with the
mystery of not knowing, that nothing could top the audience's expectation, and that it would
merely be a crassly commercial ploy to make more money. The suits said "That's great,
SteveO, here's $2 million - but we want a scene inside the mothership." Spielberg sighed,
Once the new shooting was finished, 6 minutes of new footage went into the movie.
Spielberg also put in 7 minutes of stuff shot during the original shoot, stuff that hadn't
been included so far. So why is the Special Edition 3 minutes shorter than the
original? Spielberg removed 16 minutes from the original version. 7+6-16 = -3. The main
addition being, of course, the mothership interior scene, which consists of Dreyfuss gaping
in awe at some wicked cool Douglas Trumbull (2001) visual effects. This either improves
or ruins the movie, depending on your point of view. I think it works better without it,
preserving the mystery and wonder, but I can happily watch either version. So that's the
Special Edition, 132 minutes. With me so far?
When it was shown on television, a new cut was created, combining the original and special
editions, making a new 143 minute version. This is usually referred to as the network
television version. This was released on laserdisc (with the special edition scenes
tagged on at the end of the disc), but not on video.
In 1998 the "Collector's Edition" was released on video. At 137 minutes, this is a re-edited
cut of the original version. It didn't have the mothership ending, but it included 5 scenes
from the special edition.
In 1999, yet another version was made, for a screening for the American Film Institute's
100 Greatest American Films. This Director's Cut or Director's Edition has material from
the original and special editions, and the mothership ending is gone. Spielberg stated what
changes he wanted made, and this was followed to the letter. He didn't do it himself; he was
probably fed up with editing the film at this stage.
* A US TV channel (the Encore! channel) showed both versions separately, before joining them
together into a 3 hour version called "The Last Edition". Last edition? Don't you believe
The DVD release has the 137 minute Collector's Edition. It contains 11 deleted scenes (not
edited into the movie) which, as far as I can tell, have not appeared in any edit so far.
So which version is the "proper" version? According to Spielberg at the time, the Special
Edition was the one to watch. But then the Collector's Edition came out, which seemed to be
the definitive version - the AFI cut isn't, as far as I know, available. If you buy the DVD,
you'll get the Collector's Edition - extra scenes, original (no mothership interior) ending.
But you can probably watch any version and still be perfectly happy, to be honest.
For details of the changed scenes and other differences between all the versions, go here -
http://us.imdb.com/AlternateVersions?0075860 - it's where I got most of the version
information. But only go there if you really, really want to know. There's a
lot of text. Even more than this writeup.
Start with the tone.
Up a full tone.
Down a major third.
Now drop an octave.
Up a perfect fifth.
Those famous five notes: G,A,F,F(lower octave),C.
The music is very important in this movie, it's pretty much a major character in itself.
Despite this, and the all-pervading five note piece, there isn't that much music in the
film, compared to most others. Scenes where UFOs appear reply on natural sounds a lot -
crickets, etc - which would suddenly go quiet just before the UFOs appear. The score for
Close Encounters is John Williams' favourite of his collaborations with Spielberg.
Williams went through over three hundred different pieces before settling on the final five
note piece. Because it ends on an "up" note, the piece is unresolved, curious, a question
without an answer, a half-finished sentence. They didn't want to create something that could
be used as a jingle, it had to be unique, special. You could argue that they failed, as it
is probably one of the most recognisable pieces of music ever created.
Williams: "At one point we called a mathematician friend of Steven's and we asked him, "How
many five-note combinations exist within the 12 chromatic scale notes, given no rhythmic
variation at all?" And he called back and told us, "I've worked it out - it's about
134,000-odd combinations." Well, we'd got as far as 350, so we thought we'd better stop and
pick one of those. So we did that..." **
The 5-note musical greeting is now a part of popular culture. In Moonraker, it was the
tune the musical keypad played when the correct code was entered. I've also heard that it is
part of the smorgasbord of stuff we've sent out into space as a greeting to whatever is
out there, but this may just be wishful thinking.
Most Excellent Movie Trivia:
Lacombe: Mr. Neary, what do you want?
Neary: I just want to know that it's really happening.
From the movie's publicity material:
OF THE FIRST KIND
Sighting of a UFO
OF THE SECOND KIND
OF THE THIRD KIND
WE ARE NOT ALONE
Impressed by the natural performance of Barry (Cary Guffey), the little kid? Spielberg
went to all sorts of lengths to get natural, proper reactions from him, as opposed to the
precocious "I am a Child Actor!" abominations that we see a lot of the time. Crew members
were dressed up in gorilla suits, toys were waved around off camera, and Spielberg himself
reportedly hopped about in a rabbit suit for some takes.
The original script was written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver). This was, according to
all reports, very dark in tone. Spielberg changed it so much, Schrader felt it was
completely different to what he'd done, and so he asked to have his name removed from the
credits. Spielberg took the writing credit himself, so as not to leave the film without
The larger alien that emerges from the mothership was created by Carlo Rambaldi, who would
later create E.T.
Toby, Roy's son, is played by Justin Dreyfuss, Richard Dreyfuss' nephew.
The Major Benchley character is possibly a reference to Peter Benchley, who wrote
* Some of the crew members, including the makeup supervisor and two of the uncredited
writers, make short cameo appearances. Other cameos were real federal agents and
scientists for the scenes requiring, er, federal agents and scientists. *
Sources, cheeses, and fine wines:
* Trivia marked with a * comes from the IMDB, as does the cast information. Trivia not
marked may also appear in the IMDB, but I got it from other sources - memory, TV interviews,
and so on. I've tried to keep the trivia fresh, and not repeat things that most people
already know about the movie, but if you didn't know that there's an upside down R2-D2 on
the mothership, or that the aliens were played by kids, go to
http://us.imdb.com/Trivia?0075860 for a big-ass list.
** Quote from a 1997 Total Film interview, Issue 8
Other italicised quotes are from the movie itself.
Visit the mothership landing site! Or just go to the mountain where some of it was
filmed, if you're one of those boring people that think movies aren't real:
www.newyoming.com/DevilsTower - check out the cool photographs, too. I remember, as a kid,
being astonished to discover that it was a real mountain, and not an elaborate special
Visit www.ce3k.co.uk for tons and tons more trivia, info, articles, interviews,
links, images, and pretty much anything you want to know about the movie. Great website.
Alien Heart, the story by Philip Ridley in the Appreciation section, is superb.