Close Encounters of the Third Kind (sometimes abbreviated to CE3K and often referred to as just Close Encounters) 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, a lineman in Indiana, whose life changes after he has an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO). The United States government and an international team of scientific researchers are also aware of the UFOs.
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 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 35th Golden Globe 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 the National Film Registry.
In the Sonoran Desert, French scientist Claude Lacombe and his American interpreter, mapmaker David Laughlin, along with other government scientific researchers, discover Flight 19, a squadron of Grumman TBM Avengers that went missing over thirty years earlier. The planes are intact and operational, but there is no sign of the pilots. An old man who witnessed the event claimed “the sun came out at night, and sang to him.” They also find a lost ship in the Gobi Desert named SS Cotopaxi. At an Air Traffic Control center in Indianapolis, Indiana, a controller listens as two airline flights almost have a mid-air collision with an apparent unidentified flying object (UFO). In Muncie, Indiana, three-year-old Barry Guiler is awakened in the night when his toys start operating on their own. Fascinated, he gets out of bed and discovers something or someone (off-screen) in the kitchen. He runs outside, forcing his mother Jillian to chase after him.
Investigating one of a series of large-scale power outages, Indiana electrical lineman Roy Neary experiences a close encounter with a UFO, when it flies over his car and lightly burns the side of his face with its bright lights. The UFO along with three others are pursued by Neary and three police cars, but the spacecraft fly off into the night sky. Roy becomes fascinated by UFOs, much to the dismay of his wife, Ronnie. He also becomes increasingly obsessed with subliminal, mental images of a mountain-like shape and begins to make models of it. Jillian 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.
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 that 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 meaningless series of numbers repeated over and over, until Laughlin recognizes it as a set of geographical coordinates pointing to Devils Tower in Moorcroft, Wyoming. Lacombe and the U.S. military 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.
Meanwhile, Roy’s increasingly erratic behavior causes Ronnie to leave him, taking their three children with her. When a despairing Roy inadvertently sees a television news program about the train wreck near Devils Tower, he realizes the mental image of a mountain plaguing him is real. Jillian sees the same broadcast, and she and Roy, as well as others with similar experiences, travel to the site in spite of the public warnings about nerve gas.
While most of the civilians who are drawn to the site are apprehended by the Army, Roy and Jillian 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 on a large electrical billboard. Following this, an enormous mother ship lands at the site, returning people who had been abducted over the years, including Barry, and the missing pilots from Flight 19. The government officials decide 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 pauses for a few moments with the humans. Lacombe uses Curwen 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.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film:
First Published: Dec 23, 2011 – Last Updated: Apr 7, 2014