Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 American science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, and Cary Guffey. It tells the story of Roy Neary, an everyday blue-collar worker in Indiana, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO).

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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 received 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 UFO-ologist J. Allen Hynek‘s classification of close encounters with aliens, in which the third kind denotes human observations of aliens or “animate beings.” Douglas Trumbull served as the visual effects supervisor, while Carlo Rambaldi designed the aliens.

Strong emotional core that avoids Rockwell-esque sentimentality

24 January 2003 | by bob the moo (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

When the whole area suffers a full blackout, electrician Roy Neary is called out to service some poles suspected of being down.

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Sitting in his truck trying to find directions he is suddenly caught in a bright light and the electric’s on his truck fail. Shortly it passes and he sees a craft pass overhead. At the same time nearby a woman pursues her young son who has wandered out in search of the lights that have been calling to him. Both adults are left wanting to know the truth and filled with half-ideas and images that haunt them – when Gillian Guiler son is taken, this becomes even more important to them. Meanwhile the military, led by investigator Claude Lacombe uncover planes and ships that have been missing for decades and uncover hidden codes and signals in the mysterious crafts.

I am currently ploughing my way through Speilberg’s Taken on BBC2 so I thought I’d give this classic another view just to remind myself how good Speilberg and aliens can be. The plot is perfect for any UFO nut – the government are behind everything and know of everything. The story unfolds really well – the three main stories complimenting each other and giving the film a sense of pace.

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The strand with Lacombe following events all round the globe is the least personal (and thus least involving) but it is enticing us for the climax of the film. Neary’s soul searching maybe does go on a little too long but the emotion in the family situation is intense and his frustration and sense of confusion is very real. Although the thrid strand has less screen time the abduction of the child is a powerful scene and the emotion is well brought out.

The special effects are very good but the glue of the film is the emotional telling. This is Speilberg doing well – he never really gives into his American Apple Pie style sentimentality and the film keeps moving along and has a real emotional heart to it. The climax of the movie always sort of messes me up and I find it best not to question it’s logic on any level for fear of holes opening up all over it – but it does have a sense of childlike wonder to it, which I guess Speilberg was trying to get across.

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As usual Dreyfuss does well under Speilberg and he is mostly responsible for keeping the emotion in his character realistic without being all syrupy and sickly. Truffaut is OK but it’s impossible to see him as anyone but Francis Truffaut and his character suffers as a result. Garr and Dillon are both strong female characters for different reasons and the support cast are generally very good (including a good handful of the Dreyfuss family).

Overall this film never gets me as one of the greatest sci-fi’s of all time, but it is certainly a very good film that takes `real’ people as it’s driver and not flashy effect shots. That `Taken’ seems to be slipping into Norman Rockwell type mawkishness is good enough reason to revisit CE3K.

personal all-time favorite

10/10
Author: billreynolds from usa
27 January 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For my taste, the first hour and a half of this movie is the greatest stretch of filmmaking ever.

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Up until Roy and Jillian reach the “dark side of the moon” on Devil’s Tower, this movie is perfect. No, it’s beyond perfect — it’s sublime. It takes me to a level of bliss that no other movie can do.

Many critics and viewers — including a number on this site — don’t like this movie at all. Those who do like it almost uniformly like the final sequence, the “alien landing,” the best. For me it is the rest of the movie that is the most remarkable. Some of my favorite sequences:

1. The blinding flash of light that ends the opening credits and leads us to a sandstorm in Sonora Desert, Mexico — Present Day, with various team leaders, Bob Balaban, and Francois Truffaut speaking three languages as they find a whole bunch of old Navy planes lost in the Bermuda Triangle and an old geezer who saw something very strange.

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“El sol salio a noche. Y me canto,” he keeps saying. Translation: “He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.” Then Balaban translates for Truffaut: “Il dit que le soleil etait venue ici hier soir, et qu’il chantait pour lui.” Then Balaban disappears in a cloud of dust. The mystery created in that sequence is incredible — the greatest opening of all time, if you ask me. Trivia note: that sequence was the last Spielberg filmed before the movie’s release. The shooting script opens with Indianapolis Flight Control, but Spielberg decided he wanted a new opening and shot this after production had wrapped. Supposedly this sequence was inspired by the Iraqi prologue in the Exorcist.

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2. Roy’s first encounter with the aliens in his power company truck — a brilliantly conceived and edited sequence. I love the dolly in to Roy’s window as he pants in shock in the shadows, then the comedy of his reaction when the lights in the truck come back on.

3. The “sky speeders” disappearing into the clouds over Muncie, followed by lightning and then the lights of the city coming back on, bit by bit. Spielberg’s use of miniatures here is breathtaking — as it was in 1941 and as it is later in CE3K when the UFO believers gather again to await another encounter and the lights from the government helicopters move toward them across the plains below.

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4. The entire sequence of Roy going crazy. This was controversial with critics — Pauline Kael, who loved the movie generally, hated Roy throwing the bushes into the kitchen — and Spielberg actually cut the entire digging up the garden sequence from the so-called “Special Edition.” To me, though, this is the absolute heart of the movie. Ask people what they remember from CE3K and the first thing they’ll say is “mashed potatoes.” To my mind, the garden sequence is one of those magical moments that is so funny and so sad it’s just perfect. I believe every second of it, every time. The reactions of the kids are perfect — the oldest son is big enough to be angry, while the middle says, “Dad, when we’re finished with this can we throw dirt in my window?” (In the dinner sequence, little Sylvia has arguably the best line in a movie full of them — “I hate, I hate these potatoes. There’s a dead fly in my potatoes.” An ad lib, of course.)

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In recent years, Spielberg has expressed concern with the fact that Roy leaves his family to pursue the aliens, and has said that if he were to make the movie over again, he would change that part. To my way of thinking, if you take that out, there is no movie. What this movie is really about is Roy’s obsession, and that, I think, is why it has such a hold on me personally. This movie is about what it’s like for a person whose life has lost its meaning suddenly finding there is a really important purpose, and pursuing that purpose at all costs. Is it right for him to turn his family’s life upside down and ultimately leave them behind to do that? No. But his obsession is understandable, I think, and the purpose Roy finds is something a lot of people would like to feel. Also, it’s clear that Roy is not acting entirely of his own free will — he has been “commanded” subliminally to make his way to Devil’s Tower.

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I am not aware of any other movie — or book, or any other source, for that matter — that portrays 70s suburban life so accurately. The street, the house, the cars, the toys, the furniture — it is like an archeological document. And the way the kids act, and the family conflicts — to my way of thinking, they are all portrayed with unerring accuracy and realism. Some have contended that Ronnie is unflatteringly portrayed, but to me that’s not fair. She can’t be blamed for reacting the way she does to Roy — many people in her shoes would. Garr’s performance is brilliant; she and Dreyfuss are magical together. Melinda Dillon, too, is brilliant in her role. In the shooting script, the sexual attraction between Roy and Jillian was more overt, but Spielberg wisely downplays it in the finished film. It’s only hinted at, although it is there.

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The actual “alien landing” sequence, in my opinion, is a letdown. It’s brilliantly photographed and realized, but once Roy and Jillian make it to the dark side of the moon, the primary tension in the story is gone. If I could edit this movie, I’d take a major pair of shears to the final sequence, cut it down to maybe half its current length. I do get choked up when I see Roy in his red suit at the end of the line of astronauts, though, and Jillian wiping tears away as she clicks away with her Kodak.

As with the original Star Wars, my other all-time favorite movie, I have a problem with the way this picture has been hacked and altered from its original release through various special editions. I understand it’s possible to watch the original 1977 cut on the DVD, and I’m glad of that. That original version is the best. I first got to know this movie on ABC in the early 1980s, when it was shown with all the original and Special Edition footage edited together. Personally, I don’t think the special edition footage adds much (even the Gobi desert sequence, which is an interesting concept that was in the shooting script, stands out because it was obviously shot by a different DP and doesn’t have Truffaut in it).

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Anyway, I will always cherish this movie. “You tell Crystal Lake we’re going to candlepower in ten minutes!” “Zey belong here more zan we.” “There’s always some joker who thinks he’s immune.” “You can’t fool us by agreeing with us.” “What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people?” “Ronnie, everything’s fine. All this stuff is coming down.”

Close Encounters Of The Incomprehensible Kind

3/10
Author: garthbarnes-83945 from United States
27 June 2015

Spoilers Ahead:

This movie, besides being dreadfully boring, suffers from two bizarre assumptions. One, that advanced beings are less aware of how their actions effect more primitive forms. Two, that their forms of organizing knowledge are identical with our own. The first is also found in THE MOTIONLESS PICTURE, they cannot tell scans from weapons attacks, though we, the primitives can. Here, they burn faces, terrorize a single mom, almost burn her house down and abduct her little boy. We are supposed to believe that they are that advanced and are oblivious to the consequences, moral and scientific, of their behavior.

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The deduction is unavoidable either they are: 1. malevolent or 2. Retarded. On earth, it is an empirical fact that the higher up the chain of mammal life we go, the greater the awareness of our actions on other creatures, not less. Here, as in the MOTIONLESS PICTURE, they tool about kidnapping children, burning faces, planting the image of the Devil’s Tower in monkey boys heads which tortures them and causes them to freak out and go bananas. Does this sound like benevolent aliens to you?

The second one we see in the last half hour of the movie. As in CONTACT, where we hear Ellie tells us that math is the only truly universal language. What is the evidence for that assertion? Kant shows us that the forms of unifying the phenomenal into categories like causation, plurality are simply our ways of making sense of the phenomenal world and have not reality outside of our minds.

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Why would we assume their minds work like ours? Notice that imitation is not communication. No communication occurs in this movie only we play back and they play back. Nothing more than if we played Little Deuce Coupe to them and they played it back to us. What happened? nothing but mindless mimic behavior. The same with the silly hand gestures, what just took place?

Beyond these subtleties, the movie is one of the most boring pieces of crap you will ever endure. The effects have not aged well; as one great reviewer wrote, they do look like lighted ice cream cones. You will not enjoy watching Roy and his family come apart; or Roy turning the living room into a mud room, literally. It is an ugly, boring film. Seeing the little boy and his mother terrorized and then the little boy abducted, sorry, these actions do not bespeak benign, kind aliens. Forgive me, it came out after STAR WARS and it was so apparent to us, at the time, it was an attempt to cash in on that movie. It is just different enough but you get the point. Ironically, Carpenter did the same thing to Steven with STARMAN right after E.T. The movie is not esoteric it is absurd and incomprehensible deliberately I believe. Q.E.D.

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Devils Tower in Wyoming was used as a filming location

Principal photography began on May 16, 1976, though an Associated Press report in August 1975 had suggested filming would start in late 1975. 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, California; Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming; two abandoned World War II airship hangars at the former Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, Alabama; and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot in Bay Minette. The home where Barry was abducted is located outside the town of Fairhope, Alabama. Roy Neary’s home is at Carlisle Drive East in Mobile. The UFOs fly through the former toll booth at the Vincent Thomas Bridge, San Pedro, California. The Gobi Desert sequence was photographed at the Dumont Dunes, California, and the Dharmsala-India exteriors were filmed at the small village of Hal near Khalapur, 35 miles (56 km) outside Bombay, India.

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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.” 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.Columbia raised $7 million from three sources: Time Inc., EMI, and German tax shelters.

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Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond said that, during the time of shooting for the film, Spielberg got more ideas by watching movies every night which in turn extended the production schedule because he was continually adding new scenes to be filmed.Zsigmond previously turned down the chance to work on Jaws. In her 1991 book You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, producer Julia Phillips wrote highly profane remarks about Spielberg, Zsigmond, and Truffaut, because she was fired during post-production due to a cocaine addiction. 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 used to produce an additional film. His work helped lead to advances in motion control photography.

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The mother ship was designed by Ralph McQuarrie and built by Greg Jein. The look of the ship was inspired by an oil refinery Spielberg saw at night in India.Instead of the metallic hardware look used in Star Wars, the emphasis was on a more luminescent look for the UFOs. One of the UFO models was an oxygen mask with lights attached to it, used because of its irregular shape. As a subtle in-joke, Dennis Muren (who had just finished working on Star Wars) put a small R2-D2 model onto the underside of the mothership. The model of the mothership is now on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Annex at Washington Dulles Airport in Chantilly, Virginia.

Since Close Encounters was filmed anamorphically, the visual effects sequences were shot in 70 mm film to better conform with the 35 mm film used for the rest of the movie. A test reel using computer-generated imagery was used for the UFOs, but Spielberg found it would be too expensive and ineffective since CGI was in its infancy in the mid-1970s.

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The small aliens in the final scenes were played by local girls in Mobile, Alabama. 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 two of the aliens, the first being a marionette (for the tall alien that is the first to be seen emerging from the mothership) and an articulated puppet for the alien that communicates via hand signals with Lacombe near the end of the film.

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