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TCM Spotlight: Out of this World
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Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Tuesday July, 30 2019 at 08:00 PM

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Steven Spielberg's follow-up to his 1975 smash hit Jaws, was a risky project because this science fiction foray was very different from the alien encounter movies of the 1940s and 50s that little Stevie Spielberg grew up on. It was also infinitely more expensive than the low-budget fare that dominated much of the science fiction genre in the sixties until the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Infused with a post-Watergate paranoia and featuring a middle-class, family-man hero who grows increasingly obsessive in the course of the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind broke new ground for the science fiction genre in its exploration of the UFO phenomena. No longer just concerned with the true intentions of visitors from outer space, it was the government's intervention and ulterior motives that became the cause for alarm. In earlier science fiction film classics such as The War of the Worlds (1953) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), government leaders might make wrong decisions, but they were rarely depicted with such suspicion and disdain as they are in Close Encounters.

Originally, Spielberg wanted Jack Nicholson for the role of Roy Neary but Richard Dreyfuss, who had just appeared in Jaws, successfully campaigned for the role and won Spielberg over. Spielberg also cast acclaimed director Francois Truffaut in a major role modeled on French UFO expert Jacques Vallee. As for the film, it was inspired by The UFO Experience by Dr. J. Allen Hynek who serves as the film's technical advisor and also has a brief cameo. Spielberg wrote the screenplay himself, a feat he has not repeated since.

The movie's climax featuring the arrival of the "Mothership" was shot in a dirigible hangar in Mobile, Alabama and was six times the size of a normal Hollywood sound stage. There were also extensive sequences shot at Devil's Tower in Wyoming as well as in India, which required crowd sequences involving thousands of extras. When the film finally went into release, it became one of Spielberg's most financially successful films and earned eight Academy Award nominations, winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography.

Now for an obscure piece of trivia: if you have very sharp eyes, be sure to look for a hitchhiker on the bottom of the "Mothership" as it passes over Devil's Tower in the climax of the film. Look closely and you can see none other than R2-D2, the little droid hero from Star Wars, also released in 1977 and directed by one of Spielberg's pals, George Lucas.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips, Clark L. Paylow
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Hal Barwood (uncredited), Jerry Belson (uncredited), John Hill (uncredited), Matthew Robbins (uncredited), Paul Schrader (uncredited)
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond, William A. Fraker, Douglas Slocombe
Editing: Michael Kahn
Art Direction: Daniel A. Lomino
Production Design: Joe Alves
Music: John Williams
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), Terri Garr (Ronnie Neary), Melinda Dillon (Jillian Guiler), Bob Balaban (David Laughlin), Francois Truffaut (Claude Lacombe), Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler), Roberts Blossom (Farmer), Lance Henriksen (Robert), George DiCenzo (Major Benchley).
C-138m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Scott McGee



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