skip navigation
Remind Me


Saturday June, 16 2018 at 05:30 PM

Films in BOLD will Air on TCM *  |   VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

Because Spielberg edited at a secret place under guard and not at the studio, executives at Columbia had no idea what to expect from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but they were elated after a first screening of the rough cut. Alan Hirschfield, chair of the Columbia board, was particularly moved by the use of the song "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Disney's Pinocchio (1940) in the finale. Of Spielberg's three possible musical endings--the original song as performed in the Disney movie by Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket), an orchestral version, or a coda written by Close Encounter's composer John Williams--Hirschfield insisted he use Edward's original for the preview. When some of the 1,400 audience members snickered, Spielberg replaced it with Williams's piece. In the 1980 Special Edition release, he put the instrumental version over the end credits.

After some criticism about the film's length, Spielberg cut seven minutes after the previews, delaying the release for a few weeks (much to Columbia's chagrin) and leaving the length still over two hours, an annoyance to exhibitors who sought to schedule as many screenings per day as possible. When at last it was previewed for journalists, Hirschfield told friends he was disappointed, declaring it "no Jaws [1975] or Star Wars [1977]." Financial writer William Flanagan of New York magazine opined in print that the picture would be "a colossal flop. It lacks the dazzle, charm, wit, imagination and broad audience appeal of Star Wars--the film Wall Street insists it measure up to." Such poor advance notices, on top of a major embezzlement scandal involving Columbia head David Begelman, made investors nervous, and the financially shaky company's stocks began to drop precipitously.

Columbia, and the film, were at least in part saved from disaster by a rave review from Time magazine's Frank Rich, who wrote, "His new movie is richer and more ambitious than Jaws, and it reaches the viewer at a far more profound level than Star Wars." A gala benefit preview also brought excellent word-of-mouth, and when the picture opened in New York, people were lined up around the block to see it.

Very quickly after its November 1977 release, Close Encounters became a huge box office success, owing not only to the film's quality and appeal but to the advance buzz about it, Spielberg's reputation from Jaws, and the newfound receptivity to sci-fi movies brought about by the blockbuster success of Star Wars. But much of its box office power came from a pervasive advertising campaign, particularly intense in the first month of the film's release. According to Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind cost $18 million to shoot, edit, score, and print. (Some sources put the final cost at $19-23 million, more than any Columbia production up to that time.) The ad budget for the first month of release came to an additional $9 million. By some estimates, the film grossed $117 million in North America and $172 million in overseas markets, making it the most successful film up to that time for the financially beleaguered Columbia Pictures.

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. [Barry's] very small, and it's a very large door, and there's a lot of promise or danger outside that door."

In his production diary, Bob Balaban, who played cartographer/interpreter David Laughlin, wrote that on the night of July 22, 1976, on the Alabama location shoot, some people thought they saw a UFO over the hangar. By the time everyone ran outside to look, the lights were gone. Spielberg later recalled that, at the time, he believed he had seen his first UFO and became depressed when he found out it was only an Echo satellite.

"I didn't like my work. And it took a long time to recontact that feeling in me of why I made the film. ... I didn't do it because it was a Spielberg movie, because they didn't exist as such yet, or because it was a great role. I did it because I knew they would show that film in the Museum of Modern Art in the year 2030, that...this movie would be potentially the most important film ever made, and I wanted desperately to be a part of that experience." - Richard Dreyfuss, describing his depression after seeing the movie for the first time

"I believe that the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind comes from Steven's very special gift for giving plausibility to the extraordinary. If you analyze [it], you will find that Spielberg has taken care in shooting all the scenes of everyday life to give them a slightly fantastic aspect, while also, as a form of balance, giving the most everyday possible quality to the scenes of fantasy." - Francois Truffaut

Spielberg later regretted his depiction of Ronnie Neary, as played by Teri Garr. He felt she came off too shrill and too much the "bad guy" in the story.

In a 2005 interview, Spielberg stated that he made Close Encounters before he had children, and if he were making it today, he would never have Neary leave his family and go on the mother ship.

The film's ability to have us believe totally in the world it creates carries the audience through such illogical bits as accepting that any unequipped individuals, such as Roy and Jillian, could possibly scale Wyoming's Devil's Tower, a sheer-walled monolith that rises almost totally straight up nearly 1,300 feet above the surrounding terrain.

Because most of Cary Guffey's shots were done in one take, Spielberg had a t-shirt made for him that said "One-Take Cary."

Bob Balaban also tells of a t-shirt being made with a fractured version of Truffaut's line, "They belong here more than we." Because of Truffaut's thick French accent, the line sounded like "Zey belong here Mozambique."

Upon visiting the editing room, Francois Truffaut was stunned at the amount of footage they had to work with.

On the bubble gum card tie-in product with the shot of little Barry being snatched by the spaceship through the dog door in his house, you can see his mother's arm on the other side pulling him through.

Teri Garr said the little girl playing her daughter improvised the line "There's a dead fly in my potatoes" in the dinner scene.

According to Vilmos Zsigmond, Spielberg used to watch one or two movies every night during production, getting ideas from them and coming to the set the next day with orders for new sketches to be created. One day while he was urging the crew to work faster, veteran gaffer Earl Gilbert said, "Steven, if you would stop watching those f***ing movies every night, we would be on schedule."

Spielberg donated $100,000 to the Planetary Society in 1985 to fund a system using a Harvard telescope to scan the skies for radio signals from distant civilizations.

Writers Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins had walk-on roles as two of the lost airmen who emerge from the mother ship in the finale.

In her scathing Hollywood tell-all You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, producer Julia Phillips, who was fired from the production largely because her drug use was interfering with her work, blamed it on working with Spielberg; she described him as "a precocious seven-year-old" (the nicest of her descriptions of him) whose demands led to her stressful emotional state and cocaine problem.

When shooting was completed, Spielberg took the mother ship model home with him as a keepsake.

As filming dragged on, Francois Truffaut asked for and got an office within the Mobile, Alabama, complex where so much of the production time was spent. He worked on two screenplays, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) and The Green Room (1978). He also wrote long letters to people back in France and reworked some of his own dialogue in the movie.

Truffaut said that one of his discoveries while working in front of the camera was that "everybody says many nasty things behind the director's back."

Although there were mostly raves for the Special Edition re-release of the film in July 1980, some critics thought the scene showing Roy Neary entering the spaceship was a major letdown. Spielberg himself later said he never really wanted to do that scene and only agreed as a way to get the money to do his re-shoots and re-edits.

Public response to the Special Edition was not enthusiastic, and one audience member actually sued Columbia claiming their advertising led her to expect an entirely new movie.


DAVID LAUGHLIN (Bob Balaban): Who flies crates like these anymore?
PROJECT LEADER (J. Patrick McNamara): No one. These planes were reported missing in 1945.
DAVID LAUGHLIN: But it looks brand new. ... How the hell did it get here?

PROJECT LEADER: He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER (David Anderson): Air East 31, do you wish to file a report of any kind to us?
AIR EAST PILOT (Roy E. Richards): I wouldn't know what kind of report to file, Center.

ROY NEARY (Richard Dreyfuss): Okay, I'm gonna give you your choice, I'm not gonna be biased in any way. Tomorrow night you can play Goofy Golf, which means a lot of waiting and shoving and pushing, and probably getting a zero, or you can see Pinocchio, which is a lot of furry animals and magic, and you'll have a wonderful time. Okay? Now let's vote.

RONNIE NEARY (Teri Garr): Roy, what did it look like?
ROY: It was like an ice cream cone.
RONNIE: What flavor?
ROY: Orange. It was orange--and it wasn't like an ice cream cone. It was, it was more like a shell. You know, it was like this.
RONNIE: Like a taco? Was it like one of those Sara Lee, um, moon-shaped cookies? Those, those crescent cookies? Don't you think I'm taking this really well? I remember when we used to come to places like this just to look at each other... and snuggle.

ROY: I saw something last night that I can't explain. ... I'm going out there again tonight, you know.
RONNIE: No you're not.
ROY: This isn't a moon burn you know, goddam it.

ROY: I know this sounds crazy, but ever since yesterday on the road, I've been seeing this shape. Shaving cream, pillows... Dammit! I know this. I know what this is! This means something. This is important.

ROY: I guess you've noticed there's something a little strange with Dad. It's okay, though. I'm still Dad.

PORKY PIG: Happy BBBBBirthday you thing from another world you.

ROY: (shoveling soil into his kitchen window) Ronnie, if I don't do this, that's when I'm going to need a doctor.

DAVID LAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Before I got paid to uh speak French I, uh, I used to read maps. This first number is a longitude. ... These have to be earth coordinates.

BARRY (Cary Guffey): Toys!

BARRY: You can come and play now. Come in through the door.

FARMER (Roberts Blossom): I saw Bigfoot once! 1951! ... It made a sound that I would not want to hear twice in my life.

DIRTY TRICKS #4 (Kirk Raymond): (plotting about how to clear the Devil's Tower area of its population) Contaminated water. Affects people, crops, animals. Disease.
DIRTY TRICKS #3 (Robert Broyles): Yeah, epidemic.
DIRTY TRICKS #1 (John Ewing): What kind of disease?
DIRTY TRICKS #3: A plague. A plague epidemic.
DIRTY TRICKS #1: Nobody's gonna believe a plague in this day and age.
DIRTY TRICKS #2 (Keith Atkinson): Anthrax.
DIRTY TRICKS #4: Ranching country.
DIRTY TRICKS #2: There are a lot of sheep up in those hills.
WILD BILL (Warren Kemmerling): Wait, that's good, that's good, I like that. But it may not evacuate everybody. There's always some joker who thinks he's immune. What I need is something so scary it'll clear three hundred square miles of every living Christian soul.

DAVID LAUGHLIN: Mr. Neary, are you an artist or a painter?
ROY: No.
DAVID LAUGHLIN: Have you been hearing a persistent ringing in your ears? An agreeable ringing?
Roy: No. ...
DAVID LAUGHLIN: Have you recently had a close encounter? A close encounter with something very unusual.
ROY: Who are you people? ... Is that it? Is that all you're gonna ask me? Well I got a couple of thousand goddamn questions, you know. I want to speak to someone in charge. I want to lodge a complaint. You have no right to make people crazy! You think I investigate every Walter Cronkite story there is? Huh? If this is just nerve gas, how come I know everything in such detail? I've never been here before. How come I know so much? What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people?!

DAVID LAUGHLIN: This is a small group of people who have shared a vision in common.

CLAUDE LACOMBE (Francois Truffaut): Listen to me, Major Walsh, it is an event sociologic.

DAVID LAUGHLIN: We didn't choose this place! We didn't choose these people! They were invited!

PROJECT LEADER: Okay, watch the skies please. ... We now show uncorrelated targets approaching from the north-northwest.

PROJECT LEADER: If everything's ready here on the Dark Side of the Moon... play the five tones.

CLAUDE LACOMBE: Monsieur Neary, I envy you.

BARRY: (to departing spaceship) Goodbye.

Compiled by Rob Nixon



Also Playing on TCM

Also playing
Treasures from the Disney Vault - 6/6
6 Features, 4 Shorts

Several times a year, TCM features a wide array of Disney classics for the entire family to enjoy, including animated shorts,...more

TCM Shopping
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Movie Only Edition. Director Steven... more info
  • $11.21
  • Regularly $14.99
  • Add to cart