Director: Steven Spielberg
Production: Steven Spielberg Film Productions for Columbia Pictures; Metrocolor, 70mm, Dolby; running time: 134 minutes. Released
Producers: Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips; screenplay: Steven Spielberg; photography: Vilmos Zsigmond, and Douglas Trumball, William A. Fraker, Douglas Slocombe, John Alonzo, Laszlo Kovacs, Richard Yuricich, Dave Stewart, Robert Hall, Don Jarel, and Dennis Muren; editor: Michael Kahn; sound: Buzz Knudson, Don MacDougall, Robert Glass, Gene Cantamessa, and Steve Katz; sound editor: Frank Warner; production designer: Joe Alves; art director: Dan Lomino; music: John Williams; special effects: Douglas Trumball; costume designer: Jim Linn; consultant: Dr. J. Allen Hynek; stunt coordinater: Buddy Joe Hooker; "Extraterrestrials" realized by: Carlo Rambaldi.
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss ( Roy Neary ); Melinda Dillon ( Jillian Guiler ); François Truffaut ( Claude Lacombe ); Cary Guffey ( Barry Guiler ); Teri Garr ( Ronnie Neary ); Bob Balaban ( David Laughlin ).
Awards: Oscar for Cinematography (Zsigmond), 1977; Special Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to Frank Warner for Sound Effects Editing, 1977.
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McConnell, Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from Film Literature , New York, 1979.
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Pye, Michael, and Lynda Myles, The Movie Brats: How the Film Generation Took Over Hollywood , London, 1979.
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Crawley, Tony, The Steven Spielberg Story , London, 1983.
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Following the financial success of Jaws , director Steven Spielberg was able to obtain funding for Close Encounters of the Third Kind , a large personal project about the UFO experience. Spielberg had explored this topic in a 2-hour 8mm film he had made as a youth, called Firelight. Close Encounters tells the story of Roy Neary, a middle-class American who becomes alienated from his family and his suburban lifestyle when he sees actual flying saucers, apparently controlled by intelligent beings from outer space. The aliens have implanted a mysterious vision in Neary's mind, the meaning of which puzzles and frustrates him. Accompanied by Jillian Guiler, a woman whose son has been kidnapped by the aliens, Neary pursues his vision to Devil's Tower, an incredible mountain formation in Wyoming. There, they witness the first physical contact between a team of UFO investigators, led by a French scientist, Claude Lacombe, and the alien visitors. With a dazzling display of special effects, the film presents a host of small space-ships led by a gigantic mother ship. According to Spielberg, the inspiration for the mother ship's design was an oil refinery in India and the city lights of the San Fernando Valley in California. At the end of the film, Jillian is reunited with her son and Neary attains his dream by flying away with the mother ship.
The "Special Edition" of the film added scenes of Neary inside the mother ship, but cut the sequence where Neary throws dirt into his family's home in order to re-create his vision of Devil's Tower. Both versions of the film were combined in a special presentation for network television.
Critical reaction to the film was largely favorable, although there were some strong complaints about gaps in the narrative. Critics especially noted the religious overtones in the film.
But Close Encounters is more than just a quasi-religious celebration of childlike innocence—it is also a celebration of communication, expressed in the film through the interplay of light and music. The film opens with a splash of light and music and closes with an intensified version of these images and sounds, as the aliens and their human counterparts use flashing lights and a specific combination of musical tones to communicate with one another. Reportedly, the composer, John Williams, actually started work for the film two years before it was finalized, and in many instances he wrote his music first while Spielberg constructed the scenes to it later.
Close Encounters combines light and music to show how communication can transcend the boundaries between the known and the unknown, the human and the alien, the real and the imagined. As Frank McConnell suggests in his Storytelling and Mythmaking , the film "is not so much about aliens as about our imagination of aliens, or, rather, about the myths of film culture itself and their power to energize and ennoble our lives beyond the point of irony and dissatisfaction."