Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1977

Director: Steven Spielberg

Production: Steven Spielberg Film Productions for Columbia Pictures; Metrocolor, 70mm, Dolby; running time: 134 minutes. Released

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
9 November 1977; re-released 1980 with additional footage under the title Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Special Edition. Filmed in the United States and foreign locations; cost: about $19 million.

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.



Spielberg, Steven, Close Encounters of the Third Kind , London and New York, 1977.


McConnell, Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from Film Literature , New York, 1979.

Monaco, James, American Film Now: The People, the Power, the Money, the Movies , Oxford, 1979.

Pye, Michael, and Lynda Myles, The Movie Brats: How the Film Generation Took Over Hollywood , London, 1979.

Kolker, Robert Phillip, A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman , Oxford, 1980; revised edition, 1988.

Crawley, Tony, The Steven Spielberg Story , London, 1983.

Short, Robert, The Gospel from Outer Space , San Francisco, 1983.

Goldau, Antje, and Hans Helmut Prinzler, Spielberg: Filme als Spielzeug , Berlin, 1985.

Mott, Donald R., and Cheryl McAllister Saunders, Steven Spielberg , Boston, 1986.

Smith, Thomas G., Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects , London, 1986.

Weiss, Ulli, Das neue Hollywood: Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese , Munich, 1986.

Godard, Jean-Pierre, Spielberg , Paris, 1987.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Steven Spielberg , London, 1987.

McAllister, Marica, Steven Spielberg , Vero Beach, 1989.

Taylor, Philip M., Steven Spielberg: The Man, His Movies & Their Meaning , New York, 1994.

Balaban, Bob, Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary , New York, 1997.

Hovanec, Erin M., Learning About Creativity from the Life of Steven Spielberg , New York, 1999.


Murray, D., in Millimeter (New York), September 1977.

Cieslar, J., in Film a Doba (Prague), October 1977.

Cook, B., "Close Encounters with Steven Spielberg," in American Film (Washington D.C.), November 1977.

Kroll, Jack, in Newsweek (New York), November 1977.

Kael, Pauline, in New Yorker , 28 November 1977.

Close Encounters section, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1977.

Reilly, C. P., in Films in Review (New York), December 1977.

Kauffmann, Stanley, in New Republic (New York), 10 December 1977.

Fairchild, B. H., "An Event Sociologique: Close Encounters ," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), no. 4, 1978.

"Encounter Espionage," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1978.

Tuchman, Mitch, interview with Spielberg, in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1978.

" Close Encounters Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), January 1978.

Simon, John, in Take One (Montreal), January 1978.

Behar, H., "Rencontre express avec Steven Spielberg," in Image et Son (Paris), April 1978.

Biette, J. C., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1978.

Combs, Richard, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), April 1978.

Lehman, Ernest, "Close Encounters of a Quibbling Kind," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1978.

Gerrold, David, " Close Encounters and Star Wars ," in Science Fantasy Film Classics , Spring 1978.

Pym, John, "The Middle American Sky," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1978.

Heathwood, G., "Steven Spielberg," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), April-June 1978.

Eyman, S., "Trumball the Magician," in Take One (Montreal), May 1978.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), May 1978.

Stewart, G., "Close Encounters of the 4th Kind," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1978.

Seymour, F., and R. Entman, " Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Close Encounters of the Third Reich," in Jump Cut (Chicago), August 1978.

Skwara, J., "Basn dwudziestego wieku," in Kino (Warsaw), February 1979.

Cardenaz, F., in Hablemos de Cine (Lima), April 1979.

Carlo, S., "Montare, smontare, ircollare," in Filmcritica (Rome), April 1979.

Ursini, James, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 1 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Gordon, A., " Close Encounters: The Gospel According to Steven Spielberg," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 3, 1980.

Jameson, R. T., "Style vs. Style," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1980.

Munson, B., "Greg Jein—Miniature Giant," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), August 1980.

Williams, Tony, "Close Encounters of the Authoritarian Kind," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), volume 5, no. 4, 1983.

Shay, D., "Special Visual Effects—Robert Swarthe," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), January 1983.

Phillips, J., "A Close Encounter of the Worst Kind," in Premiere (New York), December 1990.

Torry, R., "Politics and Parousia in Close Encounters of the Third Kind ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 3, 1991.

Sheehan, H., "The Panning of Steven Spielberg," in Film Comment (New York), May-June 1992.

Shay, D., "A Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), February 1993.

Solman, G., "Uncertain Glory," in Film Comment (New York), May-June 1993.

Engel, Charlene, "Language and the Music of the Spheres: Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind ," in Literature/ Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 24, no. 4, October 1996.

* * *

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."

—Tom Snyder

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: