Close Encounters of the Third Kind is an epic science fiction adventure about a disparate group of people who attempt to contact alien intelligence. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is an electrical lineman who, while sent out on emergency repairs, witnesses an unidentified flying object, and even has a “sunburn” from its bright lights to prove it. Neary’s wife and children are at first skeptical, then concerned, and eventually fearful, as Roy refuses to accept a “logical” explanation for what he saw and is prepared to give up his job, his home, and his family to pursue the “truth” about UFOs. Neary’s obsession eventually puts him in contact with others who’ve had close encounters with alien spacecraft, including Jillian (Melinda Dillon), a single mother whose son disappeared during her UFO experience, and Claude Lacombe (celebrated French filmmaker François Truffaut), a French researcher who believes that we can use a musical language to communicate with alien visitors. Lacombe’s theory is put to the test when a band of government researchers and underground UFO enthusiasts (including Neary) join for an exchange with alien visitors near Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.
Close Encounters was a long-cherished project for Steven 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 Ufologist 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.
Made on a production budget of $20 million, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in a limited number of cities on November 16, 1977 and November 23, 1977 before expanding into wide release on December 14, 1977. It was a critical and financial success, eventually grossing over $337 million worldwide. The film received numerous awards and nominations at the 50th Academy Awards, 32nd British Academy Film Awards, the 35th Golden Globe Awards, the Saturn Awards and has been widely acclaimed by the American Film Institute. In December 2007, it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. A Special Edition of the film, featuring additional scenes, was released theatrically in 1980. A third cut of the film was issued on VHS and LaserDisc in 1998 (and later DVD and Blu-ray).
The score was composed, conducted and produced by John Williams, who had previously won an Academy Award for his work on Spielberg’s Jaws. Much like his two-note Jaws theme, the “five-tone” motif for Close Encounters has since become ingrained in popular culture (the five tones are used by scientists to communicate with the visiting spaceship as a mathematical language as well as being incorporated into the film’s signature theme).
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is Steven Spielberg’s third big screen film, following The Sugarland Express and Jaws.
For its 40th anniversary the film receives a 4K restoration one week theatrical re-release engagement.