Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film stars Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban and Cary Guffey. It tells the story of Roy Neary, an Indiana electrical lineman, whose life changes after he has an encounter with an unidentified flying object. However, the United States government is also aware of the UFOs as is a team of international scientific researchers.
Close Encounters was a long-cherished project for Spielberg. In late 1973, he developed a deal with Columbia Pictures for a science fiction film. Though Spielberg receives 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 astronomer/ufologist J. Allen Hynek’s classification of close encounters with aliens, in which the third kind denotes human observations of actual aliens or “animate beings”.
Filming began in May 1976. Douglas Trumbull served as the visual effects supervisor, while Carlo Rambaldi designed the aliens. Close Encounters was released in November 1977 and was a critical and financial success. The film was reissued in 1980 as Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition, which featured additional scenes. A third cut of the film was released to home video (and later DVD) in 1998. The film received numerous awards and nominations at the 50th Academy Awards, 32nd British Academy Film 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 National Film Registry.
In the Sonoran Desert, French scientist Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) and his American translator David Laughlin (Bob Balaban), along with other government scientific researchers discover a lost squadron of World War II aircraft. The planes are intact and operational, but there is no sign of the pilots. Later, at Air Traffic Control in Indianapolis, Indiana, an air traffic controller listens as two airline flights almost have a mid-air collision with an apparent UFO. In nighttime Muncie, Indiana, three-year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey) is awakened when his toys start operating automatically. Fascinated, he gets out of bed and runs outside, forcing his mother Gillian (Melinda Dillon) to chase after him.
Meanwhile, during a nearby large-scale power outage, Indiana electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) experiences a close encounter with a UFO on a dark country road and is soon caught up in a police chase of four UFOs. Roy becomes fascinated by UFOs, much to the dismay of his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr). He also becomes increasingly obsessed with mental images of a mountain-like shape and begins to make models of it. Gillian also becomes obsessed with sketching a unique-looking mountain. Soon after, she is terrorized in her home by a UFO encounter in which Barry is abducted by unseen beings, despite her attempts at securing her house. Meanwhile, Roy’s increasingly erratic behavior causes Ronnie to leave him, taking their three children with her. When a despairing Roy inadvertently sees a TV news program about a train wreck near Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, he realizes the mental image plaguing him is real. Gillian sees the same broadcast, and she and Roy, as well as others with similar experiences, head toward the site.
Elsewhere in the world, the pace of UFO activity is increasing. Lacombe and Laughlin investigate a host of occurrences along with other United Nations experts. Witnesses report the UFOs make distinctive sounds: a five-tone musical phrase in a major scale. Scientists broadcast the phrase to outer space but are mystified by the response—a seemingly arbitrary series of numbers repeated over and over—until Laughlin recognizes it as a set of geographical coordinates pointing to Devils Tower. All parties begin to converge on Wyoming. The United States Army evacuates the area, planting false reports in the media that a train wreck has spilled a toxic nerve gas, all the while preparing a secret landing zone for the UFOs and their occupants.
While most of the civilians who are drawn to the site are apprehended by the Army, Roy and Gillian persist and make it to the site just as dozens of UFOs appear in the night sky. The government specialists at the site begin to communicate with the UFOs by use of light and sound. Following this, an enormous mother ship lands at the site, returning people who had been abducted over the years, including Barry. As the communication between the humans and UFOs continue using light and sound signals, the government officials determine to include Roy in a group of people whom they have selected to be potential visitors to the mothership, and hastily prepare him. As the aliens finally emerge from the mothership, they select Roy to join them on their travels. As Roy enters the mothership, one of the aliens lingers for a few moments with the humans. Lacombe uses Kodály Method hand signs that correspond to the five-note alien tonal phrase. The alien replies with the same gestures, smiles, and returns to its ship, which lifts off into the night sky.