1977 was a killer year for science fiction. One of the year’s SF blockbusters featured an asthmatic in a mask and black cape fighting a woman with doughnuts glued to the side of her head . . .
The other had Richard Dreyfuss as an electrical repairman whose sighting of alien spacecraft leaves him with a telepathic imprint of the site of their imminent landing, and a nagging urge to find meaning in odd shapes – a desire that eventually leads him to apparent semi-madness (pictured below).
Before too long, others (including Melinda Dillon, whose son has been kidnapped by the aliens) figure out what it is they need to do, and they all head out west for Devil’s Tower Wyoming – the setting for the final meeting between mankind and intelligent life from outer space in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (quasi-scientific jargon for physical contact with extra-terrestrials).
When the friendly alien mother ship finally arrives, we are treated to a magnificent firework display of models and special effects (plus our first sighting of ET‘s relatives).
In 1980, Steven Spielberg produced a 135-minute “Special Edition” version of Close Encounters. Although this version added new footage, it was a shorter film than the original version due to some judicious editing on the part of Spielberg – he cut 16 minutes of shots from the original, reinstated seven minutes of material filmed in 1977 but not used, and added six minutes of newly-made material.
The newly added material was the most controversial: scenes from inside the Mothership at the end of the film (in order to get funding for the re-shoot, Columbia wanted Spielberg to add these segments).
As such, the Special Edition of Close Encounters was a rather different film than the one originally seen in 1977.
Spielberg paced the film well, and though the effects have aged somewhat, they still hold up after almost a quarter of a century. Close Encounters achieves a level of beauty and tenderness rare in the Sci-Fi genre and also combines well-integrated humour, drama and action.
As a whole, Close Encounters of the Third Kind remains a fabulous piece of work that deserves to be included amongst the greatest films ever made.
The UFO landing site built for the movie holds the world record as the largest indoor film set ever made. It was 90 ft high, 450 ft long and 250 ft wide. The structure included four miles of scaffolding and nearly 17,000 ft of fibreglass.
J Patrick McNamara