After his success with Jaws, Steven Spielberg came back with another hit – the science fiction thriller Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Teaming up with Richard Dreyfuss again, Spielberg had wanted to make this film since 1973, and after the success of Jaws, was given the green light to focus on this film, based on scientist J. Allen Hynes descriptions of “close encounters”.
Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary, a electrical lineman in Indiana who is obsessed with unidentified flying objects. While investigating power outages, Neary sees a UFO and becomes obsessed with a mountain-like image he keeps seeing in his mind after the experience.
Neary’s wife thinks he’s crazy and is worried about him, yet he persists in the obession. Meanwhile a French scientist Claude Lacombe (played by Francois Truffaut) is also investigating the reports of UFOs and power outages and a young Mum, Jillian, realizes that she too is seeing the same mountain image, after her son is lured outside by the UFO and then kidnappped.
Neary and Jillian team up, knowing that what they saw wasn’t made up and realize the mountain image is real and despite the US military’s attempts, succeed in trying to contact the UFO and realizing it has been kidnapping people for decades.
Spielberg’s initial creation was to do a documentary and then with the success of Jaws, had another screenplay Kingdom Come, with the lead as an Air Force Officer told to prove UFOs don’t exist. Rewritten with Paul Schrader and eventually several other writers, the story was redeveloped into Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Filmed on location in California, Alabama and Wyoming, the production cost $20 million and was released in November 1977, months after its initial summer release date.
Movie fans loved the film, making this film Columbia Pictures one of the most successful films of its year, with a box office gross of over US$116 million. Because of its success Columbia Pictures, who were having financial problems, had Spielberg create a director’s cut of the film, which was released two years later in 1979.
This film (along with Star Wars) encouraged a new look at science fiction on the big screen and solidified the path of Spielberg, who was nominated for his first Best Director Oscar, with the film getting seven other nominations.