Close Encounters of the Third Kind (sometimes abbreviated to CE3K and often referred to as just Close Encounters) 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, a lineman in Indiana, whose life changes after he has an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO). The United States government and an international team of scientific researchers are also aware of the UFOs.
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 Steven 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 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 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.
The film’s genesis started when Steven Spielberg and his father saw a meteor shower in New Jersey when the director was young. As a teenager, Spielberg completed the full-length science fiction film Firelight. Many scenes from Firelight would be incorporated in Close Encounters on a shot-for-shot basis. In 1970 he wrote a short story called Experiences about a lovers’ lane in a Midwestern United States farming community and the “light show” a group of teenagers see in the night sky. In late 1973, during post-production on The Sugarland Express, Spielberg developed a deal with Columbia Pictures for a science fiction film. 20th Century Fox previously turned down the offer. Julia and Michael Phillips instantly signed on as producers.
Shortly after the film’s release in late 1977, Spielberg desired to do either a sequel or prequel. He explained, “The army’s knowledge and ensuing cover-up is so subterranean that it would take a creative screen story, perhaps someone else making the picture and giving it the equal time it deserves.”
The film was nominated for nine Oscars at the 50th Academy Awards, including Direction, Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Visual Effects, Art Direction (Joe Alves, Daniel A. Lomino, Phil Abramson), Original Music Score, Film Editing, and Sound. The film’s only win was for Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography, although the Academy honored the film’s sound effects editing with a Special Achievement Award.
At the 32nd British Academy Film Awards, Close Encounters won Best Production Design, and was nominated for Best Film, Direction, Screenplay, Actor in a Supporting Role (François Truffaut), Music, Cinematography, Editing, and Sound.