1977 was a good year for fans of special effects and tales of other worlds than ours – George Lucas’ Star Wars and Steve Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind were both released.
If Star Wars was a western set in outer space, with clearly defined goodies and baddies, CE3K was firmly set on Earth but tapped into the almost universal feeling that ‘We are not alone’. Spielberg set the tone with the opening sequence showing mysterious scientist François Truffaut being shown a legendary missing air force flight suddenly found in the Mexican desert his main theme was that of everyman, with Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon the two protagonists.
Dreyfuss, a power company wireman, is sent out late night to find the cause of the power failure – the eerie scene when the two headlights behind him overtake by going up is still effective – who comes to believe in UFOs while Dillon’s son Carry Coffey is ‘snatched’ by the UFOs. Separately, they become obsessed by a strange structure that both realise is Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Meeting up along the way, they infiltrate the military/scientific welcome committee and find themselves privy to the most important event in earth’s history.
If occasionally the plot is a little confusing and if Dreyfuss and Dillon seem cut off from the film’s plot development, unable to control their destinies, all is forgiven in the last half hour when the UFOs glimpsed briefly during the film give way to a pyrotechnic display that precedes the arrival of the mothership.
Spielberg had his doubts – ‘I didn’t think it was going to do well. I didn’t know if I was the only person interested in UFOs, didn’t know if anyone could identify with a man who gives up his family’. For once the director was wrong – the film went on to be one of the world’s biggest box office takers but possibly not just for the special effects but because, as David Thomson wrote, ‘It is as close to a mystical experience as a major film has come because it is the mysticism of common sense.’
USA / 135 minutes / 1977
Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary
François Truffaut as Claude Lacombe
Bob Balaban as David Laughlin
J. Patrick McNamara as Project Leader
Warren J. Kemmerling as Wild Bill
Cary Guffey as Barry Guiler
Justin Dreyfuss as Toby Neary
Merrill Connally as Team Leader
Amy Douglass as Implantee
Gene Dynarski as Ike
Norman Bartold as Norman Bartold
F.J. O’Neil as ARP Project Member
Hal Barwood as Returnee #2 Flt. 19
Phil Dodds as ARP Musician
Matthew Robbins as Returnee #3 Flt. 19
David Anderson as Air Traffic Controller
Gene Rader as Hawker
Daniel Nunez as Federale
Chuy Franco as Federale
Galen Thompson as Special Forces
John Dennis Johnston as Special Forces
Robert Broyles as Dirty Tricks #3
Monty Jordan as Special Forces Commander / Helicopter Pilot (uncredited)
Basil Hoffman as Longly (uncredited)
Stephen Powers as UN Observer (uncredited)
Bill Thurman as Air Traffic
James Keane as Radio Telescope Team
J. Allen Hynek as Himself – Smoking Pipe at Landing Site (uncredited)
Howard K. Smith as Howard K. Smith (uncredited)
Adrienne Campbell as Sylvia Neary
Philip Dodds as Jean Claude
Shawn Bishop as Brad Neary
Mary Gafrey as Mrs. Harris
Michael J. Dyer as Himself
Roger Ernest as Highway Patrolman
Randy Hermann as Returnee #1 Flt. 19
Richard L. Hawkins as Air Traffic Controller
Craig Shreeve as Air Traffic
Roy E. Richards as Air East Pilot
Dennis McMullen as Radio Telescope Team
Cy Young as Radio Telescope Team
Tom Howard as Radio Telescope Team
Richard Stuart as Truck Dispatcher
Bob Westmoreland as Load Dispatcher
Matt Emery as Support Leader
John Ewing as Dirty Tricks #1
Kirk Raymond as Dirty Tricks #4
Keith Atkinson as Dirty Tricks #2
Bennett Wayne Dean Sr. as Scientist (uncredited)
Josef Sommer as Larry Butler
George DiCenzo as Major Benchley
Melinda Dillon as Jillian Guiler
Alexander Lockwood as Implantee
Roberts Blossom as Farmer
Carl Weathers as Military Policeman
Lance Henriksen as Robert
Teri Garr as Ronnie Neary
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