Forget Star Wars, the piffling and over-rated sci-fi blockbuster that assaulted the cinema in 1977. Fair enough it did make nearly twice as much as any other film that year and has had a lasting impact on science fiction cinema and a continuing run of sequels and prequels. Who cares, when that young movie brat Steven Spielberg, fresh from the success of Jaws, was let loose to create his dream movie about UFOs and alien contact?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3K) ripped its title and subject matter from the pages of obscure UFO publications and mashed it up (literally with potatoes in one memorable scene) with classic SF movies of the 1950s.
The book takes us from the beginning of the project when Spielberg was working on his first feature film, The Sugarland Express (1974). He called it ‘A Meeting of Minds’ inspired by the Watergate scandal. The main character is a military officer, who has a life-changing UFO experience that leads him to discover that the government is hiding the existence of extraterrestrials from the public. As in the final version of CE3K, Spielberg envisioned the arrival of a huge alien Mothership as the climax to the story.
Spielberg was unsatisfied with the scripts based on his outline, and in the end, he decided he had to write it himself. The book goes on to tell how it finally got greenlit by Columbia and how the cast and crew were gathered together. Part Two details shooting the principle live-action scenes at Devil’s Tower Mountain and in the huge dirigible hangar at Brookley Air Force Base for the Mothership arrival scenes, and the difficulties they had designing and filming the aliens who emerge from the craft.
Part Three covers how Douglas Trumbull used his special effects genius to add the magical UFOs and spaceships to the live footage combined with model work by Gregory Jein, which included a four-foot-high model of the Mothership.
With its successful release in 1977, it saved Columbia from bankruptcy, and Vilmos Zsigmond received an Oscar for his cinematography and Frank E. Warner for sound effects editing. Showing his commitment to this film, Spielberg went on to shoot a Special Edition of CE3K in 1980 and edited a third version in 1997.
As the subtitle says, this really is the ultimate visual history of CE3K, which serves as a fitting tribute to this sublime movie masterpiece.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: THE ULTIMATE VISUAL HISTORY / AUTHOR: MICHAEL KLASTORIN / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: NOW