Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

In writer/director Steven Spielberg's memorable sci-fi epic and adventure story about the mysteries of UFOs and extra-terrestrial appearances - it provided a beguiling, magical, and benevolent look at 'close encounters.' Although the film appeared during the post-Watergate period and exhibited an obvious distaste for government intervention, its optimistic, loving portrayal of alien encounters was unusual, and set it apart from most science-fiction alien-encounter films of an earlier era.

This awe-inspiring film was one of the most dazzling UFO science fiction films ever made, although it featured pre-digital special effects. Douglas Trumbell's visual and special effects of the Mother Ship were spectacular, ushering in an era of the blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy film. From its eight nominations, it received only one Oscar - for Best Cinematography by cameraman Vilmos Zsigmond.

The transcendent film followed the odyssey of various characters, including middle-class Indiana electric utilities lineman and family man Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and distraught single mother Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) with her young 3-year old son Barry. Both experienced unexplained and unusual paranormal UFO activity ("a close encounter") involving bright lights in the skies over Muncie. Each had a near-religious, life-transforming experience, and Jillian's young boy was abducted. Later by piecing together clues, both became obsessed (with mound-like shapes) and were inexplicably lured to the volcano-like Devils Tower in Wyoming, to experience a spectacular, extra-terrestrial encounter in the exhilarating climax. There, they came upon French scientist Claude Lacombe who was attempting to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors via lights and music (the repetition of five musical notes). They witnessed an arriving spacecraft, the dazzling mother-ship, greeted by a top-secret scientific establishment.

The screenplay (finished by Spielberg from an original script by Paul Schrader) was based upon the book, The UFO Experience (1972), written by Dr. J. Allen Hynek. There were three major versions of the film: (1) the original Columbia Studios release in 1977, (2) a re-edited theatrical Special Edition in 1980 authorized by the director himself with some tightening of the original version and some additional scenes (mostly footage of the interior of the giant spacecraft at the film's conclusion), and (3) a Director's Cut in 1998.

  • the opening scene was the first of over a half dozen set-pieces of 'close encounters,' all seemingly unconnected events, that provided clues, which ultimately culminated in the extraordinary climax of the film; the six encounters were evidence of two kinds of experiences (FIRST KIND: "Signting of a UFO," and SECOND KIND: "Physical Evidence")

American Cartographer David Laughlin (Bob Balaban)

French Scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut)
  • FIRST CLOSE ENCOUNTER: in the present day (late 1970s) in the Sonora Desert in Northern Mexico, a group of UN scientists and researchers - during a howling sandstorm - assembled together; they included French scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) studying UFOs, and his interpreter - American mapmaker David Laughlin (Bob Balaban), they came upon a discovery of a collection of vintage WWII US Navy fighter aircraft (torpedo bombers), known as Flight 19, that had gone missing in 1945 over 30 years earlier during a training mission from the naval air station at Fort Lauderdale, FL into the Bermuda Triangle area; the planes were empty but looked brand-new, with charged batteries and full fuel tanks; an elderly brightly-sunburned witness saw it happen: "He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him" (a reference to bright lights and music)
  • SECOND CLOSE ENCOUNTER: in the Indianapolis, Indiana Air Traffic Control Center, flight controllers witnessed two commercial airline flights that almost collided mid-air when trying to avoid a fast-moving UFO with extremely bright lights; afterwards, the two AirEast and TWA pilots were reluctant to officially report the incident
  • THIRD CLOSE ENCOUNTER: in a starry-skied, rural part of Muncie, Indiana, in the upstairs bedroom of sleeping 3 year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), a mechanical toy monkey on a dresser and other playthings and mechanical toys inexplicably began to animate; downstairs through the porch screen door, he saw brilliant lights and drifting smoke; with a look of enchantment and wonder, Barry smiled and irresistibly followed the invisible presence outdoors; his alerted young single mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) (with her TV turning on and playing an episode of the TV show "Police Woman") watched from an upstairs bedroom window as Barry was lured away from the house and ran off giggling; shortly later, Jillian went searching for Barry with a flashlight
  • FOURTH CLOSE ENCOUNTER: in another part of Muncie, suburban family man and electrical technician Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) was in the middle of his cluttered living room (with a gigantic train set) and interacting with his raucous, demanding family of three young children and wife Ronnie (Teri Garr); he received an emergency phone call from a supervisor about loss of power across the grid; at that very moment, the Neary's house lights went out; power-outage blackouts were also occurring section-by-section throughout the city

Roy Was Lost, and Signaled For a Car to Pass His Truck

Second Set of Lights Also Was Waved On to Pass

Unexpectedly, Intense Lights Rose Up Behind His Truck!

Across the Road, a Row of Jiggling Mailboxes

Light From Above Shining Down on Roy's Truck

Roy's Truck Blindingly Bathed in Light
  • out on the job at night in his power company truck to investigate, Roy became lost and was attempting to get his bearings with a map; he saw a set of bright lights approaching from behind his parked truck, and without looking, he casually waved on the car and was reprimanded by the passenger: "You're in the middle of the road, jack-ass"; he drove on to a railroad crossing and again stopped, and signaled a second vehicle to pass his truck; instead of going around, the intense lights unexpectedly rose straight up like a rocket above his truck
  • suddenly, the lights in his truck (including his flashlight) extinguished, and from above, his truck was bathed in blinding, powerful rays of luminescent light; due to an apparent loss of all gravitational force, vibrations rocked the railroad crossing signal, and his cab dashboard and all its gauges and radio reacted by going haywire and smoking, and debris flew randomly around the cab - and then suddenly everything ceased and it was deafeningly quiet and dark again; looking out his front windshield, he viewed a gigantic, slow-moving, flying object in the night sky; for an instant, a narrow beam of intense light shone down on a stop light further down the road, and then blinked off; then, he was shocked when his flashlight turned back on, his truck restarted, and his radio resumed transmissions; after hearing reports of the UFO's location ("My God, it's as big as a house. Shaped like a barn"), Roy attempted to recklessly race after and pursue the large object in the sky, driving east toward Harper Valley; meanwhile, Jillian drove off in pursuit of Barry, and found him on the summit of a hilltop road, but he was in the path of Roy's fast-moving truck; she dove at her son to safely rescue him from being hit

Jillian After Saving Barry From Being Struck by Roy's Truck on the Summit Road

One of Three Low-Flying UFOs Above Jillian and Barry on the Summit Road

Marveling at the UFOs
  • FIFTH CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Barry was unphased by the near-accident and called out to the sky: "Hello. Come here...Play with me"; as they stood there, Jillian, Roy, and the boy witnessed three high-speed, multi-colored alien spacecraft, apparently controlled by intelligent beings, flying just above them over the road; the UFOs flew off in the direction of the Ohio state line (and through its toll booths), followed by three police cars and Roy's truck before sailing off into the heavens; suddenly, the lights came back on in Muncie; after Roy returned him to alert his wife Ronnie and three kids, she noticed the left side of Roy's sunburned face; he drove them to the spot on the summit where he had witnessed the three UFOs - a metaphysical experience for him
  • SIXTH CLOSE ENCOUNTER: in Mongolia's Gobi Desert, a stranded freighter named SS COTOPAXI was discovered lying in the deep sand, completely intact but empty
  • soon after, Roy became obsessed with an imprinted, recurring mental image in his mind of a mountain shape or contoured mound, first noticed when he sprayed some shaving cream into his hand; he told his wife Ronnie: "I saw something last night that I can't explain"; unexpectedly, Roy was fired from his job by his boss for irresponsible behavior
  • SEVENTH CLOSE ENCOUNTER: in remote Dharmsala in Northern India, worshippers (wearing white, saffron, and ecru robes) gathered to rhythmically chant five notes over and over again, observed by Lacombe and a team of foreign visitors; when the crowd was asked by an elderly Hindu man: "Where did these sounds come from?", in unison, the thousands responded with one gesture and voice, pointing skyward; about a week later in the US, Lacombe lectured about the incident, calling it an important "breakthrough" and a possible effort of the aliens to communicate through a musical pattern of five notes or tones
  • the next evening at the summit where the UFOs were seen the previous night, Neary joined a group of sight-seers waiting for another encounter; Jillian introduced herself to Roy, and they noticed that each of them were burned by the vision; Roy also found that young Barry was playing with a pile of mud shaped like a mound - and recognized that the boy shared his own imprint; he explained to himself: "I've been seeing this shape. In shaving cream and pillows" - and felt it was an important sign; they were interrupted by a false-alarm regarding bright lights in the sky; they weren't UFOs but helicopters sent to disperse the people on the hillside

At the Summit, Roy Met Jillian and They Noticed Each Others Sunburns

Barry Playing With a Mound of Dirt

Roy: "I've been seeing this shape"
  • EIGHTH CLOSE ENCOUNTER: at a top-security missile tracking complex (Station 14) using the Goldstone Radio Telescope, analysts and scientists were broadcasting the five-note musical phrase to outer space, but were mystified by the transmitted responses of two repeating patterns of three numbers (104, 44, 30, and 40, 36, 10); Laughlin interpreted the numbers as geographic Earth coordinates, pinpointing an area in the western state of Wyoming; at an electronic piano keyboard, Lacombe played back the five-note pattern as a response to the transmissions

At Station 14 - A Missile Tracking Complex

Two Sets of Repeating Number Patterns

Coordinate Numbers Pinpoint a Location in the state of Wyoming
  • NINTH CLOSE ENCOUNTER: inside the Guiler farmhouse back in Indiana, Barry repeatedly tapped out the same five notes on his rainbow-colored, toy xylophone; Jillian sketched a charcoal drawing of a mountain, similar to the shape of Barry's mud pile; Barry looked out the window to view the turbulent swirling clouds and sky; when ominous moving lights approached the farmhouse and surrounded it, Barry called out: "Toys! Toys!"; Jillian attempted to protect Barry and lock all of the home's windows and barricade the doors; Barry was mesmerized and irresistibly drawn to the front door, where the unseen alien power intruded through the keyhole with a reddish beam of radiant light; Barry encouraged the unknown force: "You can come and play now," and exclaimed: "Mom, look! The sun's here!"; every electrical device and appliance (the vacuum cleaner, stove and refrigerator, etc.) in the house activated and went haywire; Barry was beckoned and crawled through the pet door, to be abducted by the aliens (an encounter of "THE THIRD KIND" - actual contact with an alien); outside, Jill watched as the lights of the glowing spaceship were already receding with her kidnapped son

Lights Approaching the Guiler Farmhouse

Red Light Emanating Through Front Door Keyhole

Young Barry Opening the Front Door to the Alien Presence

Jillian Trying to Save Barry

Frightened by the Alien Invasion

Barry's Abduction Through the Pet Door
  • soon after in the lobby of a US Air Force base, reporters hounded and surrounded the distraught Jillian for 6:00 news statements; she blurted out to Roy about her boy: "They got him"; a briefing by Major Benchley (George DiCenzo) to residents of Muncie, IN argued that there was no photographic or physical evidence of an alien encounter; Roy knew otherwise as he doodled (the shape of a mountain) on a newspaper with current headlines: "COSMIC KIDNAPING (sic) - Indiana Woman Blames Disappearance of Three Year-Old Son on Clouds - Guiler Says She will Search Out of State if Indiana Police Discontinue Their Efforts"; another official spokesman tried to divert suspicion of official complicity and secrecy by easy assurances, catch-phrases and platitudes: ("UFO's do not represent a direct physical threat to our national security. We do not support them, and we encourage you not to")
  • in an unidentified location, a group of faceless men wearing sunglasses and red uniforms boarded a chartered Greyhound bus; a planned, official US military and governmental mission to the top-secret "wilderness area" in Wyoming was being conducted to create a UFO landing zone; the Team Leader (Merrill Connally) stated how he was nervous about his task force: "If this mission fully develops, I get white knuckles just thinkin' about what might be ahead for those folks"; four "Dirty Tricks" specialists discussed various ways to evacuate the entire area, including flash floods, fires, or a virus-epidemic; Major "Wild Bill" Walsh (Warren Kemmerling) proposed an even scarier military alternative: "What I need is something so scary it'll clear three hundred square miles of every living Christian soul!"

Governmental Agents Sent to Wilderness Area in Wyoming by Greyhound Bus

The Team Leader (Merrill Connally) of the Mission at Devils Tower, Wyoming

Major Walsh: "What I need is something so scary..."
Plans to Evacuate the Entire Top-Secret Area Around Devils Tower, WY
  • meanwhile, at the Neary dinner table, Roy was acting strangely in front of his kids and Ronnie, piling up spoonful after spoonful of potatoes and toying with the sculpted shape on his plate; later in the evening, he also constructed a conical-shaped clay mountain in the middle of the train set landscape in the living room, but was easily frustrated: ("That's not right. It's not right") - he screamed to the heavens: "What is it?"; in the middle of the night, he awakened the children during a loud and argumentative outburst with his exasperated wife Ronnie; the next morning, after sleeping next to the mountain, Roy was determined to be cured of his obsession and restored to normality; he crumpled up numerous UFO articles, and then forcefully grabbed the top of the clay mountain - and the top of the mound tore off in his hand; it resembled the flat-topped shape of Devils Tower
  • as a result, Roy's behavior became even more outrageous and eccentric when he began to tear garden plants and yards of chicken-wire out of the ground and heave them through the kitchen window into his suburban home; Ronnie decided she was through and that Roy had become too dangerous - she departed with the three children to her sister's place; deserted and left alone, Roy worked feverishly to construct a man-made, ceiling-high replica of Devils Tower - a final manifestation of the imprinted shape; the sculpted model of the visions he had seen of a flat-topped mountain filled his entire living room
  • both Roy (in his home in Indiana) and Jillian (in a motel out west while searching for her son) listened to similar TV news broadcasts about the closure of the Devils Tower area in Wyoming, due to a train derailment with a toxic chemical; it was an effort by the government to prevent the public from discovering the alien visitation; Roy rented a station wagon and was in the area of Moorcroft, WY; after he was detoured to a crowded train depot, he and Jillian found each other; after driving out of town together, Roy turned off the main highway and drove through fence after fence and open fields because of multiple road closures to get to their destination; and then in an awe-inspiring moment, they both saw Devils Tower ahead of them, and Jillian responded: "I don't believe it's real. I don't believe it's real"; Roy responded: "It's real"; when they saw bodies of dead animals along the roadside (but Jillian's caged birds were still alive), Roy thought it was all part of a hoax - a simulated nerve-gas scare, but just in case, they donned gas masks and rolled up the windows
  • they were apprehended at a road block, separated and taken into custody by white-uniformed men with gas masks; in a private room in a decontamination camp, Roy was questioned by Laughlin and Lacombe, but he was given no explanations or answers; he was asked about physical ailments or symptoms, and then their final question was all revealing: "Have you recently had a close encounter - a close encounter with something very unusual?"; he was also shown a dozen snapshots of individuals who had also come on a pilgrimage to Devils Tower - he only recognized Jillian; exasperated, he finally again persistently asked: "What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people?"
Roy Questioned by Lacombe and Laughlin
  • Roy was led from the compound at the base of Devils Tower to a waiting transport helicopter to be taken home, where Jillian and other strangers had also been detained; in the copter, he objected to the entire ruse by taking off his gas mask and encouraging others to follow suit: ("There's nothing wrong with the air around here"); he assumed the Army didn't want them there to remove any witnesses; even Lacombe explained to Major Walsh that he was dumbfounded why so many people had risked their lives to come there: ("There must be hundreds of others also touched by the implanted vision who never made it this far"); Roy encouraged Jillian and one other man, Larry Butler (Josef Sommer), to flee from the helicopter; even though Lacombe saw them running away and toward the mountain, he declined to report them; Laughlin (and Lacombe) told Major Walsh what they suspected about the people they had questioned: "We didn't choose this place. We didn't choose these people. THEY WERE INVITED! They belong here more than we"
  • as the threesome climbed, Roy cautioned about climbing up the steep face toward the top: "It's a three hundred foot drop straight down," and instead proposed taking a gradual incline trail to the right that led to a box canyon; although helicopters dusted the area with EZ-4 sleep aerosol, Roy and Jillian were able to hide and avoided being under a released cloud of sleep dust (although Larry was covered in it); Roy cautioned Jillian ("Don't look back"), and they finally emerged at the pinnacle of the tower, where they were rewarded with the discovery of a colossal runway - it was a secret landing site for UFOs
  • at the presumed alien landing site where the UFO was about to touch down, scientists and newsmen were about to witness the first maximum-publicity meeting and physical contact between alien visitors and earthlings; a loudspeaker announcement prepared the scientific crew awaiting the aliens' visit: "This is not a drill. Could we have the lights in the arena down sixty percent, please?...OK, watch the skies please. We now show uncorrelated targets approaching from the north northwest" [Note: The words "Watch the skies" are the final words in the sci-fi film The Thing From Another World (1951).]
  • five very small spots in the sky were followed by three, neon-lit scout ships that appeared with a tiny red orb following in their wake - they hovered over the end of the runway; the plan was to communicate with the UFO via a pattern of musical sound waves in five tones, through a giant electronic board covered with colored strips and a powerful synthesized musical keyboard; the colored 5-note sequence was: "Start with the tone. (Pinkish-red) - G, Up a full tone. (Orange) - A, Down a major third. (Purple) - F, Now drop an octave. (Yellow) - F (an octave lower), and Up a perfect fifth. (White) - C"; the three ships above the end of the runway responded with their own duplicate tones - they emitted the musical sounds in the specific combination of five notes with light patterns, and then they flew off, separating and soaring heavenward
Three Scout Ships with Red Orb Appeared and Hovered Above the Runway
  • the show appeared to be over, but there was more to come; a magnificent cloud formation erupted all around the Tower in the moonlight, creating a radiant halo; more colored flashing lights in the cloud cover signaled the arrival of many more spacecraft; a squadron of neon shapes and lights encircled the entire area and buzzed the runway, causing panic and fear among the humans; one of the brilliant and bedazzling ships, looking like a galactic version of the Goodyear blimp, made a slow, close pass over the base, drifting by and shining its underside of luminescent, sparkling colors;
Clouds Formed Signaling the Arrival of More Aircraft Directly Above the Runway
  • at this point, Roy was anxious to get down to the floor of the control center to see better, but Jillian was reluctant: "Because Barry's not here. I'm just not ready"; Roy told Jillian: "I can't stay. I've gotta get down there" - and they briefly kissed before he left her
  • everything was very quiet until a deep rumbling, low-pitched vibration began to build and increase in volume and intensity, suggesting the appearance of something awesome, incredulous, and frightening; the multiple spacecraft were followed by an immense alien mother ship, a circular object double the size of Devils Tower itself, with hundreds of glittering, illuminated windows
Climactic Arrival of the Mother Ship
  • everyone shared the mass communal experience - the newsmen and scientists gazed with mouths agape up into the sky as the enormous vessel dwarfed the Tower and revolved and slowly descended toward them; it was staggeringly beautiful as it drew near for a landing; the light from the ship was so bright that dark glasses had to be worn; the great space vessel touched down at the end of the runway
  • there was a back-and-forth musical duet as the conversational light/sound show-contact between the control center and the Mothership commenced; one of the audio specialists realized that they were actually communicating (or interlocked) in a joyful mood with the alien ship
  • after the notes of the ship slowly died out, a large cargo door in the belly of the ship slid open - a blinding, brilliant white light emanated from within; the three missing (and unaged) US Navy pilots from Flight 19, and many other soldiers, as well as ordinary folks emerged and came down the ramp; they were checked off on an illuminated board of 'missing persons'
Emergence of Flight 19 Crewmen and Many Other Missing Persons
  • Jillian's son Barry also emerged and came down the ramp; Barry described his thrilling abduction: ("I went into the air and I saw our house")
  • Lacombe discussed Roy's case with other scientists after Roy asked: "I just want to know that it's, it's really happening"; he then responded to Roy: "I envy you"
  • the ramp opened up a second time and a small, frail, undeveloped, spindly, pale alien with big eyes gracefully debarked; the vulnerable being - a messianic figure of sorts, gestured with a message of love and peace to investigating scientists via sign language; other small, childlike humanoid aliens, obviously harmless, emerged and stand on Earth's soil to face the humans
Glimpses of the Friendly Humanoid Aliens
  • Roy was cleared of health issues and invited to join the red-uniformed team of "pilgrims" who were blessed by a priest and then led to the alien ship for a space journey; Roy was specifically chosen from the line-up by the childlike aliens and led up to the ramp - he was the only pilgrim allowed to join the aliens; he briefly turned back as Lacombe nodded his assurance and approval before ascending into the spacecraft
Roy Specifically Chosen From the Line-up by the Childlike Aliens to Enter the Mothership
  • one of the aliens said farewell with hand signals for the five-tone sequence to scientist Claude Lacombe before the Mother Ship ascended and departed; the last word of the film was "Bye!" voiced by Barry as he observed

The Mothership's Departure
Farewell Signals with the Alien Before Departure
  • John Williams' score soared in triumph - incorporating "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio (1940)

The Discovery of Intact 1945 Planes in the Mexican Sonora Desert

Indianapolis, IN Concerned Air Traffic Controllers About a Mid-Air Collision Caused by a UFO

Muncie, Indiana

In Barry's Room, Animated Mechanical Toys

3-Year Old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey)

Barry Running Off In the Middle of the Night

Power Lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) Notified of the Loss of Electrical Power Across the Grid

Power Outages Throughout Muncie, Indiana

Roy Peering Out His Front Windshield at a Slow-Moving UFO Above Him

The SS Cotopaxi in Deep Sand

Afterwards, Roy Was Mesmerized by Mountain Shapes - First by a Mound of Shaving Cream

In Dharmsala in Northern India, Worshippers Rhythmically Chanted 5 Notes

"Where did these sounds come from?" - Fingers Pointed Upward Into the Sky

The Next Night at the Summit, Roy Sensing the Bright Lights Were Not UFOs but Helicopters

Five-Note Sequence Played on Barry's Colorful Toy Xylophone

Jillian Sketching a Mountain in Charcoal

Roy Skeptical of Official US Air Force Findings

Roy Doodling During Air Force Base Briefing That Basically Denied the UFO Incident

Roy Neary Piling Up Mashed Potatoes on His Dinner Plate

Constructing A Conical Shaped Mountain For the Train Landscape in the Living Room

The Top of the Clay Mound With the Top Torn Off

The Ceiling High Replica of the Flat-Topped Mountain Built in Roy's Living Room

News of a Catastrophic Rail Disaster, Forcing the Evacuation of the Devils Tower Area

Roy and Jillian Finding Each Other in a Crowded Wyoming Train Depot

Their First Awe-Inspiring View of Devils Tower

Roy Plotting to Escape From Helicopter

Lacombe Watching Three Escapees Flee From the Helicopter And Run Toward the Devils Tower

Climbing Toward the Top of the Devils Tower - and Avoiding a Dusting of Sleep Aerosol

Larry Falling Asleep

Roy and Jillian Helping Each Other Up the Steep Incline

First View of the Summit's Colossal Runway

Communicating with Colored Tones on Electronic Board

The Joyous Musical Conversation Between the Mothership and the Control Center, Viewed by Roy

Mothership Door Opening - With a Blinding Light

Barry Reunited with Jillian

Second Opening Of Door Ramp

Red-Uniformed Pilgrims (With Roy) Led to the Space Ship


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z