By Arthur Flynn
When audiences saw Steven Spielberg’s name about a film they are assured of entertainment. He has directed several masterpieces including Jaws, Schlindler’s List and E.T. and they would play to full houses.
One of his most original and entertaining was Close Encounters of the Third Kind which he filmed in 1976. It was released in the same year as Star Wars and further enhanced the science fiction genre. The scene with the landing of the mothership produced one of the outstanding moments in film history.
The project was originally titled Watch the Skies and was developed from source material by Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry. He also worked in aspects of the earlier film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Other writers who contributed to the project included Paul Schrader and Matthew Robbins. Finally, the screenplay was credited solely to Spielberg himself.
As with all of Spielberg’s films, he gathered a top-class production team headed by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, musical director John Williams, art director Dan Lomino and editor Michael Kahn.
His cast included Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary; Teri Garr as Ronnie Neary; Melinda Dillon as Gillian Cuiler; Gary Cuffey as Barry Cuiler and the French film director Francois Truffaut as Claude Lacombe.
Spielberg did not want to do any location filming because of his negative experience on Jaws. He wanted to shoot Close Encounters entirely on sound stages, but eventually dropped the idea. Filming commenced in May 1976.