The Reel Review

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This is THE iconic 1977 sci-fi thriller that, after the 1975 shark blockbuster Jaws, put filmmaker Steven Spielberg on the moviemaking map. Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon star as two individuals whose life changing alien encounters in Muncie, Indiana inexplicably compel them to a mysterious UFO meet-up (along with the world’s leading scientists) at Devils Tower, Wyoming.

Melinda Dillon and Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Surprisingly, the film STILL holds up, even after all these decades. The visual effects are only slightly dated, and despite Dreyfuss’ annoyingly manic over-acting and the general unlikability of his character, the story moves along nicely.

The big spacecraft over Devil’s Tower, Wyoming in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Its awe and wonder are classic Spielberg, as its then fresh and original production effects would later re-appear in such subsequent hits as Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and well, you get the idea.

REEL FACTS

• Richard Dreyfuss began his campaign for the lead role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1975, as he and Spielberg were filming Jaws, and despite Spielberg’s initial concerns that Dreyfuss was too young for the part. Spielberg went with Dreyfuss after Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson all turned down the role.

• Melinda Dillon, who earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance, was cast only the weekend before filming began, after Spielberg took fellow director Hal Ashby’s advice and saw her excellent performance in the 1976 biopic Bound for Glory, about musician Woody Guthrie.

• Lower Alabama had a prominent role in the film. The house used as Jillian and Barry’s home was actually an old farmhouse near Fairhope, Alabama, and the entire landing strip near Devils Tower in the finale was actually an abandoned aircraft hangar at the former Brookley AFB in Mobile, Alabama.

Cary Guffey in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and (right) today.

• Cary Guffey, who was four years old during filming, was so good that Spielberg and the crew nicknamed him “One Take Cary.” After appearing in a couple of other films and the 1985 TV miniseries North and South, Duffey left the film business at the ripe old age of 12. He currently is a financial planner living in Birmingham, Alabama.

The KOA Campground at Devils Tower, Wyoming

• Close Encounters of the Third Kind is shown every night at the Devils Tower KOA Campground, in Wyoming, making it one of the most screened movies ever.

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