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11 Otherworldly Facts about Close Encounters of the Third Kind

December 4, 2017

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Released on December 14, 1977, director Steven Spielberg poured his heart and soul into this project, and it paid off, both critically and financially. Make sure to catch Spielberg’s masterpiece as it airs throughout the month on HDNET MOVIES, and check out the 11 otherworldly facts about it below.


 

1. IT COST SIX TIMES MORE THAN ORIGINALLY BUDGETED

When Spielberg first pitched the movie to Columbia Pictures in 1973, he said it would cost $2.7 million. Before shooting even began in 1976, the budget had risen to $11 million due to extensive planning, complicated special effects, and Spielberg’s decision to release the film in 70mm. Once the film was finally completed, the budget came to approximately $19 million. And it all paid off in the end when the film won an Oscar® for Best Cinematography and earned $116 million domestically at the box office.

2. THE FATHER OF UFOLOGY WAS A CONSULTANT ON IT

Astronomer and UFO researcher Dr. J. Allen Hynek first wrote about his “close encounter” classification system in the 1972 book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. To avoid being sued for use of the term, Spielberg hired Hynek as a technical advisor and consultant. Hynek hoped the film would garner support for the advancement of UFO studies. He reviewed the script and helped ensure all the scenes with UFOs were as accurate as possible. He also makes a cameo appearance as one of the spectators pushing through the crowd to get a good look at the aliens. He is easy to spot with his powder blue suit, beard, and pipe hanging out of his mouth.

3. WALTER CRONKITE WAS BARRED FROM ACTING IN IT

Spielberg wanted legendary newsman Walter Cronkite for a cameo role as a news anchor, but his CBS News contract forbade him from acting in movies and television shows. Cronkite nearly put off signing a new contract with CBS just so he could act in the film, but he decided not to and ABC news anchor Howard K. Smith took the part instead. Several scenes had already been shot before this decision was made, so it is Cronkite’s name that is referenced and not Smith’s.

4. SPIELBERG USED THE SPECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR FROM 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

Special effects were part of nearly every scene in the film and Spielberg knew nothing about them, so he hired special effects guru Douglas Trumbull to oversee them. Spielberg says without Trumbull’s help, the film would never have been completed. Trumbull went on to do the special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and Blade Runner (1982).


 

5. R2-D2 IS IN THE FILM

Spielberg and George Lucas were friends and got started in the movie business together. Spielberg offered to help Lucas on Star Wars by shooting a second-unit sequence, but production took too long and he was not able to do it. So instead, as a shout-out to his friend, Spielberg hid Artoo Detoo on the surface of the Mother Ship along with a shark from Jaws. When Jillian is hiding behind the rocks and first sees the Mother Ship, you can spot Artoo Detoo on the surface.

6. SPIELBERG WATCHED IT 48 TIMES

And that was before Columbia Pictures was even allowed to see it! He sat through it 48 times, from start to finish, shooting new footage and recutting scenes in the process. The studio insisted he have it ready for them six months earlier than he planned, and he was able to get it to them in time. But after the movie premiered, he returned to the editing room and created the version he wanted to put together had he been given the time he asked for. This “Special Edition” was released in 1980.

7. COLUMBIA PICTURES WAS FACING BANKRUPTCY IN THE 1970s

This is one of the main reasons they insisted that Spielberg get them the movie by the fall of 1977. The head honchos were counting on it to save the studio and Spielberg knew the film would either make or break them. Luckily, it made nearly 15 times what it cost on initial release, and then even more when the Special Edition was released. Columbia Pictures is still in business today and is now owned by the Sony Corporation.


 

8. TERI GARR WAS CAST BECAUSE OF A COFFEE COMMERCIAL

Spielberg saw her in a 30 second commercial for MJB Coffee and thought she resembled the ideal housewife, so he hired her to play Ronnie. A young Meryl Streep auditioned for the role, but Spielberg thought she was too intimidating to be believable in the part.

9. SPIELBERG WROTE THE SCREENPLAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

The director is a self-proclaimed “night person,” staying up late and catching up on sleep in the morning. He said he would get home after editing Jaws, have something to eat, rest a bit, and then work on the screenplay from 11pm to 8am. He attributes all the nighttime scenes in the movie to that fact and said if he had been writing during the day, there probably would have been more scenes with daylight.


 

10. THE ALIENS COULD HAVE BEEN PLAYED BY CHIMPS

This was one idea that Spielberg and his crew came up with, so they tested it out by dressing up a chimp in an alien outfit. The chimp couldn’t stop falling and laughing while sailing down a ramp in roller skates. After the animal took off the suit and threw it at the crew, Spielberg knew he had to come up with another idea. In the end, he used a puppet and young girls from a local dance school dressed in oversized heads and gloves.

11. THE IDEA FOR THE MOVIE CAME TO SPIELBERG AT 17

He had always been interested in UFOs, and at the age of 17, he made a 150-minute 8mm film called Fireflight. He made $100 dollars in profit after it screened one night in the local theater and he considered it a success. Ten years later, he wrote the screenplay for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which allowed him to delve deeper into the topic of UFOs and make it more believable.

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