Sunday, 26 September 2021


Whilst it's been ages since I posted anything here, the new Volcano Cat site is now live - Specialising in Espionage Movies you can find it at Rest assured, Volcano Cat will return here, but for the time being, we're concentrating on the new site. Thank You for your patience - it's been a chaotic time!

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Watch the Skies... Close Encounters of the Third Kind

A scrapyard in the Sonora Desert, Mexico. The present day. A Landrover pulls up in a dust storm. A team climbs out, wrapped up and goggled against the all-pervasive sand, to the team of Federales that is waiting for them in the storm. After some language difficulties, another team arrives, among them the interpreter, Laughlin. 

A Cartographer by trade, Laughlin has been pressed into service as he speaks French. Claude Lacombe, the leading French expert will need his services. Lacombe himself greets his new colleague warmly, asking him how long he’s been with the project. From the beginning. Laughlin congratulates the Frenchman on his contributions, but their reverie is interrupted by an excited announcement; they’re all here!

Incredibly, fantastically, they are all here – all five of them. The Grumman Avenger torpedo-bombers sit, pristine in a circle. Impossible. And yet there they are, the astonished team clambering over the aircraft. A check of the engine block numbers; they tally with the list. The planes have fuel. The flaps work. Baffled, Laughlin asks an American team member what’s going on. It’s Flight 19, the missing flight from Fort Lauderdale. From 1945. But they look brand new! The leader slides back the cockpit canopy on one of the planes, to reveal family snapshots, charts, a 1945 calendar – all in new condition. Where’s the pilot? How the hell did it get here? The Interpreter’s questions fall on deaf ears as experienced hands work the controls, power, starter to send the Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone engine snarling into life.

There’s a witness; an old local man, seemingly half-crazed who saw the aircraft arrive the night before. Gently, the team questions the man, who displays terrible sunburn over half of his face and head. Smiling, the old man says the sun came out last night – and sang to him.

Air Traffic Control, Indianapolis Center. A flight calls in to ask if there’s any other traffic in Air East 31. Checking the radar screen, the controller says no, just a TWA L-1011 at 15 miles range and a DC-9 at 50 miles. The controller switches to broad-band to make sure as Air East reports traffic at 2 o’clock slightly above and descending, which checks on the screen. He has no known high-altitude traffic, but will check low. He asks a colleague to check low altitude, but Air East 31 calls in again. The traffic isn’t lower – he’s still above and descending. Can he say aircraft type? That’s negative – there’s no distinct outline, but it’s rather brilliant, the brightest anti-collision lights he’s ever seen, alternating white to red. TWA 517 calls in – it can see the aircraft too, as bright lights.

A group of controllers is now crouched around the screen as the reports come in. Air East 31 doesn’t think it’s a problem as the traffic has descended 1,500 feet below… wait a second! The traffic has turned, headed right for his windshield. The collision alert sounds at Air Traffic Control. Air East 31 is making evasive manouver – right turn and the controller quickly diverts the other flights to avoid a catastrophe. A controller orders a subordinate to get on the horn to the 45th Recon Wing, see what the hell they could be testing up there. As he makes the call, Air East 31 calls back in to report the traffic is luminous and exhibiting ‘non-ballistic motion’. Seriously concerned, the controller gives the go ahead for the pilot to continue descent at his discretion. The traffic is approaching head on, ultra-bright and really moving – and right by us! Now that was close!

The senior controller joins the group and asks if the pilots want to report a UFO.
TWA 517: ‘Negative. We don’t want to report.’
Air East 31: ‘Negative, we don’t want to report one of those either.’ Does he want to file any kind of report? He wouldn’t know what kind of file to report…

Night at the Guiler home, Muncie, Indiana. A quiet, starlit sky, the crickets the only sound in the night. Little Barry stirs in his sleep. Suddenly, his Charley Chimp begans bashing his cymbals, the wind begins to blow and Barry’s record player starts all by itself. The Square Song

On the shelf, his Blushing Frankenstein drops his trousers and lights up. This is new! As if on some unseen cue, little Barry’s other toys all light up and start across the floor. There’s a light shining, outside his bedroom and he tumbles out of bed to investigate. The front door’s open, the screen door banging aimlessly. The fridge is wide open too and all the food’s been spilled out – and something’s just gone out the doggy-flap in the kitchen door! Toddling over to see, he sees – something, his face lighting up in delight.

Upstairs, Barry’s toy cars chime and whirr their way into his Mother’s room, her TV on now. Groggily, Jillian Guiler awakens, confused. Finding her son’s room unoccupied, she hears him giggle and looks out of her window to see him happily joggling into the garden. 

High overhead, a pin-point light travels across the sky. A plane, perhaps. Despite her call, he laughs and runs off into the night.

Indiana. That night. In the den of his home, Lineman Roy Neary is working on his model railroad, while his son Brad pleads with him to do his homework for him instead. He doesn’t understand fractions. 

All right; what’s one third of sixty? Not a clue; so Roy places a boxcar across the tracks – say it’s sixty feet long and he’s put it one-third of the way across the tracks. And now, he sets another train in motion. Now, how far does he have to move the boxcar to avoid a miniature disaster? We may never know, as the train smashes into the car.

Ronnie, Roy’s Wife reminds him of his promise; a movie this weekend.
‘And you also promised Goofy Golf’ chips in Brad. While little Toby loudly smashes up a doll, Ronnie complains about Roy’s stuff on her breakfast table, but he’s spotted something; Pinocchio is playing! Brad doesn’t want to see some dumb cartoon for kids. Roy asks how old he is; eight. Does he want to make nine? Then he’s seeing Pinocchio. 

Ronnie’s not impressed. After yelling at Toby to cut it out with the noise, Roy tries democracy. Do they want Goofy Golf with all the waiting and pushing and shoving or Pinocchio, which is lots of furry animals, magic and a wonderful time? You guessed it.

The phone – and it’s Earl for Roy. They’ve got outages all over and he needs Earl in the field. Ronnie reminds Earl he can’t drive alone at night, but he’s needed in Tolono. They’re losing power across the grid - has the power gone there yet? Right on cue – lights out at the Neary home. All across town, the lights flicker out.

Back in Muncie, Jillian Guiler searches the woods for her boy by torchlight. She’s desperate now, but carries on through the trees.

Sure enough, Roy Neary is lost, stopping his repair truck to consult a map. A car pulls up behind and he waves it past, only to get both barrels about being in the middle of the road. He carries on, hopelessly lost, the amber light on his cab strobing through the darkness. Coming to a railway switch, he pulls up to check how lost he is now. Another set of lights behind and he absent-mindedly waves them off, lost in his map. 

The lights move – but UPWARDS, gliding silently into the night air. All of a sudden, Roy’s attention is caught by a line of mailboxes as they begin shaking violently, back and forth. That’s weird enough, but then his torch, radio and truck cut out just before an intense light shines down from above, accompanied by an eerie thrumming.

Risking a look out of the window, Roy sees an unearthly vehicle, a UFO gliding overhead, pulses of light searing him painfully. Next thing, the railway signal begins to wigwag and everything in his truck is sent flying around, the gauges going crazy and Roy himself lifting from his seat as if gravity itself had gone haywire. 

Then, as suddenly as it began, it’s over, the light winking out and the humming noise recedes. Sitting in silence, Roy takes a moment to gather himself before looking up to see a large craft drifting silently across the starry-black sky, a single further flash of light on the road ahead and then nothing. He gets another shock when his torch comes back on… and yet another when his truck fires back into life, the radio alive with reports of unexplained aerial sightings near the Telemark Expressway, out towards Harper Valley. Fired up, Roy takes off in pursuit of the unknown, but doesn’t see the huge strangely shaped shadow which flits across the fields. Taking the off-ramp to Harper Valley East too fast, Roy scrapes along the armco, chasing shadows.

Little Barry Guiler, meanwhile, has made it to a raised bend in the road, where he finds others, waiting. A man sits whistling, his smiling family in the back of their truck. Waiting. Jillian Guiler climbs up onto the road just in time to see Roy’s truck coming over the brow straight towards her son. 

Dashing forward, she scoops her boy up and dives off the road, the truck crashing into a mailbox. Horrified, Roy goes over to apologise, but Barry is off again, toddling off back along the road calling ‘Hello.’ What’s with this kid? Suddenly, a humming sound and the wait is over, a trio of dazzling UFO’s no bigger than sedans swooping low over the odd assemblage, brightly coloured lights shining like neon as they tumble through the air. 

Roy is astonished, Barry wants Ice Cream and a smaller UFO, this no more than a red ball of light hurries along in the wake of it’s larger travelling companions. Jillian and Roy clear the road to make way for the three cop cars that come screeching around the hill in hot pursuit. Neary speaks for everyone; ‘This is nuts.’ And he takes off after the strange craft.

The toll booths at the Ohio State line, the attendant dozes as the automatic barriers begin to raise. Out of nowhere, the odd little procession of lights flies through, ‘little red’ cheekily dividing itself to set all the lights to ‘stop’ as it passes through. The cop cars come racing through, with Roy’s truck. Awake now, the frustrated attendant tries to tell the receding Roy ‘That’s Ohio! that’s a quarter!’

The UFO’s fly along to a bend and straight off it, followed by the leading cop car who ends up flying into a field. 

Skidding to a halt, the rest of the pack disembarks to watch, helpless as the uncanny lights split up and soar into the gathering clouds with a final flickering as of lightning, the lights abruptly coming on in the valley below. Still, they got a suntan out of it…

Frantic with excitement, Roy Neary bursts into his bedroom and wakes Ronnie, insisting she gets dressed. His work called, they couldn’t reach him. He turned the radio off, he tells her, handing her some clothes. It’s four o’clock in the morning – what about the kids? He’ll get the kids. He wakes little Sylvia, Toby and Brad and hustles them all into the truck, watched by nosey old Mrs. Harris next door. Ronnie notices Roy’s sunburn, but gets no answer when she asks what caused it.

Roy takes the family out to where he saw the troupe of UFO’s, but there’s nothing, just a distant storm. He tries to describe what he saw, but ‘ice cream cone’ is all he can manage. Sadly, Ronnie comes to him; doesn’t he think she’s taking this really well? She remembers when they came to places like this to look at each other. To snuggle. Roy is still watching the skies, hoping for a sign, more lights, anything – but Ronnie is determined and husband and wife kiss. And snuggle.

Day. The Gobi Desert, Mongolia and a trio of camel riders come across yet another incredible sight, this one of human origin; a small fleet of three UN Wagoneers and helicopter escort racing over the dunes. Excitable locals wave them onwards to their goal, a team of photographers in awe at what they have been summoned there to film. For there, in this remote desert, far from the nearest water, is a ship, the Cotopaxi. Laughlin arrives, asking why it’s here, but the team member with him just can’t believe it. It’s the Cotopaxi!

The headline reads ‘UFO’s Over Five Counties’. Anxiously, Ronnie Neary carefully cuts the article out. And screws it up. 

Armed with a ping pong bat and a camera, Brad and his pals sneak in on Roy as he brushes his teeth. Whack! The bat hits the target and with a face-full of foaming toothpaste, Roy chases them out King Kong style. Ronnie chides the boys for stealing her camera. One of the kids comments Roy’s suntan makes him look like a 50-50 bar, but Roy is pre-occupied with his shaving foam. The pile of foam in hand almost looks… he starts to shape it, intently. Ronnie’s found some overnight tan, but Roy isn’t interested, asking what the foam reminds her of. Fine; she’ll tell everyone he fell asleep under the tanning lamp.

Brad wants to know; are ‘they’ for real? And Ronnie tells him no, to Roy’s bemusement. She doesn’t want to know about any of it. They argue; the kids believe, Ronnie insists they don’t and Roy just wants to know what’s going on. He follows her into the boy’s bedroom. She doesn’t want to listen, but he saw something last night that he can’t explain. So did she. He’s going out there again tonight. No he’s not. Yes, he is. The Neary boys squabble, but the sound of their Mother’s anguish gets their attention. She’s on the phone. Roy got fired.* Dumfounded, Roy listens to her as she tells him they didn’t even want to talk to him.
*No Union hearing? Never mind. Only a movie, right?

Dharamshala, India. Claude Lacombe, Laughlin and a team arrive to find a village in turmoil, people running everywhere and a concerted chanting rising from the crowd sitting cross-legged before a Sadhu. They sing a five-toned chant, over and over joyfully. A crowd of villagers surges forward amongst the seated singers, the team among them. Lacombe finds a village elder and asks him ‘From what direction did your people hear these sounds?.’ The question is put to the Sadhu, who strides to the top of a mound from where the elder calls the question down to the assemblage. As one, a multitude of fingers points skywards.

At a specially-convened conference, the assembled experts rise for a standing ovation as the American team leader plays the tape of the Dharamshala chanting and Lacombe takes the stage. He apologizes for his poor English with a joke and informs them of a significant breakthrough. 

Using Zoltán Kodály’s method, which assigns hand gestures to musical tones to teach deaf children about music, he demonstrates the hand signals for each of the five tones, as the attendees are given Kodály folders with the word ‘Mayflower’ emblazed on a triangular design. 

First, one at a time and then for the whole sequence, Lacombe makes the appropriate signs for the tones, followed by a synthesized version. But what do these tones mean?

Night. Roy fumbles and batters the film into his instamatic, in preparation as, along with a large group of people, he waits on the hill. The old folks play cards, the younger ones hang out. Badly sunburned, Jillian Guiler arrives to join him. They introduce each other properly and he apologises for nearly running little Barry down. They compare ‘sunburns’ and she goes back to check on her boy, who is busy making a mud-castle. When Roy sees it, he freezes in recognition. It’s weird, he tells Jillian, but every since yesterday, on the road, he’s been seeing the same shape. Laying down to join them, she sees it too, drawing a finger through the mud, sculpting, shaping. Somehow, Roy knows what this is, but can’t get a handle on it. It means something.

A shout goes up; here they come! Two lights, out of the Northwest. Awe-struck, the sky-watchers stand as the lights approach. The whistling man from the other night holds up a home-made placard; Stop and be friendly. 

With a blast from the rotors, the two helicopters send dust, playing cards and everything that’s not bolted down flying in all directions. Roy stands against the storm, watching as the Hueys hover, spotlights trained.

The Echo Deep Space Station, Goldstone, California. The gigantic radio telescope dish is receiving a pattern of numbers. An elder team leader listens as the station director explains they received two fifteen-minute signals, a hundred and four rapid pulses, then a five second interval after which forty pulses. Next came a five second interval and thirty. After sixty seconds of silence; a new set of numbers. He leads the way into a secure area and a high-tech mobile perspex command center. Where are these signals coming from? Right in the neighborhood; seven seconds’ light-travel time distant. They join Lacombe and Laughlin at a teleprinter as the director informs that they’ve been sending out the now-familiar five-tone pattern for weeks now, receiving these numbers by way of reply.

Disappointed, the team leader postulates this could mean the ‘India sounds’ met a dead end; there’s so much they don’t know. But Laughlin isn’t just an Interpreter – he’s a Cartographer… and he’s holding the printout with interest.

Excuse me.’ Laughlin has to repeat himself. Before he got paid to speak French, he used to read maps. This first number is a longitude. These are Earth co-ordinates. The director remembers there’s a globe in the County Supervisor’s office and they kick the door in to unceremoniously roll the oversized globe down the hall, ignoring a colleague’s protests that it’s a $2,500 globe. They hump the thing along to the command center and while they argue and chatter like excited kids, Laughlin traces his way to a location in Wyoming. 

The team leader orders a geodetic survey map of Wyoming; he wants this nailed to the square yard. The hubbub rises again, while, unnoticed, Lacombe has some important information to impart; a headset clamped to one ear. Ignored, he sets a tape recorder in motion and sits at the synthesizer keyboard to play the five-tones.

The quintet of tones is a hit; even little Barry’s playing it on his glockenspiel. Xylophone. Whatever. His Mother is obsessively sketching a rock tower, but none of the images seems right, none seem to match the image she sees in her head. She collects them to take out for the trash as a distant rumble of thunder brings Barry to the window, expectant. 

His cry of delight alerts her and the neighborhood dogs all join in the chorus. A bloom of light illuminates the roiling clouds and, delighted Barry calls out ‘Toys.’ As a terrified Jillian edges back towards her home, several brilliant spheres of radiance emerge from the clouds and glide towards it. Taking her son by the arm, she barricades the door, shuts and fastens the windows.

As his mother dashes about securing the house, Barry watches as an intense reddish-orange light shines through the keyhole. 

To her horror, he opens the door to the radiance and, moving him aside she shuts and bolts it. 

Noises upstairs now, scraping and knocking. Dust falls down from the chimney into the fireplace. While his Mother is frightened, Barry is happy, calling out; ‘You can come and play now.’A stark white light is thrown down the chimney – plucking up the courage, Jillian grabs the damper and pulls it firmly shut, before the light can descend. A blind rolls up and the boy thinks the Sun’s here. A burst of lights from outside a window sets her record player into life. Chances Are, Johnny Mathis.

A carpet flips back, something’s in the floor vents now. Snatching Barry up into her arms, Jillian stops, turns. The screws in the vent are unscrewing, as if by an unseen force. She screams for them to go away, but the vent merely flips open with a burst of smoke. Dragging furniture over it is only going to delay the inevitable; her Hoover lights up and runs across the room, the TV’s on and her frantic attempt to call for help just gets those five-tones down the phone. If that weren’t enough, her kitchen appliances choose the moment to join the party, jigging and dancing in an insane display.

Something bigger now, descending menacingly from the night outside, noise and lights filling the house. Suddenly, Barry’s climbed through the doggy-flap and distraught, poor Jillian grabs at his legs for a tug of war with – whatever is beyond. She’s not weak – a Mother’s strength is famous, but she can’t compete with the force out there. 

The moment it’s over, it’s over, the kitchen settling down and only a hysterical, distraught woman chasing a receding light beneath the clouds remains. Barry Guiler is gone.

At the local US Air Force facility, Jillian faces a barrage of questions from the press; The Nearys are there and she tells Roy what happened to Barry, while Ronnie would prefer not to be there at all, hiding behind a large pair of sunglasses. Turning away from the pack, she makes her exit in an elevator. The woman at the desk calls everyone’s attention; they can go in now.

A large conference room and a Press Officer, Major Benchley makes a dramatic announcement; ‘This is a flying saucer’, holding up a photograph of the object to gasps and excitement. Several people in the room swear to it that’s the one they saw, to the amusement of the Air Force man who then holds up the pewter saucer he had one of his kids throw across the lawn for the photo. Yuk-yuk! As the sky-watchers from the other night sit at the long table, he moves on from his little joke to explain last year, Americans shot more than seven billion photographs. Spending $6.6 billion for the equipment and developing. Now, with all those shutters clicking, where is the indisputable evidence? Everyone wants a piece of this, but a newsman tells the Major he’s been in the business for years and never managed to photograph a plane crash as it happened either, nor an auto crash for that matter.

Earnestly, an official in a suit (oh-oh) addresses the room; it would be fun to believe in all kinds of things, from mental telepathy to time travel, immortality and even Santa Claus. (Like we hadn’t guessed he was bad; boo!) Now, he knows it would be no fun to go home today and say; ‘Guess what happened today? I was in the shopping center and there was this bright light – and I rushed outside – and it was an airplane.’ Piqued, Roy tells him he didn’t want to see this. The suit tells him he feels otherwise, he’s spent fifteen years looking for damn silly lights in the night sky. He’d like to, because he believes in life elsewhere.

Another guest asks why the U.S.A.F. doesn’t just admit to conducting secret tests in the Foothills area? The suit agrees it would be easier to say as much, but it simply isn’t the case. He doesn’t know what he saw. Roy isn’t buying any of it; they can’t fool the people by agreeing with them!. Helpfully, the whistling man chips in, claiming to have seen Bigfoot once. The cameras whip round as he makes the most of his fifteen seconds; 1951. Sequoia National Park. Had a foot on her 37 inches long, heel to toe (The kids present love this bit) Made a sound he wouldn’t want to hear twice in his life. Roy’s delighted to be in the same bracket as this balloon.

The conference/snow-job continues, but Roy’s pre-occupied with the newspaper; not so much Jillian’s front page cosmic kidnapping story as doodling. He’s doodling a mountain in pencil. The Air Force mouthpiece wraps it up; UFO’s do not represent a direct physical threat to our national security. We do not support them – and we encourage you not to. The pencil breaks.

A Secret facility, piled high with mysterious crates. Indiana Jo– sorry, wrong film, I mean Dodge vans screech up and disgorge their human cargo; astronaut types in red jumpsuits, emblazoned with the stars and stripes and the Mayflower design. Amid tight Army security, the Buzz Aldrin fan club boards a waiting Air Force coach. The elder team leader is here, dictating his last-minute instructions to avoid chaos, the perspex command center being prepped behind him. He pauses to watch the Mayflower team embark; if this mission fully develops, he gets white-knuckled just thinking about what might be ahead for those folks…

The junior team leader is busy explaining the itinerary to Lacombe via Laughlin; there’s a limo waiting to take them to the helipad for their flight. A group clustered around a table debates the method to be used, a Special Forces man listens intently; Major ‘Wild Bill’ Walsh. One likes the flash flood ruse, but where would they get the water? A dam about to burst? What about contaminated water? That affects people, crops, animals… the list so far includes forest fires, the aforementioned flooding and disease. A plague epidemic? Well, no-ones going to believe that… as the Masters of Disaster continue debating how best to fool the good people of Wyoming, the camera zooms in on the map laid across the table. To a place marked ‘Devil’s Tower.’ 

Finally, one of them hits on it; Anthrax – farming country, lots of sheep. Yes! Wild Bill likes the anthrax idea. Anthrax it is… but there’s always some joker who thinks himself immune. What he needs is something so scary it’ll clear 300 square miles of every living Christian soul.

Piggly Wiggly, Coca Cola and Baskin Robbins. Not exactly names to inspire terror - but wait! These are just the covers being hastily applied to various military trucks being used in the decoy operation. Guided by a man with a light-up baton (apparently essential to all successful operations) the convoy rolls from the base.

Dinner at the Neary home; Ronnie passes round the mashed potatoes. Little Silvia complains she hates these potatoes; there’s a dead fly in hers.* When it’s his turn, Roy doles out a lump of mash. That image again. Compulsively, he scoops out a pile and starts sculpting, watched by a fascinated Brad and a mortified Ronnie. Suddenly realising the whole family is fixated on his bizarre behavior, he clutches a hand to his brow, Brad in tears now. What’s wrong with Dad? Tearfully, Roy tries to explain. It’s okay. He’s still Dad. But this means something – it’s important.
*An unscripted moment which was included in the film. Richard Dreyfuss is clearly struggling to keep a straight face in the scene.

Alone in the den, Roy has made a clay model of his vision on the model train layout. But it’s not right, it’s not right… he slaps balls of clay on, anxious to get it right. Grabbing a bent fork, he begins scraping the tines along the flanks of the miniature mountain, shaping, shaping. But it’s still not right. At the end now, he storms into the garden to yell up at the night sky; ‘What is it?’ Tell me.

That night Ronnie Leary awakes alone, switching on the bedside light to discover it’s past four. There’s sounds of sobbing and the shower in their bathroom and, finding it locked, she knocks and asks Roy to open it. No response. Furious, she goes for a nail file as little Silvia toddles from her room, confused. Opening the door from outside, she throws it open to reveal Roy, fully clothed under the shower. He can’t even look at her., but manages to speak. ‘I don’t think I know what’s happening to me.’ Concerned, she grabs a towel, shuts off the faucet. She suggests they go to family therapy; he’s impressed his watch still works despite the water. Brad is there and, angry, he slams the bathroom door to and fro repeatedly screaming ‘You crybaby!’ at his Dad. Ronnie shouts at him to get out and Silvia screams. Desperately Ronnie shouts. She doesn’t know what this is.

Wrapped in his towel, Roy says he’s really scared – he needs her. She’s had enough of this bullshit; it’s turning the house upside down. He pleads for her to just cuddle him, but she’s at her wit’s end. She hates him! None of their friends call any more! He’s out of work, doesn’t care; he’s ruining them! Tearful, Brad watches from his bedroom as Ronnie takes her turn locking herself in the bathroom. He shuts his door too.* Back with the object of his fixation, Roy stares at the clay mountain in the dark, finally falling asleep.
*And yes, listen closely and you can just about hear Spielberg’s voice telling him to close the door.

Bleary, Roy awakes in the same spot to find Silvia’s watching one of the old Bug’s Bunny cartoons with the Martian. Is he going to yell at her? He shakes his head. Coming to his senses, he pulls down the assorted UFO clipping’s he put up. Calling out to Ronnie, he tells her everything’s fine, it’ll be like it was. Grabbing the hated clay mountain, he pulls hard to remove it, but just the summit comes away, leaving a flat… wait. That’s it. That’s it…

Sleeping in the boy’s room, Ronnie is awakened as Roy bumps his head against the window. He’s busy tearing the plants from the soil outside. She starts to apologize then sees what he’s up to. Jesus. Miserably, she asks what he’s doing, but he insists she’ll love this, hurling the plants straight through the kitchen window. Roy shovels a wheelbarrow full of dirt in afterwards and Toby wants to know if they can shovel some in his window after. Holding onto herself, a frightened Ronnie pleads with him to stop, but if he does? That’s when he’s gonna need a Doctor. The neighbors are starting to notice all’s not well in la Casa Neary and, gathering up armfuls of bricks he tells the plaintive Ronnie not to be scared. He feels really good. The bricks go into the kitchen sink. Helpfully, Toby launches one in too.

Spotting the arrival of the garbage truck, Roy dashes to the trash can and has a tug of war with the garbage collector, dumping the trash and retrieving the bin to add to the collection. By now, half the street has gathered to watch the shenanigans, but Roy’s not done. Chicken wire! Marching over to Mrs. Harris’ ornamental pond, he steals her chicken wire fencing. He offers to pay, but she aims her hair-dryer defensively; he can take it. His eager assistant Toby has to be threatened with a maternal smacking to stop him ripping up a length. Freed from captivity, Mrs. Harris’ geese make a bid for freedom, Ronnie’s futile effort to get them to ‘stay’ being met with honks of disdain.

The last straw; Ronnie packs the kids into the car. They’re going to her sister’s. That’s crazy, she’s not even dressed. She screeches off in reverse, Roy chasing after her. On the street, he tries to stop her, but is thrown from the hood and dumped onto the pavement. The whole street watching in silence, Roy collects himself and strides back to the house, offering a curt ‘Morning’ as he goes. Tossing a final plant in, he climbs in after it, drawing up the ladder afterwards. The drawbridge to Castle Neary is raised.

Dazed, almost in a stupor, Roy adds the finishing touches to the mountain, this version being ceiling-high. Days of our Lives plays on the tv. Roy takes a break to look out the window. Like sand through the hourglass… so are the Days of our Lives. Looking out at them, washing the car, doing the lawn, the normality of suburban life they seem far removed from Roy’s reality. Or is he from theirs? Somehow he’s not one of them anymore. Almost with regret, he shuts the curtain on the world outside. On what he was. Still, he misses his family. The bud commercial closes and a news report; a rail disaster. Roy’s busy on the phone to Ronnie. At Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, a trainload of dangerous chemical gas went off the rails and forced the widest area evacuation… Whenever she wants him to. Tomorrow is fine - area closed to the public - He can do other things. We go now to Charles McDonald for a live report…

As Roy pleads with his wife, the report goes to Devil’s Tower where the Army and National Guard are supervising the evacuation of thirty-five to fifty thousand people. Roy tells her it was a joke. Charles tells us they’re assured the danger will be over within seventy-two hours. Anything she wants; he’ll do. Roy, that is, not Chuck. Chuck’s busy enough in Wyoming. We see Devil’s Tower on the tv. That’s odd; we see it in Roy’s living room too. Roy pleads with her to meet face to face, but she’s not ready and hangs up, to his frustration. Finally, Roy looks at the tv and sees it. The image of his obsession.

In her room at the Hopi Motor Inn, Jillian Guiler is watching too. The wall above her bed is papered with sketches she’s made and she too has an answer to the mystery of the image. The tv spools it’s lies, but neither Roy nor Jillian are listening. They know.

In his rented Ford LTD Wagon, Roy tries to drive and map read, the radio issuing the new area restrictions from the U.S. Army Materiel Command. Basically, every road Roy might hope to use is off-limits. He rolls towards the town of Moorcroft, Wyoming, covering the windscreen with his map, frustrated as ever by the challenges of paper-based navigation. Horns blaring alrt him to the danger of the oncoming traffic. It’s all oncoming; he’s the only one headed that way, against a tide of fleeing citizenry. A soldier tries to stop him, but he plays dumb and keeps moving.

At Gillette train station, crowds wait to board a train, some in home-made masks worn in the hope of avoiding the effects of the deadly gas spill. A voice on a tannoy reads out the boarding procedure as everyone does their best to ignore it and clambers aboard anyway. Already, the roof of the carriages are packed with the more agile evacuees. As is people weren’t enough, some cowboys on horseback and their herd are waiting for their train. A hustler peddles gas masks at $45, ‘early warning systems’ (birds) at $20. Why, even his dog has a gas mask – surely any of these folks are worth more than a dog? Exiting his rental, Roy finds himself in the midst of barely restrained chaos.

As the horde hands up suitcases and bags containing their precious possessions to others already aboard the train, Roy’s name is being called. It’s Jillian, lost somewhere in the tumult. The voice over the tannoy urges an orderly evacuation, but the people are close to panic; a dangerous time. Soldiers help citizens onto a flat-bed – anything so long as it’s out of here. Finally, Roy spots her; she’s being helped onto the train against her will, two well-meaning soldiers push-pulling her aboard. She breaks clear, running to him, an MP giving her up as a bad lot with a shake of his head. The two embrace as the crowd surges around them.

In Roy’s rental, the pair pull off the road. What’s he doing? The only way to get back in is to go cross-country, through the fence. Suiting action to word, he guns it, tearing through the fence into the countryside, driving like a man possessed. Another fence falls foul of Roy’s enthusiastic approach and they crunch down onto a dirt road. Distractedly, Jillian tells Roy the Police dragged the river for Barry – she told them he wasn’t in the river, but they did it all the same. She checks Roy’s early warning system; the birds he was suckered into seem happy enough in their cage. They’re approaching some wooden barriers – the Police went round every house for five milescrunch – looking in backyard refrigerators – now on a blacktop – asked her if she’d seen any strangers in the neighbourhood. Roy laughs at the irony. The car screeches to a halt before a sturdy log and barbed-wire barrier. Spellbound, the two get out and go down and up an earth embankment to get their first look at Devil’s Tower – and this time not in a vision.

Magnificent; no other word for the sight that greets them. Geologists use words like ‘butte’ and ‘igneous rock’, but ‘magnificent’ is the only word for Devil’s Tower. Jillian can’t believe it’s real, but it is. Roy suggests they get some gas and get down there. As they bump through another barrier, Roy spots something; dead horses by the side of the road. Then dead cows. Worried, Jillian checks the early warning birdies; both are happy. Roy tells he the whole thing’s a put-on, guaranteed. And then they both reach for their gas masks. The rental’s brakes screech as Roy slows down to roll past the dead sheep, but the proximity of the tower is a strong pull and he goes on. With another squeal of rubber, he just manages to stop at the road block. Two military vans and a jeep, teeming with soldiers in white Haz-Mat suits. Ordering the pair out, they ask if they are o.k. Furiously, Roy refuses to be manhandled. They’re fine! ‘According to my birds the only bad air here is you guys farting around!’ Reaching into the car, one of the team removes the birds, both very dead.

The white suits shepherd the couple into the two vans, separating them, much to their consternation. Metal doors slam shut and another opens; we’re now at a secure facility, Roy sat in a small steel room with only a white suit and a tape recorder for company. Not for long though, as Laughlin and Lacombe enter to join him at the little table, a third man, Robert joining them to sit in for Mr. White Suit who has left. Laughlin introduces them, explaining they have little time and need answers from him, that are honest, direct and to the point. He has a question; where’s Jillian?. Ignoring this, Lacombe asks via his interpreter if he realizes the danger he and Jillian have risked. In coming here, he’s exposed himself to toxic gas. ‘Well, I’m alive.’ That’s true, but if the prevailing winds had been blowing from the South instead of the North? This conversation would not be taking place. In a corner, Roy digs his heels in; there’s nothing wrong with the air, he states, defiantly. What makes him say that? He just knows. Speaking in English, Lacombe says ‘Go outside and me make a liar.’ On the back foot somewhat, Roy wants to speak to the man in charge – but Laughlin insists Mr. Lacombe is the highest authority. But he’s not even an American!

Ignoring the slight, Lacombe asks (Via Laughlin) if Roy is an artist or a painter? No Has he been experiencing a persistent, though not disagreeable ringing in his ears? Also no. Headaches, Migraines? Yeah. An irritation in your eyes and sinuses? Yeah. Hives? Allergies? Burning on your face or body? Yes – who are you people? They show him one of Jillian’s Devil’s Tower pieces, but he dismisses it – who are you people? One more question. Has he recently had a Close Encounter? A Close Encounter with something very unusual? Who are you people…

Lacombe lays down photo-booth style snapshots of a group of people, asking if they are strangers to Roy. All, but Jillian. And the two of them felt compelled to be here? Roy agrees – they might say that. But what did he expect to find? Angrily, he replies ‘An answer. That’s not crazy, is it?’. The two experts discuss this in Lacombe’s native French. Hold it, says Roy; is that all? He has a couple of thousand God-damn questions; standing now, he wants to speak to someone in charge, lodge a complaint! They have no right to make people crazy – do they think he investigates every Walter Cronkite story he sees? If this is just nerve gas, how come he knows everything in such detail? He’s never been here before, how come he knows so much? What the Hell is going on around here! Banging his fist on the table, he asks again; who the Hell are you people?

A small convoy speeds towards the Decontamination Camp near the base of Devil’s Tower. Roy, in gas mask is led from the holding area by two burly soldiers in white suits, protesting as loudly as the mask allows as he’s put onto a waiting Huey. There, the people from the snapshots sit, waiting to be removed. Also masked-up, Lacombe approaches the pilots to tell them there’s a five minute delay. Sitting there, Roy looks at the faces looking back; kindly faces, expectant. And Jillian. Jillian’s there too, waiting for him to make a decision.

Lacombe has his own problems, Wild Bill wants to know just why he had twelve people brought to the Decontamination Camp and not the Evacuation Center. Answering in English, Lacombe replies ‘Because this means something.’ And amusingly, Laughlin repeats the phrase, stuck in Translator mode. In French now, the expert relays through his faithful aide that these people have come from all over their country… to a place they have been told will endanger their lives. Why? Major Walsh feels it could be a subversion attempt; send in the fanatics, the cultists, Christ knows what, but Lacombe dismisses the idea, turning to Robert who hands him the contents of a valise. These are the drawings of Devil’s Tower made by the ‘chosen twelve’. This is a small group of people who have a shared vision in common; raising the blinds to reveal the Tower outside, Lacombe adds in his broken English ‘It’s still a mystery to me why they are here. Even they do not know why.’

Outside on the pan, Roy and the others sit, the only sound their laboured breathing in the masks. Finally, he plucks up the courage. Yanking off his mask, he takes a deep breath. And dies, in terrible agon… sorry, just kidding; he’s fine. The turbines begin to spool up as the chopper prepares for flight. Turning to Jillian, he calls to her and, faithfully, she nods, removing her own mask despite the plea from another passenger not to. Roy tries to tell the others there’s nothing wrong with the air – the Army’s getting rid of them because they don’t want any witnesses. A lively and short debate ensues, some not wanting to go against authority, while a guy from L.A. declares the air’s better than back home. Roy asks how many of them are for getting out of there? Just Jillian and Mr. West Coast.

Inside the office, Lacombe looks through the blinds at the spinning rotors. He doesn’t know what’s happening and he must know what’s going on. He continues; for every one of these anxious, anguished people who’ve come here, there must be hundreds of others also touched by the vision who never made it this far. They never watched the television, or did so and failed to make the psychic connexion. Hearing this, Wild Bill claims it a co-incidence and not scientific. Pausing, Lacombe speaks in his best English, with passion and focus. ‘Listen to me Major Walsh, it is an event sociological.’

Roy, Jillian and L.A. Guy make a run for it, spotted through the window by Lacombe as they trot past technicians unloading ominous crates marked ‘Lockheed’, ‘TRW’ and ‘Rockwell’ - aerospace company hardware in Piggly Wiggly and Ice Cream trucks? Lacombe watches the trio’s departure with a wry expression. Now out of the camp and headed for Devil’s Tower, there’s time for a hasty introduction; we can call L.A. Guy Larry Butler from hereon.

Back at the camp, Major Walsh hasn’t noticed anything awry, addressing the passengers to tell them to keep their masks on until their out of danger. The door slides shut and their adventure is at an end, the Huey lifting off with its human cargo. As soon as it’s airborne, he strides over to a waiting jeep to join Lacombe and Laughlin and they all remove their masks, proving beyond a doubt the air’s just peachy in Wyoming. A call over the radio for the Major; it’s his superior. He promises he’ll have the rest of them off the mountain in one hour. The voice over the net orders him to make an infra-red photo analysis of the Northern Face. Yes Sir; already ordered. The boss has more; he doesn’t like it, they’re in enough trouble with the Cattlemen as it is, but if he can’t clear the escapees from the mountain by 20:00 hrs, he’s to start dusting – with EZ-4. EZ-4? Me neither. Amazingly, despite all the noise on camp, Lacombe hears this from where he’s standing and wants to know the same thing we do; Wild Bill explains helpfully it’s a sleep aerosol, same thing they used on the livestock. They’ll sleep for six hours and wake up with a headache, that’s all.

Wild Bill marches off, but Lacombe is persistent; they didn’t choose this place, these people; they were invited! Laughlin is left shouting this at the Major’s retreating back. Alone with his interpreter, Lacombe states ‘They belong here more than we.’

The threesome climbs the mountain, the camp in the distance, choppers taking off in pursuit now. It’s hard work and, leaning against a tree, Larry quips he should never have given up jogging. Urgently, Roy points to a notch in the mountain; they could make it. The choppers fly past nearby, a voice on the crowd control system warning them the authority in the park is superseded by the United States Government. Pausing to debate routes, Jillian favors a ravine, but Roy knows this mountain like it’s in his living room – that leads to a 350 feet drop, straight down. On the other side, there’s a box canyon he wants to head for. A chopper side-slips right overhead as he explains his route; Jillian never imagined the mountain in three dimensions – she only did paintings of the one side. L.A. Larry didn’t recall any canyons in his doodles. Roy says next time, try sculpturing. Larry points out they’re facing a good hour’s climb and they get moving again.

The speaker blares it’s ineffective warning again as elite troops begin patrolling up after the fugitives* and they call it in; nothing to report at mid-station, but there’s plenty of hiding places up there and they need more men to cover the area in one hour. The reply is terse; get everybody off the Northern face and inform the Dark Side of the Moon they’re going to dust. Dark Side of the what now?
*You don’t need military experience to see how much easier it would have been to drop them higher up by chopper to cut the trio off.

The three climbers pause, gasping for breath close to the mountain proper now. Ominous silver canisters are being loaded onto the skids of the choppers at the ‘Decontamination Camp’ under Wild Bill’s watchful gaze. A chopper buzzes overhead as the climbers take cover amongst the crags. Roy watches as another flies around the mountain, an underslung jeep suspended from it. Something’s going on on the other side of this mountain….

Fully loaded, the dust bird takes off for the mountain, into the gathering gloom. There’s not long until nightfall now. Larry’s falling behind, Roy calling back to him to come on, but he scrapes his way onto a large rock and stays there, exhausted. The dust bird clatters past and spots him sitting there. It begins another pass, releasing the LZ-4 agent, birds dropping from the vegetation, unconscious. 

Seeing the powder coming down, Larry calls up to the others; ‘They’re just crop dusting – Los Angeles!’ Jillian is worried for Larry, but Roy urges her not to look back, to keep going. Larry’s going to sleep now.

Rounding the slope, Roy loses his grip to fall some way down, as the dust bird comes around for another sweep. They’re only ten feet from the top, says Jillian. Searchlights on the far side of the Tower are now clearly visible. Whatever’s there, they’re close to it. Numb with fatigue, he clambers back up to reach for her outstretched hand, but slips back down into the path of the chopper. It’s headed straight for where he lies. Spurring him on, Jillian reaches down as the dust is released once more, grabs his hand and the two jump over the ridge to the other side.

Safe from the incapacitating agent, the pair look down at an incredible sight. The box canyon Roy mentioned is alive with activity, ablaze with electrical lights and lined with a horse-shoe crescent of portable structures. A faceless voice on a tannoy conducts a sound check – this really is the Dark Side of the Moon!

Gentlemen, Ladies, take your positions please. This is not a drill. I repeat – this is not a drill. The voice calls for the lights in the arena to be turned down sixty percent and the generator whine subsides in accordance with the reduced lighting. Incongruously, the voice doubts they could have asked for a more beautiful evening, as section by section, a runway blinks into existence, leading off from the canyon. Ok, watch the skies please. We now show uncorrelated targets moving from the North-Northwest. Turning to that direction, Roy watches as seven points of light converge high above the tower, to form the shape of the Big Dipper, letting out a delighted laugh at the realisation. A shooting star flashes across the sky, then another, which stops and reverses its course, breaking apart into smaller components of brilliance.

Roy spots a group of three smallish, brilliant UFO’s gliding down behind them – he’s glad Jillian sees them too; he’s not crazy. They float down past them to the arena, followed by the impish ‘little red’.

Down in the computer control room, Lacombe sees the UFO’s too and goes out to get a closer look, the inevitable Laughlin and Robert in attendance. The announcer spools off some nonsense about D-Class personnel and the assembled battery of cameras whirr into life, recording this momentous event. A technician, awed, steps hesitantly towards a large synthesizer keyboard and dons his headset. As the three craft hover silently, waiting, technicians swarm over various gizmos, doing highly technical things. Finally, they are ready, the keyboard technician plays the first tone, a corresponding red light showing on a large panel mounted above and behind him. One by one, he plays the notes relayed to him by the command center, each accompanied by its assigned colour. Thus, the first tentative communication between human and alien.

There’s no response, the elder team leader observes. Must be why he’s the Boss… The voice over the radio net tells us some sciencey stuff about milligals (Something to do with acceleration; I Go-Ogle’d it) and they try the five-tones again. And again, Lacombe giving the hand signals for each tone. Up in the cheap seats, Jillian and Roy watch and listen; she knows that tune. Faster, says Lacombe, walking out towards the waiting craft. Frustrated, he signals; faster! Waving his arms towards the visitors in anticipation. 

And then response! In turn, the unearthly trio plays their response, rising into the air as they do so. Panel flashing, tones ringing, the synthesizer tech plays to the crowd, fingers a blur. His audience are delighted it seems, blaring tonal responses and rotating happily in place. They’ve come a long way; imagine the disappointment if we were too dumb to even speak! As if satisfied with the response, the three ships break formation and fly off, to spontaneous applause from the assembled technicians and suits.

It’s all over; First Contact has been made and it’s relief and handshakes all around. It’s Miller Time… but something has attracted the attention of the radar array and, up on the hill, the now-reatreating couple too. The huge cloud that has appeared stretches off into the sky to both sides of Devil’s Tower, roiling and bubbling unnaturally, billowing like some uncanny smoke. 

One of the UFO’s has returned, lights flashing as if signalling, guiding… but guiding what? Brilliant pulses of colored light answer from inside the cloud. Roy whispers to Jillian, beckoning her back to their vantage point. Like children sneaking in to an adult’s party, they creep down closer, hidden from view by just one small rocky ridge now. Normally, the sight of one UFO hanging there in plain sight would be enough to guarantee anyone’s attention, but now? Most of the crowd are staring fixedly at the sky, in anticipation…

...and they aren’t to be disappointed; the group of ships breaking through from the cloud swoop down in a cascade of neon, dazzling, beguiling and all seemingly a different shape. 

It’s chaos, people dashing in all directions as the ethereal machines swoosh low overhead. People are forced to duck as these craft hum and rotate slowly ahead, as if checking everything’s okay – some of the techs having the presence of mind to at least snatch some quick readings. One pauses to hover directly above Lacombe and emit some strobing flashes that could almost be mistaken for the occupant snatching some quick holiday souvenirs… speaking of which, the backroom boys are delighted with the footage so far; keep those reloads coming!

Mischievously, Roy suggests they get closer, but Jillian is fine where she is. We can’t stay here, he says. She can – because Barry’s not here. She’s just not ready for this – it’s her son she came for. Apologetically, Roy has to get down there. She understands. Hesitantly, they kiss, but it’s the kiss of two good friends parting company, perhaps regret at what might have been. He takes his leave of this free spirit as another floats overhead, scrambling down the rocks to find his answers.

Data control is chipping in as Roy steals into the party, unseen. They monitor no biologic hazards, which is nice. Range safety clear. The UFO’s have all departed, but the keyboard technician keeps himself busy with the quintones again; does he do requests? There’s nothing out there now, the melody dying out on a dejected note. Lacombe stands alone in the center of the arena, wondering if this is it. Jillian climbs back to the original vantage point she shared with Roy and all you can hear is the night wind. Until the faint rumble of thunder, that is. Nearest to the sound, Jillian turns and is awe-stuck by the sight that first illuminates her face and then casts a shadow over it.

Gigantic, easily the size of a modest city. Imagine the Houston Astrodome resting on an oil refinery floating and slowly spinning, the whole lit with a hundred thousand lights. Roy can only stare as the monumental structure thrums in stately progress over the tower towards the arena. Even the men of science are left speechless, standing in mute awe at the spectacle that is dominating the scene. As the leviathan nears, more detail is visible and it is clear this ship was built for many occupants. 

Those on the ground take an involuntary step back as the shadow of this huge ship falls across the arena. Roy makes it down to ground level, to be confronted by a technician at the run – he needn’t worry, the man is beside himself with fright and just wants to hide in one of the porta-potties. When you gotta go…

Thanks to the Best diversion in History, Roy’s able to mingle among the authorised personnel, totally unnoticed as, majestically, the ship rotates around the horizontal, inverting and lowering itself. Guess ‘they’ have travel mugs. 

The dome is now just thirty feet or so from the arena floor and the assemblage are forced to don sunglasses, so intense is the radiance streaming from the ship. Still lower now, the people pushing closer, drawn by the sheer presence and wonder before them – a section sliding slowly down below to just above head height. The synthesizer console is rolled closer, to facilitate any communication, but with what? Warnings about safety zones, low gravity and static charges come from the speaker, but who cares about such nonsense when confronted with such a spectacle!

Jillian has seen enough from back there. Resolutely, she moves down to get closer as the technical staff get their act together. Time for the five-tones. Accompanied on the light panel, keyboard guy goes for it. After a brief pause, the craft responds, lights pulsing and a sequence of strident and deep, tuba-like sounds. Encouraged, our man plays the tones again, getting a slightly disappointed sequence back. Maybe these Earth guys are a little limited? Undaunted, keyboard guy keeps playing, getting a stentorian response that blows the glass out of one of the cabins.*
*An effect that Spielberg had to fund with his own money due to penny-pinching at the studio.

The synth player keeps at it and the Mothership crew are up for a challenge, repeating the motif and then riffing on it. It’s a language after all – and they are holding the class. Luckily, some of the finest minds available begin to work out this new vocabulary and next the keyboard sends a more developed response than the basic greeting we’re all sick of by now. Roy is free to roam ever closer as the cosmic jam develops. Keyboard guy is right in the thick of it, yet doesn’t have a clue what they’re saying to each other. A supervisor explains; it’s a basic tonal vocabulary. Another chips in; it’s the first day of school…

The session heats up, the keyboard player working hard to keep up with the Mothership in the sound and light stakes. The light panel is fairly ablaze now. Jean Michelle Jarre eat your heart out. Jillian has made it into the arena now, her desire to be closer to all this overcoming her trepidation. Now the technical staff have a handle on the basics, they take over from the keyboard tech, playing the synth from the control center. Jillian and Roy are delighted by the show, but then things take a turn for the darker, as the lights on the ship dim and some gloomy elephantine notes take over. I could be wrong, but it sounds exactly like the Jaws theme… nobody knows how to respond to this sudden melancholia.

Abruptly, an aperture opens up in the bottom of the ship, an envelope of light perhaps forty feet wide appearing, sending the crowd back in sudden panic. It’s a ramp, lowering slowly to the ground. Night becomes day as the searing whiteness sends shadows across the arena, but Roy pushes through to stand near the front. He’s come a long way for this after all.

Movement – there’s movement! People, there are people emerging from the dazzling glare, walking with uncertain steps down the ramp. Seven human beings, dressed in US Naval Aviator’s uniform and clearly in a state of confusion approach Lacombe. He introduces himself and one of the new arrivals returns the favor; Frank Taylor, Lieutenant J.G. United States Navy Reserve. 064199. One of the supervisors is there to welcome the Lieutenant home, shaking his hand and shepherding him off to debriefing. Totally bemused, the young pilot allows himself to be led as, one by one, the other men report in.
(Although based on the real-life crews of the infamous Flight 19 – lost in the so-called ‘Bermuda Triangle’, the names were changed for the film, out of respect to the surviving relatives of the lost men.)

As they come in, their names and details are checked out on clipboards and a light panel of photographs; all missing persons, some missing no more. One by one, these men step into the late Twentieth Century as if from a dream – and none a day older than the day they disappeared back in 1945. A senior figure approaches the elder team leader to comment on this; Einstein was right. He responds ‘Einstein was probably one of them.’
More people now, dressed in garb from different eras, all walking from the ramp in the same state of wonderment, Roy walking past them towards the ship as if sleepwalking. Then even more people, a veritable flood of misplaced and lost souls, even a dog. Among these a man helps a little boy down the slippery-smooth ramp. A familiar little boy at that; it’s Barry! His mother is there to meet him, scooping him up into her arms. The litany of names continues over the tannoy as Lacombe finally notices Roy, going to him he asks what he wants. Sighing, he replies; ‘I just wanna know that it’s – it’s really happening.’ Barry is telling Jillian that he went in the air and saw their house. Bursting with happiness, she asks if he saw her running after him. He did.

Urgently, Lacombe calls a hasty conference among the top men. He wants to discuss Roy Neary’s case, but time is short, the ramp having discharged its cargo is beginning to close again. Barry is sad his new friends are going away. He’s upset, but Jillian’s tears are of joy. Lacombe, meanwhile has rejoined Roy to tell him he envies him. No sooner has he said this than an intense radiance announces the opening of the ramp for the second time. What emerges this time is truly out of this world, a figure like no other with long, spindly appendages that lend the being an almost insect-like quality, a torso and a head that gazes out at the attentive humanity with curious intent. The senior team leader walks forward now, keen to confront the culmination of a life’s work.

The ethereal figure stands erect, long arms raised to either side in a gesture that seems to say ‘Here I am.’ Then it is quite simply gone (Possibly poor editing here, but I’ll be generous and suggest it’s part of the mystery), to be replaced by a whole wave of extra-terrestrial voyagers. Down the ramp they toddle, small ungainly creatures with over-sized heads and long thin fingers, to gather before the spellbound humans in rough assembly like kids at playtime. An official takes Roy to one side, asking for his blood type, date of birth etc. Has he been inoculated against smallpox, diphtheria? Any history of familial liver disease?

Things seem to have reached an impasse, with both humans and aliens stood in mute contemplation of each other. Running along a metal gangway, Jillian takes the opportunity to grab some photos with her Rollei, snapping away to get shots of the E.T.s, little Barry watching on.

In a cabin set aside for the purpose, the Mayflower team of astronauts sits and receives the blessing of a priest; May God help us and grant a happy journey. Some of their faces betray their nerves, but they are led out by the sky-pilot, equipped with only the contents of their duffel bags and courage. Bringing up the rear of these fine physical specimens, the slightly less imposing Roy Neary chats amiably with one of the supervisors as he takes his place in line for embarkation.

The little alien visitors inspect the Mayflower team, walking down the line and selecting Roy alone. He goes with them, leaving the Astro-nots behind and the diminutive creatures take his arm in a gesture of welcome and belonging. It’s not clear who’s leading who as he holds his arms out and the little group walks to the ramp, Roy offering the watching team a farewell smile. Jillian’s getting it all on film as Roy hesitates, turning to Lacombe who gestures ‘go’. Spotting Jillian and Barry, he returns her look; she’s tearful, but happy for him. Turning, Roy Neary takes his leave of this world, stepping gingerly up the precarious ramp to the mystery beyond.

The aliens have all departed, save the most important of all, the one who now comes down to take a close look at Claude Lacombe. Clearly, this being knows of Lacombe’s own importance to the first meeting between their species and jubilantly, the Frenchman hand-signals to the interstellar traveller… who returns the gestures, with a smile. Lacombe can only smile back as the being climbs back into the Mothership.

Everyone hustles to clear the arena in preparation for the departure and while Jillian grabs some last shots, young Barry bids his friends goodbye. The magnificent ship rises into the still night, rising towards the stars from whence it came, carrying its crew and one man who is finally receiving the answers he gave everything to find.

At age seventeen, Steven Allan Spielberg managed to find $500 for his first full-length motion picture, ‘Firelight’ (1964). His first foray into the movies was a train wreck – literally, as he’d filmed his toy trains crashing. ‘Firelight’, with it’s story of scientists investigating UFO incidents was a success – technically. After the screening at the Phoenix Little Theatre, Arizona, Spielberg counted the take. He’d made a dollar profit. 

After establishing his name as Hollywood’s ‘Wunderkind’, Spielberg signed a deal for a UFO movie with Columbia in 1973. Titled ‘Watch the Skies’, the movie was put back while he made the summer blockbuster Jaws (1975), after which he was virtually given carte blanche; the script, by Paul Schrader featured a USAF officer working on Project Blue Book who, after experiencing a UFO encounter for himself threatens to go public. Spielberg disliked the script, so Schrader’s ‘Kingdom Come’ went into the bin. Schrader was to go on to pen, amongst other films, Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)

More re-writes; the protagonist becomes a Police officer and so on. Eventually, Spielberg took over the screenwriting duties himself, with Jerry Belson, a veteran TV and Movie scripter. Working with the leitmotif of the ‘Pinnochio’ (1940) song ‘When you wish upon a Star’ Spielberg and Belson crafted a tale around a child abducted by a UFO.

Professor J. Allen Hynek

The title was changed to ‘
Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, a term coined by the film’s scientific adviser, Professor J. Allen Hynek, of Project Blue Book fame. After investigating over twelve thousand reports, Hynek and his team had concluded that while most sightings were explicable, a small percentage remained unexplained. He had gone on to found the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) before working with Spielberg. Hynek has a cameo in the film, at ‘Tranquility Base’; he’s the older man with pointed beard, glasses and pipe. An enormously important figure in the scientific research of the unexplained, Hynek had classified UFO encounters thus;

Principle photography began on May 16th, 1976. Locations used included Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming, Alabama, California and India. Two gigantic disused Air Force Airship hangars in Mobile, Alabama were used as soundstages for the ‘Tranquility Base’ scenes as well as the scene where the cop cars chase the UFO around a bend. The Neary home interior was also filmed there. Fans of the film (And if you aren’t, what are you doing here?) might like to know the famous scene where Roy’s truck is approached by a UFO was filmed at Padgett Switch near Irvington, Alabama. The sandstorm – and later, the ship featured in the 1980 ‘Special Edition’ (Extra scenes were shot and added to the original film) were shot in the Mojave desert. The exterior of the Neary home is 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Colonial Heights to the West of Mobile, while Jillian’s house stands at 22250 State Highway 181, Fairhope, Alabama. Bay Minette stood in for the evacuation center in Wyoming.

Special Effects giant Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, Blade Runner) was the Visual Effects Supervisor on CE3K, while Carlo Rambaldi (King Kong, Alien, E.T.) designed the aliens. Legendary artist Ralph McQuarrie designed the Mothership. John Williams provided the score, including the famous five-note motif – itself parodied in Moonraker (1979) as the key-pad tone at Drax’s Venice laboratory.

Richard Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary, a lineman who experiences a Close Encounter. Reportedly, Steve McQueen was Spielberg’s first choice, but ruled himself out. Hackman, Hoffman and Pacino all turned down the role. His nephew, Justin, plays his son Toby Neary.

Renowned French Director Francois Truffaut is Claude Lacombe, a French Government expert.

Bob Balaban is Laughlin, Lacombe’s assistant and interpreter. His on-set diary was later published as the Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary. (I cherish my copy to this day.)

Melinda Dillon portrays Jillian Guiler, mother of abductee Barry, who searches for both her son and the truth.

The calendar found in the Grumman Avenger was a 1972 version of a 1945 calendar, a promotional item for a bank whose logo features prominently.

The Federales are wearing out-dated uniforms in the film.

When Roy Neary argues with his Wife, Toby, one of their sons closes his bedroom door. If you listen carefully, Spielberg can be heard whispering for him to close it.

The globe at Echo Deep Space Station is supposedly worth $2,500, yet it’s not in good condition; large dents are clearly visible, possibly from previous takes.

At roughly 2:07:49 you can clearly see one of the E.T.s accidentally sliding down the ramp to the extreme left of shot; in fact several of them slide down the ramp.

The co-ordinates received by the scientists are for a point over 250 miles from Devil’s Tower.

No-one in Mongolia uses camels for transportation; they use horses instead.

During the film, the wrong insignia is shown on military personnel.

The returnees from the 1940’s sport longish Seventies’ hair and sideburns.

If you pause at the right moment, you can clearly read the newspaper article Ronnie Neary cuts out at 33:45. Names given include John Milius and his girlfriend ‘Cylia’ John Milius is a famous Screenwriter, Director and Producer and his second wife, Celia an actress. Amusingly, to either side of the UFO report, you can see an article reviewing Star Wars (1977). Oddly, in the ‘UFO’s Over Five Counties’ piece, Pease Air Force Base is mentioned as declining comment. Pease is in New Hampshire.

The scene where Roy Neary packs his family into the truck to go late-night UFO spotting was inspired by an incident from Spielberg’s early years, when his parents rushed the kids into the family car late one night to see a spectacular meteor shower.

The technician at the keyboard is actually Philip Dodds, of ARP Instruments, Inc. He arrived to install ARP 2500 Synthesizer and wound up with a role in the film, getting into hot water with the company over the time away from work this entailed.

Melinda Dillon, who plays Jillian Guiler had a broken big toe when filming started. Rather than risk losing the role, she carried on. Of all the scenes to start with with an injury, she had to scramble up Devil’s Tower!

Cary Guffey was such a natural he became known as ‘One Take Carey’ on-set. Spielberg had a T-Shirt printed for him with the nickname. To get such convincing performances from such a young child, the Director used tricks such as waving a toy car from behind the camera and having two crew members surprise him wearing clown and gorilla suits.

Filmed under the working title ‘Watch the Skies’, the final dialogue in ‘The Thing from another World’ (1951) When Roy is woken by the cartoon, the same words are spoken.

When the Neary house experiences the power cut, the miniature water features on the model train layout glow – in a deleted scene his son Toby accuses him of stealing his luminous paint, an accusation confirmed by the suddenly luminous layout.

Veteran Stuntman and Stunt Director Craig R.Baxley was injured crashing the Police car chasing the UFOs when his car overshot the landing area.

Truffaut’s character Lacombe is based on Jacques Vallée, the French Computer Scientist, Ufologist and Astronomer. He reportedly argued with Speilberg to make the explanation for the events in the film more prosaic, rather than extra-terrestrial, but Spielberg argued he knew what his audience expected.

Apparently, Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia appears as a crowd extra in the Indian scene.

Security – and secrecy surrounding the production was intense, with Spielberg editing in an apartment, locking the mothership model away in his garage and strict access to the sets. At one point, Spielberg himself, having forgotten his pass, was turned away from the Mobile hangar set.

During filming, Spielberg became obsessed with John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), repeatedly screening the film after a day’s shooting. Production Designer Joe Alves (Jaws, Escape from New York) drove for thousands of miles looking for a suitable location for the mother ship landing site. Finally, he selected Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, as it suggested the terrain of Monument Valley featured in Ford’s classic, but with a solitary and eerie feel.

Major Benchley, the Air Force spokesman who debunks the UFO phenomenon with a fake photograph was named after Peter Benchley, author of Jaws.

When they first see Devil’s Tower in the fles-I mean rock, Roy suggests they get some gas and get down there. This refers to a deleted scene at a gas station where the two are observed by a military chopper.

During the scene at Jillian’s home where the Aliens arrive, the floor vent screws unscrew, a homage to a similar scene in The War of the Worlds (1953) Spielberg went on, of course, to re-make the film.

Francois Truffaut didn’t speak English well, delivering the line ‘They belong here more than we’ which came out as ‘Zey belong here Mozambique’. The crew had T-Shirts with the misheard line printed and on learning of this, Truffaut was delighted.

As well as a role as the Brody family dog in Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s Cocker Spaniel, Elmer has a brief role as a returnee, sliding down the Mothership ramp.

The returnee’s names are read out over a PA system, including one Ken Swenson, the name of one of the model-makers. Swenson would go on to work on many films, including Independence Day (1996) and Night at the Museum (2006)

A proposed follow-up named ‘Night Skies’ was considered, but dropped when Spielberg decided to make E.T. (1982)

(Above) Matthew Yuricich Matte painting
(Below) Detail showing crew member's names hidden in same!

Bob Baker's design for the 'Spindly' ET
Above and Below - George Jensen Production Art

Ron Cobb's concept art for the Cotopaxi

Burman Studios prototype ET head - rejected as 'Too Creepy'

Above and Below; Ralph McQuarrie designs for the Mothership.
Bespin springs to mind!

Colin Cantwell Concept Art

Carlo Rambaldi Design for the animated ET

Dennis Muren Matte Painting

Screen-worn ET suit

Italian Fotobusta Lobby Cards

Barclay Shaw artwork for Cinefantastique magazine

Ralph Fowler cover art for CBCC Magazine, April 1978