Tag Archives: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Lance, is that you?


Seriously, how did I not know until today that the great Lance Henriksen was in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?”

After having seen the movie dozens of times, I watched it on TCM today and was startled to see the favorite from “Aliens” and “Millennium” on screen near the end, in the Devil’s Tower sequence.

He’s even in the credits!

Nice to see you, Lance!

Movie magic: My favorite big-screen moments

How many times, while watching a movie, did you find yourself wearing a huge grin of appreciation, chuckling with approval or outright yelling “YES!” back at the screen?

If that sounds familiar, you’ve had some goosebump moments, scenes that connected on a visceral level with you as a moviegoer.

I’m a lifelong movie fan and I’ve had a lot of those moments. But these are some of the very best.

The head popping out of the boat in “Jaws.” When my friend Jim and I went to see “Jaws” for the first time, the showing was sold out. We decided to wait for the next one, hanging out in a nearby ice cream shop. As we sat there, incredulous, the clerks behind the counter – who had somehow already seen the movie – dissected the entire plot, scene by scene, including the moment when, as Richard Dreyfuss dives to investigate a wrecked boat, the head of Ben, the shark’s victim, floats out of a hole in the hull. Even though the ice cream shop kids spoiled the moment for us, it was still amazing to see.

“Star Wars” and the passing of the Imperial ship overhead. Just after the opening credits of the groundbreaking 1977 science fiction classic, the blockade runner ship carrying, as we will soon find out, Princess Leia, passes overhead. The model is impressively detailed and looks big. Then the Imperial cruiser carrying, as we will soon find out, Darth Vader, passes overhead. And passes. And passes. And passes. You think it’s done but – psyche! – it’s just the docking bay. So it goes on and on and on some more.

Muncie in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I was born and raised in Muncie, Indiana, so it was particularly goosebump-inducing to see not only the onscreen subtitle for Indianapolis but my hometown of Muncie. So the portrayal of Muncie and its denizens wasn’t very flattering. It was our biggest big-screen moment.

The boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I didn’t know what to expect from Steven Spielberg’s homage to old movie serials, so the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie – with a jungle trek, creepy spiders, double-crossing guides, skeletons on spikes and lots of whip action – had me nearly breathless with appreciation. Then Harrison Ford has to outrun a huge boulder. Holy crap!

Nick Fury shows up in “Iron Man.” I realized that my first four favorite moments were all from George Lucas or Steven Spielberg movies. My favorite modern-day movie moment just might be when Samuel L. Jackson shows up, eyepatch and all, at the end of Jon Favreau’s 2008 superhero movie that kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe. If “Iron Man” had bombed, the presence of Nick Fury wouldn’t have carried any more significance than the title of the ill-fated “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.” (Hint: The adventure ended.) But “Iron Man” was a terrific movie and began the road to “The Avengers.”

‘Close Encounters’ and Muncie, my hometown

There’s been a long history between my hometown, Muncie, Indiana, and Hollywood.

Sometime I’ll do a fairly comprehensive look at the many mentions of Muncie in movies and TV shows ranging from the 1960s “Tom Slick” cartoons to “The X Files” and “Angel.”

In the meantime, though, I wanted to note the special relationship between Muncie and Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the 1977 UFO thriller. The movie was airing on SyFy this afternoon and I got sucked into watching some of it.

The movie wasn’t filmed here in Muncie, although there was discussion of that happening. Local officials and Columbia Pictures apparently negotiated for a while and rumors swept through town that the city bought new police cars specifically to seal the deal. It didn’t happen, although the city got some publicity from having the first half of the move set locally.

If you haven’t seen it, Spielberg’s movie is about the the first meaningful contact between humans and aliens.┬áThe movie opens with a team of scientists, led by Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), discovering mint-condition World War II-era fighter planes in the Mexican desert.

The scene moves to Indiana as we see air traffic controllers in Indianapolis communicating with the pilots of two airliners that have near-misses with some unexplained object. Then we’re in Muncie – the on-screen title still gets me a little goose-bumpy – at a rural farmhouse where single mom Jillian runs into the woods to find her toddler son, Barry, who has happily followed something out of their house and into the dark.

In the suburban Muncie home of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a power company lineman, Neary is trying to persuade his kids to go to see “Pinocchio,” the re-issue of the Disney classic. They’re more interested in playing miniature golf, however.

Before long, Neary is sent to investigate the cause of a power outage and his truck is buzzed by low-flying UFOs. He gives chase along with half the Muncie police department. Thus begins his obsession. It is one he shares with dozens, maybe hundreds of others.

Some random thoughts, from a Muncie-centric perspective:

The Neary house, while looking like a shambles, has some authentic touches, including some Ball State University merchandise.

At one point, radio scanner traffic says Harper Valley. There’s no Harper Valley around Muncie. But if there was, they would have a dandy PTA, I bet.

There is a Cornbread Road – where Neary is sent to work on a power outage – and you can bet it was chosen for inclusion in the movie because of its quaint name.

The McDonald’s and Shell station look just right for the period.

The hillbillies – softly whistling “She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes” as they wait for the UFOs to appear – are a nice touch but one that caused a lot of consternation at the time among local people who didn’t want to be represented onscreen by hill folk. Especially when one of them, played by character actor Roberts Blossom, says, “I saw Bigfoot once.”

There’s no toll road right outside Muncie, and certainly no nearby toll gate that divides Indiana and Ohio.

The movie got the police emblems on the patrol cars right, though.

There’s not much in the way of hillsides around Muncie, and certainly no mountainous overlook that cops and Neary could watch from, first as the UFOs fly over and then as lights come back on below.

The look of The Muncie Star wasn’t quite right, although its gargantuan size was. Holy crap, newspapers were big back then.

Neary’s “Ball U” T-shirt was a nice touch. I had one right about that time. They were a slightly naughty hit.

On the second night, when a newly fired Neary and a crowd of Muncie residents go back to the hill to wait for the alien ships to reappear, the collective mental seed that compels them to seek out the UFOs is destined to take them out of Muncie.

By the time Neary becomes obsessive about his encounter and begins building replicas of Devil’s Tower, Wyoming – scene of the ultimate Close Encounter – in his mashed potatoes and in a huge mound of dirt in his family room, his family bails on him and so, frankly, did I.

“Close Encounters” is a terrific movie that builds to a touching climax. I can’t help but be more interested, however, in the early scenes and what they indicate about my town.