"Close Encounters" questions (open spoilers)

Just saw Spielberg’s 1977 masterpiece again for the first time in many years, and it holds up very well. A few questions…

In the extended edition, the alien-contact team finds an ocean-going cargo ship deposited high in the Gobi Desert. One of the guys says the ship’s name (“Cotopaczi,” or the like), but I can’t find anything like that via Google or Wikipedia, and the ship’s name isn’t clearly visible on the bow in the pan-and-scan video of the movie I have. Was that an actual ship from history, or just made up for the movie?

What was the name of the alien-contact program? Was it really broadly international, do you think, or just the U.S. and France?

What kind of adjustment/transition process do you think would be necessary for the abductees after the aliens return them?

I hadn’t realized that Lance Henriksen (“Aliens,” “Millennium,” “AVP,” etc.) is in the movie - he’s with the French guy and Bob Balaban’s translator character in the scene in India, where everyone points to the sky when they’re asked where the sounds came from.

What do the French guy and Balaban say to each other, in French, at the conclusion of Neary’s debriefing near Devils Tower?

For the abductees, it seems that the show 4400 does a good job of that (ignoring the superpower stuff, and just concentrate on the interpersonal relations).

Oh, and “French Guy” is Francois Truffaut. Just in case you wanted to know.

The S.S. Cotopaxi vanished without a trace in the “Bermuda Triangle” in 1925, en route to Havana from Charleston. Can’t vouch for whether the ship we see was the same type that the real-life ship was.

I always assumed the effort was international. Didn’t they have multiple languages running in the background of Devil’s Tower (can’t remember for certain)?

I’ll have to rewatch the film for the French dialogue in question.

Jerry Garcia’s in that scene as well.

Something I’ve always wondered about that movie is the scene on the helicopter at the end, when Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler (had to look that up) took off their facemasks and then got off the helicopter so they could sneak their way into the landing base. The rest of the passengers on the helicopter seemed to be quite old, so I wonder if they were the parents and siblings of the returning abductees. Jillian was “invited” there presumably to meet her son, so perhaps that’s why the others were as well. Note that the government had military types ready as passengers for the flight, but only Roy Neary was invited on board.

Pretty sure the rest of the masked people were folks the army was evacuating from the area under the guise that there wasa toxic gas leak in the area. Our two heroes know better, rip off their masks and leave, but the others are too scared to follow suit.

I think that’s how it went but it has been a while since I watched it.

Some of the other folks on the chopper were seen earlier in the film in Indiana. There’s an old couple that were at the group of witnesses that were chased off by the helicopter. You know, the scene where Barry is building the mound of dirt and both Roy and Gillian become fascinated by it. So Roy and Gillian weren’t the only ones trying to get to Devils Tower.

I’ve been to Devils Tower twice and have yet to see any box canyons anywhere around it. You can walk the little paved path around it in less than a half hour.

On a side note, two of our Indian interns saw the flick for the first time and were quite annoyed by the third-world presentation of India. But they did translate the chanting masses of indians for me. Roughly, the group were chanting “Arrived, has arrived.” That’s a crappy translation. Apparently, they were chanting the past tense and past perfect tense of the verb “to arrive.” An interesting touch, no?

I just put on my copy of the DVD, and the model they use does indeed look fairly similar to what is shown for the Cotopaxi on this page. I’ve got the widescreen version and you can make out the name of this ship, too.

Somewhere in the documentary or commentary, they tell how shooting that scene was actually pretty easy: they didn’t use a huge life-size prop of that ship, they just used a model and placed the people in the shot in the distance, and let the perspective take care of the rest. IIRC.

This is absolutely one of my very favorite movies.

Let’s be honest: who can ever have mashed potatoes again without looking at them for a long, tense moment and saying, “Damn it! I know what this means!”

**Hypno-Toad: ** I thought those were some of the same folks from Indiana, too, but when Lacombe and the interpreter show Neary snapshots of the other people “invited” to Devils Tower, he says he only recognizes Jillian. Was he too stressed out to recognize the others?

**Sean Factotum: ** Yes, I knew it was Truffaut playing Lacombe, but the name slipped my mind. Now I remember - thanks. I haven’t watched “The 4400” - could you, in a spoiler-free way (since the spoiler notice above pertains to CE3K and not that show), tell me how people who’ve been gone from Earth for decades are adapting to their unexpected return?

**Stephe96: ** So I guess you’ve been to dinner at our place lately? :wink:

Trivia: Bob Balaban got his part by accident. He doesn’t really know much French and just happened to be around when they were casting the translator. There was simply somthing about him that Truffaut liked. When he informed Monsieur Truffaut of his rusty French, Truffaut replied something along the lines of “Don’t worry about it.”


Anyone know why Spielberg cast Truffaut? Truffaut was better known as a director and film critic than an actor in the mid-Seventies, I thought, although he had done some acting. Were the two friends? Was any other non-American actor considered for the part?

I saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" twice the year it came out. Once in the the theater, the second time at a drive in. If you really want to experience the film in a unique way, see it outside under the stars. It’s pretty cool!

It’s been decades, but as I remember, Spielberg was a fan. Simple as that.

Truffaut’s character in the film was based on this guy.

Thanks, all. Hadn’t heard about Vallée before.

“Has arrived” is present perfect. I think you need a pronoun here as well: “it” (evidently referring to the ship).

“It arrived! It has arrived!” Makes perfect sense to me.

Just have to say that Close Encounters is one of my favorite films ever!

One strange thing that I’ve never resolved is a minor part in the scene near the beginning where a bunch of cop cars are chasing UFOs as they scoot along a highway at night. One of the guys standing at the side of the road says something like “they can run rings around the moon, and these guys think they can catch them” or words to that effect – I remember the “rings around the moon” part. The thing is, I’ve watched both the original cut and the extended edition and have never heard that snippet of dialog again. I’m beginning to think that I imagined it! There must have been multiple minor edits of the film at various times.

IMDb says that line existed in the original release but not in the subsequent Special Edition.


CE was a movie I didn’t appreciate as kid. To me it should have just been all UFOs all the time. The rest was boring. As an adult I really appreciate what it was trying to do. I wish someone made a movie today that had an equal sense of wonder.