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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Poster

Alternate Versions

A print of the film screened at the American Cinematheque (Los Angeles) several times features most of the Special Edition's edits, but also includes the Roy's tree-tossing sequence and his climb through the window. What's missing from this version is all of the footage from inside the spaceship.
The Criterion Collection 3-disc Laserdisc released in 1990 featured both the 1977 Theatrical & 1980 Special Edition cuts. The theatrical however held onto the '80 Special Edition shot of a shadowed spaceship flying over Roy's truck. This was requested by Steven Spielberg while overseeing the disc's production. The 1980 cut can only be viewed on players that could have re-arranged the disc's chapters from the end of the disc to earlier on, requiring a 5-second pause between chapters.
A final version of "Close Encounters" was released to video in 1998 (and then on DVD in 2001) as "The Collector's Edition". It is basically Spielberg's final 137-minute re-edit of the original version plus some sequences from the 1980 "Special Edition". It contains.....
  • The Neary family's alternate longer introduction.


  • The 5-second flyover of the power company truck.


  • The scientists discovery of the freighter in the Gobi desert is included.


  • The scene where Roy Neary argues with his wife and locks himself in a shower.


  • The Air Force base press conference scene has been restored from the original version.


  • The scene where Roy throws dirt, plants and bricks through his kitchen window has been restored from the original version.


  • This version does not contain the mothership ending from the "Special Edition", and retains the original 1977 end title music.


A "Special Edition" version was released in 1980 (3 years after the film's original theatrical release). The original production of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was plagued with schedule and budget problems. Spielberg originally wanted to release the film in the summer of 1978, however, Columbia Pictures (who were undergoing financial troubles at the time) insisted that Spielberg have it ready by November 1977. Therefore many scenes Spielberg had scripted couldn't be filmed as he originally intended due to time constraints. After the movie's huge success, Spielberg asked Columbia to allow him to re-cut the picture and to shoot additional sequences; the studio agreed at the condition that he included new scenes showing the inside of the alien mothership (to entice audiences into the theater again). Spielberg was given a budget of $1.5 million and seven weeks to shoot the new sequences (some of which were shot while he was also directing 1941 (1979)). He had to use a different director of photography (Allen Daviau) because Vilmos Zsigmond was unavailable, and he was able to convince most of the original cast to re-appear, with the exception of director Francois Truffaut (who played French scientist Lacombe) who was on location shooting a film at the time. For years, Steven Spielberg considered the Special Edition the only "real" version of the movie and dismissed the original as an inferior "work-in-progress". According to Columbia, all prints of the original version have been destroyed (apart from a few copies kept in the studio's vault for historical value only). Only the Special Edition had been the version available on video until Criterion became the first company to release different versions of the film in any video format. The following are the differences between the Original Version (O.V.) and the Special Edition (S.E.):
  • In the O.V. after Barry runs outside his house and into the night, there's a cut to a music box playing "When You Wish Upon a Star" and then to Roy Neary's house, where he receives a phone call from his boss at the power station. In the S.E. after Barry leaves the house we see a panoramic shot of the city at night instead; the next scene shows Roy playing with a toy train in order to explain to his son what a fraction is. There's an argument between Roy, his wife and his kids (they want to go play Goofy Golf, he wants to go see "Pinocchio" but is outvoted). Then Roy's boss calls. The dialogue spoken by Roy's boss is completely different in the S.E.


  • After the power outage, the O.V. version shows Roy Neary at the power station where workers are discussing the power failures and his supervisor tells him to go check an area of the city. The Special Edition deletes this scene.


  • The S.E. adds a new scene, after Roy see's the UFO flyby on the road: a UFO stops in front of a McDonald's sign and flashes its light on it, as if to read it.


  • An old man sees the UFOs fly by on the road and says "They can fly rings around the moon, but we're years ahead of them on the highway". This scene is missing from the S.E.


  • The S.E. adds a scene in which U.S. soldiers and scientists discover the ship, the "Cotopaxi" in the Gobi desert. This scene is inserted right after the one where Roy and his wife watch the sky in the spot where he first saw the UFOs.


  • A scene where Roy and his wife argue right after he's fired from his job. Roy lies on his bed and looks at a pillow (whose shape resembles the Devil's Tower mountain) The pillow segment was removed in the S.E.


  • The S.E. version changes the chronology of sequences from the mid-section of the O.V. In the O.V. the scene where Roy is fired is followed by the scene where he goes back to the road with his camera, which is followed by The India sequence and then Lacombe's auditorium speech. In the S.E. these scenes are flip-flopped. The scene where Roy is fired is followed by the India sequence, which is followed by Lacombe's auditorium speech, followed by the scene where Roy goes back to the road with his camera.


  • In the S.E. Lacombe's auditorium speech is slightly longer containing the applause of the dignitaries.


  • The S.E. deletes a scene at an Air Force base after Lacombe and the military argue about the best way to scare the population away from the alien's landing area. In the original Jillian is interviewed by reporters about her son's kidnapping, and Roy and Ronnie arrive at the base to attend a press conference about UFOs. Roy draws the shape of the Devil's Tower on a newspaper over the photo of Jillian and the headline "Cosmic Kidnapping". However, the headline is misspelled as 'kidnaping'.


  • In the O.V., the dinner/mashed potato sequence begins with the kids arguing at the table. As soon as Roy walks into the room they immediately stop shouting. In the S.E. this portion is deleted and the scene begins with Ronnie handing Toby the mashed potatoes.


  • The S.E. adds a sequence where Roy breaks down and he locks himself in the bathroom and goes under the running shower. Ronnie breaks the door open and yells at him, holding him responsible for their family falling apart.


  • The scene where Roy tosses bricks and bushes into his house so he can make the Devil's tower replica was almost entirely removed in the S.E. version. The S.E. only includes the portion of the scene where Ronnie actually leaves with the kids.


  • When Ronnie leaves Roy and almost runs him over with her car, the O.V. shows him getting back inside the house from a window. This scene is missing from the S.E.


  • In the scene where Roy makes his giant model, he briefly stops and glances to see children playing outside. This portion is slightly shortened in the S.E.


  • The sequence when Roy arrives in Wyoming and meets Jillian at the train station while the population is being evacuated by the army is shorter in the S.E.: in the original we saw Roy trying to convince a soldier (played by Carl Weathers) to let him go look for his "sister": the guard says he has orders to shoot anyone that trespasses.


  • The S.E. adds a new ending that shows what happens after Roy enters the mothership, with light/sound special effects by Douglas Trumbull.


  • In the S.E. the end title music is different. Instead of the closing "overture" music originally commissioned for the credits, we hear an arrangement of "When You Wish Upon A Star".


An ABC television version aired that ran 143 minutes. It incorporated all the scenes from the O.V. as well as all the new scenes from the S.E. This version has never been released to video.

See also

Trivia | Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Connections | Soundtracks

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