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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Poster

Goofs

Anachronisms 

The Mexican officers who appear in the Sonora Desert sequence wear Federal Army uniforms. Those uniforms were used during early the 20th century but not anymore by the 70s.
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The calendar from 1945 is set in the Helvetica typeface, which was not designed until 1954.
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When the 1940s-era abducted military personnel are coming off the mothership, they have 1970s-style haircuts and sideburns.
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Character error 

Lacombe says that the hand signals were developed by Zoltan Kodaly, to teach music to the deaf. They were, in fact, developed by John Curwen, to teach tonal content in music to British schoolchildren.
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During the ABC newscast, a reporter states that the Devil's Tower National Monument was created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1915. Roosevelt was President from 1901 to 1909 and the Monument was created in 1906.
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'Steven Spielberg (I)' and producers wanted Walter Cronkite as newsreader for the broadcast that Neary ignores in the "living room sculpture" scene. However, Cronkite's network would not allow him to take the role, so the producers settled on ABC's Howard K. Smith. Unfortunately, the news footage of the Wyoming reporter was filmed before this decision; as a result, the reporter says "Order your steak well-done, Walter."
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Since Walter Cronkite was not allowed to do the film, he was replaced with Howard K. Smith. But the first time Roy is interviewed, he mentions the newscast with Walter Cronkite.
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Continuity 

The size of the mother ship is incompatible in different shots. When it arrives it's behind the mountain and a lot bigger than the mountain. When it's in front of the mountain it's no longer bigger than the mountain but smaller or at best about the same.
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When Roy is stalled at the railroad track, the mailboxes fly open and their contents are expelled (close shot of the mailboxes). When seen from the inside of Roy's truck, the mailboxes are closed. This repeats with successive shots from the inside of the truck (closed) and the outside view (open).
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As the 12 people in red selected by the government head for the mothership, the blond woman is two people in front of Roy, and not wearing her sunglasses. In the next shot, she has her sunglasses on, and is now in immediately in front of him.
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When the entities are attempting to get into Jillian's house, they pop the floor vent out of its hole and it lands upside down on the area rug. In the next shot the vent is back in its hole, even though Jillian hasn't touched it yet.
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After Roy drives through the fence, one of the posts lands on the hood. We see it fall off after he drives through another fence, but when he stops at the barricade it's back, along with a couple of other pieces of fence that weren't there before.
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During the first scene with the Nearys, Ronnie is sitting in a chair holding items she had removed from the breakfast table. The camera angle changes to Roy asking the boys to choose between goofy golf and Pinocchio. The angle changes back to Ronnie who is still sitting in the chair but is holding Sylvia.
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In the beginning of the scene where the aliens are coming to get Barry, Jillian's hair is tied back. Later, in the same scene, she's in the kitchen and her hair is down.
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Roy and Gillian climb a red clay embankment to get their first personal look at the Devil's Tower. The first view shows the Tower with a partly cloudy sky behind it. There is a cut to Roy and Jillian, then a cut back to the Devil's Tower. This time the sky behind the Tower is completely overcast.
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At Devil's Tower, when the 3 smaller ships approach, the first flies in over Roy and Jillian, with the other two ships in the background. In the following reverse shot, the first ship is seen hovering over the landing area. The camera cuts back and the third ship already flies in. In the following reverse shot, all three ships are shown hovering over the landing area, but the second ship was never shown flying in.
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In a close shot of the UN SUVs, one of the flags is blowing forward while the other blows backward. Also the flags are waving as if in a gentle breeze. In all the others shots the vehicles are moving fast and all the flags are blown back by the strong wind.
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License plate(s) on the station wagon as Roy and Jillian drive through roadblocks.
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When Jillian has caught up to Barry on the highway and almost gets hit by Roy, the three stars in a row which appear to be Orion's belt that are visible above a tree to the right of the screen repeatedly change position between shots.
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The Huey that the "contactees" are to be flown out of the Devils Tower area on is a single engine version from the rear but a twin engine version from the front and on take off.
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In the scene where Roy is first shown with his living room creation (model of Devil's Tower made with trash/bricks/chicken wire), looking through the porch door it is clearly raining (most noticeable by the rain dripping onto the can that's on the ground just outside the door). The TV is playing an episode of Days Of Our Lives. As DOOL goes to commercial (Budweiser commercial plays) Roy looks out the window. He looks out at people outside in their yards, and it is bright and sunny out.
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When Roy is in his truck, the maps and papers get blown off of his dashboard and then he speeds away. When he stops his truck upon meeting Jillian and her son, everything is stacked very neatly on top of the dashboard.
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When Roy's family are leaving him, his wife locks all of the car doors except her own door. In the very next shot, her door is already locked.
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In the first scene in the desert, although it appears to be around noon at the beginning, by the end of the scene the sun is clearly on the horizon and setting, even though only a short amount of script-time has passed.
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Toward the end of the movie, when Jillian and Roy are at Devils Tower and the mother ship is descending, Jillian has her jacket tied around her waist. The jacket is present the whole time she is hiding in the rocks, watching what is going on the landing field. But in the next scene that she is in, when she is walking across the field to reach Barry, the jacket is gone.
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Roy's sunburn changes it's degree of redness between shots.
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During the Howard K. Smith Devils Tower newscast an additional piece of Jillian's artwork appears on the wall above the bed and the artwork becomes rearranged.
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During the dinner table scene differing quantities of mashed potatoes are on Roy's hands with it disappearing totally from his left hand.
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In the first scene with Roy's model railroad we see his train run into a stream and the rolling bascule bridge crash down onto it with a snap. The shot reverses and the bridge snaps down again.
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Crew or equipment visible 

Shadow of camera on the screen door of the farm.
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(or audible, at least) When Roy and Ronnie argue in their bedroom, Toby closes his bedroom door. Just before he closes the door, you can faintly hear Steven Spielberg saying, "Close the door now."
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As Barry opens the door (just before he's abducted), bright lights are seen moving just beyond the trees. Some of the light can be seen reflecting off the dollies on which the lights are mounted.
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Errors in geography 

The coordinates received by the scientists (40°36'10" N, 104°44'30" W) aren't very close to Devils Tower at all. The coordinates are very close to Stage Colorado, east of Ft. Collins, Colorado, almost 300 miles (480 km) away from the monument.
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A close-up of a map showing Devil's Tower shows the intersection of the co-ordinates (40°36'10" N 104°44'30" W) at a point to the south-east of the tower, whereas this point is actually 2.5km to the north-west of the tower. The movie coordinates (44°36'10" N 104°44'30" W) are about 970m due south of the intersection of Hwy 85 and county road 86, between Pierce, Colorado and Ault, Colorado.
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The scene where the Muncie police cars are chasing the UFOs shows them driving in mountains and through tunnels, and cross into the state of Ohio. Muncie has no mountains, no tunnels, and is not that close to Ohio. There is another county between Muncie and the Ohio state line. The Indiana Toll Road is about 200 miles north of Muncie, paralleling the Michigan state line.
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One of the Air Traffic Controllers at the Indianapolis Center asks the Air Force if they have any tests going on in Restricted area 2508. R-2508 is in California and Nevada. It would be controlled out of Los Angeles Center.
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In the scenes at the air traffic control center, the aircraft encountering the UFO are under control of Indianapolis Center, but the controllers check for activity in restricted area 2508. Restricted area 2508 is in the Mohave Desert and includes Edwards Air Force Base, and is nowhere near the area under control of Indianapolis Center, a thousand miles to the east.
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Stars shown on a summer night near Muncie, Indiana are inappropriate for the latitude and the season as shown by the dense foliage. The constellation Orion would be much higher in the sky in the upright position in which it is shown - but only during the winter and late autumn.
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The latitude and longitude would not be in China were the longitude read as a negative number. Coordinates are referred to as if they were on a Cartesian coordinate system where zero is at the center of the " + " representing the Prime Meridian and the Equator. Anything west of the Prime Meridian is negative, all the way to 180W/180E. Anything south of the Equator is negative. If the coordinates expressed in the movie were positive, then it would be a geographical error. If the longitude were "minus", that is, stated as 44.5903, -104.7153, without the "N" and "W", they would be at Devil's Tower.
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Stars shown on a summer night near Muncie, Indiana, are inappropriate for the latitude and the season as shown by the dense foliage. The constellation Orion would be much higher in the sky in the upright position in which it is shown, but only during the winter and late autumn.
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When the numbers sent by the aliens are interpreted as geographic coordinates, there is no indication of the hemispheres of the latitudes nor longitudes. The coordinates as they are sent - 104°44'30" 44°36'10" - actually describe a point in north-central China.
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Factual errors 

While preparing for the evacuation, the military speaks of clearing 360 square miles, which would involve from 35,000 to 50,000 people. Later, a news report states that 200 square miles are being evacuated. Devils Tower is centrally located in Crook County, with an area of 2858 sq. miles and a population of 5887, and is over 15 miles from the nearest city. 200 sq. miles would be a circle of 8 miles radius. 360 sq. miles would be a radius of 11.5 miles. The actual population of the evacuated area would likely be less than a few hundred people, not 35 to 50 thousand.
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In the opening scene when the aircraft from Flight 19 are found, the call is made to "get the numbers off the engine blocks." Engines were exchanged frequently so it is more likely they would look for the Aircraft numbers off the identification plates, which have been well published.
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At least two of the Navy fliers returned by the aliens at Devils Tower give their rank as "Captain, U.S. Navy Reserve." It's unlikely men that young at the time of their abduction would hold that rank; the filmmakers may have been intending to portray them as Marine or USAAF Captains, the equivalent Navy rank being Lieutenant.
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During the ABC newscast that Roy sees, the voice over on the videotape report says that "Devil's Tower was the first national monument erected in this country". Devil's Tower wasn't "erected" by anyone - it is a natural geologic formation of igneous rock which has been there for over one hundred million years. The announcer should have said "the first national monument designated in this country", not erected.
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The aircraft used as Flight 19 in the opening scene are all TBM-3 Avengers. The real Flight 19 had only one TBM-3 and four TBM-1C aircraft. In fact, one of the aircraft in this scene is actually a F6F Hellcat.
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Horses, not camels, are used for transportation in Mongolia. If they wanted to show camels, they should have been Bactrians, not Dromedaries.
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The pickup truck that Roy drove for work has a front license plate. Vehicles in Indiana are only issued one license plate.
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The insignia worn by some of the Navy fliers do not correspond to their ranks.
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Prior to the Howard K. Smith broadcast, a clip from "Days of Our Lives" was playing. However, DOOL has always been broadcast on NBC and the Smith broadcast was from ABC.
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The plate on Roy's station wagon in Wyoming displays a 44 on the left of the bucking bronco logo. This is not a real plate. The numbers to the left of the logo on a Wyoming plate indicate the county in which it was issued. Wyoming only has 23 counties. The local county number for Devil's Tower (Crook County) would be 18. The most likely place he rented the car (Roy is from Indiana, The car has Wyoming plates) would be Gilette in Campbell County, which is 17.
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The toll collector says that the toll is is 25 cents. The Indiana Toll Road is a ticket system (the toll is based on distance traveled). This would also preclude the sign indicating the price of the toll.
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The solfege hand signals Lacombe and the alien use at the end of the film to "talk" to each other are in the wrong order. The first and second notes are switched and while it should be "re-mi-do-do-so", what is signaled is "mi-re-do-do-so".
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Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

When Jillian has caught up to Barry on the highway and almost gets hit by Roy, the three stars in a row which appear to be Orion's belt that are visible above a tree to the right of the screen repeatedly change position between shots. In the book, however, the alien visitors are, in fact, described as being from the Orion constellation, so those "stars" could very well be alien ships, as, in the book, they use the ships to show where they came from.
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In the climatic ending the first alien, a tall and spindly creature crawls out of the huge "mother" ship's opening, then stands up spreading its long arms out wide. It's a very memorable and dramatic cinematic entrance with the film's score adding to the grandeur. The smaller aliens come out and stand in line, then greet the humans. We do not see the first tall alien again in the film and in all released versions of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. However, Spielberg's intent was to show a racially diverse group of aliens aboard the ship, as evidenced by the final alien who communicates with Lacombe, who is also a physically different character than the tall and small aliens. The tall alien was not meant to resemble a spider, but was referred to by the production team as the "Jesus alien" because of its arms-out gesture. There were originally supposed to be three of them, joining hands in that position and creating more shimmering lights. The production team simply could not make this work. This alien was a marionette, and it was very difficult to film without the strings showing.
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The newspaper headline describing Barry's abduction reads "Cosmic Kidnaping" rather than "Kidnapping". This is not a misspelling but a now-uncommon variant that some publications still used in the 1970s (Time Magazine used it well into the '90s).
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Revealing mistakes 

Shortly before Barry Guiler is abducted from his house by aliens, we see electrical appliances moving and powering themselves. In the kitchen, the stove rings are meant to be glowing, however they cast a shadow on the rear panel of the stove - indicating that the rings are actually cold, and being lit from underneath with red lights.
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When the massive mother ship first appears and passes over Devils Tower, stars are visible through hull of the ship in some of the shots from underneath the ship.
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When the "mother ship" appears over the mountain at the end, it casts a shadow over those staring up at it, even though it must surely be above the light source.
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When Roy is building the clay mountain in his living room, you can see the cut in the clay where he will later pull off the top of the mountain.
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The American flag patch on the uniforms of the volunteers at the end of the film are backwards. The camera pans down the row of volunteers in their jumpsuits and each has a flag patch on their right shoulder with the stars on the left side of the flag. When a flag patch is worn on the right shoulder, the stars should be on the right side of the flag with the stripes pointing to the left.
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When Jillian has caught up to Barry on the highway and almost gets hit by Roy, a shot shows the two up close with the background out of focus, but the stars in the background sky are in sharp focus.
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After one of the police cars runs off the side of the road chasing the four smaller UFOs, Roy's truck and two police cars skid to a halt. All three vehicles skid at equally 45 degree angles. (\) In the next shot, which overlooks the greater Muncie area, you see the UFOs disappearing in the mountains while the city grids start to light up again. Roy's truck is now parked at a -45 degree angle. (/)
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Spoilers 

The goof item below may give away important plot points.

Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

When the Mothership opens and abducted people come out, the first ones are apparently the missing pilots from, Flight 19, the training flight in 1945 whose planes were found in the opening scene. The names of the crewmen do not match the actual names. The closest is "Frank Taylor", actual crewman was Charles Taylor. Also named in the movie was Robert F. Landham, actual crewman was Robert F. Gallivan. Others named in the movie that have no close actual counterparts were Harry Ward Craig, Matthew McMichael and David Erickson. This could easily be explained as, when the second returned person walks past, they show a board having multiple abductees, not just the 5 from Flight 19. In fact, it could be that there were many other planes and boats that crew members were returned from as the shots go to Neary getting set for his journey.
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See also

Trivia | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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