Review by C.J. Bunce
Timed for release as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, fans of Close Encounters finally get one of the most eagerly awaited, behind the scenes looks at the quintessential UFO film as Harper Design releases its hardcover chronicle this week, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History. And it’s everything fans of the film could hope for.
Known for his work as a publicist on more than fifty films, author Michael Klastorin worked with Sony Pictures and Amblin Entertainment to unearth rare and never-before-seen imagery from their archives. The book is a stunning collection of on-set photography, concept art, storyboards, and recollections of the cast and crew to create a visual narrative of the film’s journey to the big screen and through the entire production process. First created as a story idea by Spielberg in his twenties, Close Encounters is still considered by Spielberg as one of his most personal projects. Spielberg recounts his efforts to sell the film, his attempts to get a known screenwriter to write it only for him to finally decide to write it himself, and his original story synopsis, which remained hardly altered. Spielberg initially wanted to reflect Watergate in his film to reflect the current zeitgeist, something of a government trying to cover up the aliens like Project Blue Book, but by the time the film was far along in pre-production it was determined audiences were tired of conspiracies as the sole defining theme. Spielberg’s discussion of his early vision seems very similar to what Chris Carter would develop more than a decade later in his television series The X-Files.
Except those who are no longer with us, all of the players you’d expect provide contributions in the book. Actor Bob Balaban provides some of the most interesting stories from the set, including his casting process for the film and development of his working relationship with internationally known director and film co-star Francois Truffaut. Richard Dreyfuss’s recollections focus on his campaigning Spielberg to be cast for the role, the difficulty in the Nearys’ location shoot for the family home, and his realization from his very first discussions about the project with Spielberg that Close Encounters would stand up as a noble film pursuit. Melinda Dillon’s role changed throughout the shoot, cutting one scene for financial reasons and adding the scene where she has the revelation that Devil’s Tower is the image in her dreams. She also filmed much of the movie with a broken toe, followed by another leg injury caused on-set jumping from a helicopter.
The most fascinating behind-the-scenes effects discussion comes from Doug Trumbull. His UFO storm development effect work was extraordinary. You’ll find location photographs, visual effects explanations and process development discussions, photos of the Mother Ship model and other set models, concept art from Ralph McQuarrie, and many views of the film’s extra-terrestrials.
As with many recent film books in the “Ultimate Visual Guide” realm, look for special tipped-in inserts and interactive elements including script pages, call lists, and concept sketches–even a copy of a telegram from Truffaut to Spielberg. These inserts are becoming the norm, and they are quite fun additions to a genre of book that is already chock full of interesting facts and images. Key to this is the inclusion of oddities and film development ephemera, and not simply copies of movie tickets or post-production marketing brochures as found in earlier “vault” type book collections.
Spielberg also provides the foreword to the book. A must-read for every Close Encounters fan, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History is available now here at Amazon.