How well do you remember "Close Encounters of the Third Kind?"

Torrance Grey

Image: tmdb

About This Quiz

In the 1970s, this movie had an entire generation looking for strange lights in the skies. Do you remember the details of Steven Spielberg's sci-fi classic? Take our quiz and find out!

Where does the movie open?

A supertitle tells us it's the Sonoran Desert, "present day." For people who saw "Close Encounters" in its first run in theaters, that would have meant 1977.

What is unusual about the planes found in the desert?

Not only that, but they look pristine. A member of Lacombe's investigation team starts up the engine on one of them, and the prop begins to spin.

The sole witness, the old man, says the sun came out at night and did what?

The idea of the UFOs "singing" is important to "Close Encounters." No one who's seen the movie can forget the distinctive five-note motif the saucers make.

In what U.S. city does much of "Close Encounters" take place?

Spielberg clearly wanted the UFOs to visit Everytown, USA. He also said he wanted the hero to be a regular working man, and therefore changed an early version of the script in which the hero was a cop.

Who played the everyman hero in "Close Encounters"?

Dreyfuss later said he had to lobby to get the role. Spielberg was considering Hackman, Nicholson and Al Pacino for the part of Roy Neary, a family man who gets drawn into a series of controversial UFO sightings.

What is Roy Neary's job?

Neary's job made it a natural for him to get involved in the UFO sightings. UFOs play havoc with electricity (at least, in films and on television).

How many children do the Nearys have?

Neary and his wife, Ronnie, have two sons and a daughter. One of the sons, Toby, was played by a young actor named Justin Dreyfuss. What a coincidence! (OK, he was Richard's nephew).

What was the name of the little boy who first saw the UFOs?

As much as the clothes and hairstyles, the name "Barry" marks "Close Encounters" as a 1970s movie. This boy's name has fallen sharply out of favor. (One day "Jaden" and "Braden" are going to sound equally dated).

What physical symptom tends to follow a close-up sighting of the UFOs?

The first person who gets this is the old man in the Mexican desert. Later, Neary gets a sunburn on just one side of his face, giving him an unfortunate Harlequin appearance.

Who does Roy nearly hit with his truck?

Barry's mother, Jillian, has only just found him. She swoops him out of the way before Roy, still following the lights in his truck, can hit him.

To what does Jillian compare the UFO-viewing party?

Evidently Jillian has bounced back very quickly from the anxiety of Barry running away in the middle of the night and then nearly getting hit by a truck. The following night, she takes her young son out to the highway to watch for the UFOs the with others.

What does the sign held by "Farmer" (the old eccentric) say?

Farmer is apparently an experienced UFO chaser. He tells Roy that it's rare to see UFOs following the highways, the way they do that night.

Out of which of these does Neary NOT make a model of the mountain?

Neary's final version is a six-foot-tall replica he makes in the living room with garden dirt and chicken wire (the latter stolen from a neighbor). His erratic behavior causes his wife to take the kids and leave, and we can't entirely blame her. Neary's obsessive haste was so great, he threw his material through the kitchen window rather than bring it through the front door.

When the government broadcasts the five-note musical motif into space, what do they get back?

It's the former cartographer, Laughlin, who recognizes the numbers as coordinates. Not a right ascension and declination in space, though: "These are Earth coordinates."

Which US state do the coordinates point to?

More specifically, the numbers point toward Devil's Tower, Wyoming. This is the flat-topped mountain that Neary and Jillian are seeing.

What does Barry say when he sees the UFOs outside his house?

This line was unscripted. Barry was just supposed to smile when he saw the lights in the sky, and Spielberg was holding up toys offscreen to encourage him to smile. The director kept the unplanned response in the movie.

In addition to UFOs, what does Farmer tell the town hall meeting he has seen?

The government calls a town hall meeting to deny that aliens are visiting the Muncie area. The people assembled don't believe it and insist they can handle the truth -- but it hurts their case when Farmer speaks up to say he's seen Bigfoot as well as UFOs.

What is an enterprising man selling in the supposedly contaminated zone in Wyoming?

He says that the birds will die of exposure before a human is affected. Coal miners sometimes carried birds in cages for that same reason, to guard against the invisible, odorless gas that can build up in mines.

What disturbing sight do Neary and Jillian see on the Wyoming roadside?

The horses and sheep aren't really dead. They've been sprayed with a sleeping gas from the air. It's theatrics on the part of the military.

What do Jillian and Neary find on the far side of Devil's Tower?

The military has built this in haste after receiving the coordinates from space. Boy, we'd hate to justify the cost to the Pentagon if the UFOs never showed up!

Which two flags fly at the airbase?

Though it seems to be the U.S. military that's providing all the technology, Lacombe is the brains of the operation. For example, he's the one who converts the five-note sequence into hand gestures,

During their attempt to communicate with the mothership, a character refers to "quavers and semiquavers." What are these?

A "quaver" is an eighth note, and a "semiquaver" is a sixteenth note. The technician is analyzing the mothership's attempts to communicate with them.

Noting that the returned WWII aviators haven't aged at all, one character says, "_______ was right."

Einstein developed the concept of "spacetime," or the idea that space and time are a single construct, influenced by the gravity of large objects. Part of his theory says that time is not a constant, and interstellar travelers would return to earth much younger than the peers they left behind.

What do the orange-suited astronauts do before entering the spacecraft?

Toward the end of the movie, the astronauts attend a service in which a clergyman prays for their success and safety. Notably, we see a woman among them; women are otherwise exclusively wives and mothers in "Close Encounters."

In the end, which character leaves Earth with the aliens?

Well, maybe we shouldn't be quick to blame him. He's unemployed now, and his wife left him and took the kids. (Though we kind of thought she'd come back as soon as he stopped making giant sculptures in the living room).

Who played Ronnie Neary?

Teri Garr, known for comedy, played a straight role here (and a rather limited one). She and Dreyfuss worked together again in 1989's "Let It Ride," an offbeat racetrack comedy.

What actor from the "Rocky" series had a small role as a military police officer?

Weathers, who was Apollo Creed in "Rocky" and its first two sequels, plays an MP guarding the supposedly uninhabitable zone around Devil's Tower. Neary tries to con his way past the barricades, but the guard is having none of it.

"Close Encounters" was released the same year as which sci-fi blockbuster?

If you're sharp-eyed, you can see ads for "Star Wars" in a scene in which Neary clips a story about UFOs from the newspaper. Very meta!

What smash movie had Spielberg previously made that gave him the power to make the expensive, effects-heavy "Close Encounters"?

"Duel" and "The Sugarland Express" were also Spielberg movies. But it was "Jaws," more than anything, that made a studio trust him with a big-budget story about aliens.

"Close Encounters" was nominated for eight Oscars. Which one did it win?

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond won for his work on "Close Encounters." He had previously worked on Spielberg's "Sugarland Express."

Spielberg went on to make what other blockbuster movie about aliens?

"E.T." featured a friendly alien, much like those in "Close Encounters." But "War of the Worlds" was a based on the 1950s idea of aliens as hostile invaders, who must be resisted.

Where does the "first kind, second kind, third kind" classification come from?

The term "ufologist" comes in for a lot of derision, but Hynek, trained as an astrophysicist, did a lot to legitimize the study of UFOs. He famously said, "Ridicule is not part of the scientific method."

What is the name of the US Air Force's official investigation into UFOs?

Project Blue Book ran from 1952 to 1969, concluding that most sightings were misidentification of natural phenomena. It was also concluded that no UFO sightings were ever a threat to national security.

About a decade after "Close Encounters," which fantasy/horror author came out as an abductee by "visitors"?

Strieber wrote the nonfiction book "Communion" about his experiences. It was controversial, but successful, and Christopher Walken played him in the movie version.

Which famous director played Claude Lacombe?

Truffaut played a UFO expert whom we first see in the Sonoran desert scene. Steven Spielberg was reportedly surprised (and undoubtedly pleased) that Truffaut accepted the role.

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