The classification system for encounters with unidentified flying objects (UFOs) was devised by astronomer and US Air Force consulting UFO analyst J. Allen Hynek. Later he founded the Center for UFO Studies.
Hynek divided UFO sightings into two categories: relatively distant sightings, like lights in the night sky or flying discs in the distance, and relatively close sightings. Close sightings could be of three different kinds:
- A close encounter of the first kind is the simple observation of a UFO nearby
- A close encounter of the second kind is the observation of the interaction of a UFO with the environment, such as burn marks on the ground or physical effects on animals
- A close encounter of the third kind is observation of occupants of the UFO
Of course the movie also has strange encounters with flying objects, escapes from government agents and the best alien music scene ever to keep it entertaining. And, unlike so many movie aliens, when we humans finally meet them, they don't blow up our buildings or steal our natural resources, although they do kidnap folks for unknown purposes. Perhaps aliens really can come in peace.
Hynek consulted on the movie, and even makes a cameo appearance during the close encounter scene, giving it a bit of scientific (or at least scientific-seeming) authenticity.
Maybe my perception is skewed because I was only ten in 1977, but I think that was one of the best years ever for science fiction flicks, what with both Close Encounters and Star Wars (Episode IV) in theaters. I think both movies have stood the test of time, but it's the first deep notes booming out from the alien ship in Close Encounters that gives me shivers..
Watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind for free at Crackle.com.
Upper Image: Ovni.png from Wikimedia Commons by user Crobard (public domain)
Lower Image: Purchase the Close Encounters of the Third Kind Special Edition at Amazon.com