At the end of the movie dozens and dozens of abductees are shown leaving the spacecraft. The 13 US Navy airmen were taken from their lives in on Earth only to be returned 30 years later. With Roy Neary the aliens implanted such an overwhelming desire to go to Devil's Tower that it completely disrupted his family*. They violently ripped the child Barry from his mother's arms. All these seem like pretty malevolent actions. Yet, they are seen as wondrous. I would think many would see the aliens as a threat but I didn't sense any of that in the movie.

Has Spielberg or any of the writers [Hal Barwood (additional story uncredited), Jerry Belson (written by uncredited), John Hill (additional writing uncredited), Matthew Robbins (additional story uncredited)] IMDB cast and crew discussed how they squared the circle of the aliens being seen as benevolent when their actions seem pretty malevolent?

*I know Spielberg said he would not make the same choices with the Neary character if he had made the movie later in his life.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was made when Spielberg was a young man. At the time, he did not have a family like Roy Neery does. The story was a kind of escapist adventure that he thought a downtrodden, trapped, middle age guy might want to experience. He has since said that he could not make Close Encounters at this point in his life because he would never make the choices that "he" (as Roy) did in the film.

SFF Stack Exchange question Why did the aliens choose Roy Neary?

  • well...it was only violent because mom was hanging onto Barry and fighting. He himself seemed happy to go with them. (granted...a 4/5 yr old doesn't have a whole lot of agency - certainly not legally lol)
    – NKCampbell
    Aug 1, 2020 at 16:12
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    this is probably answerable, but would require some extra digging. The closest I've found so far is a quote from Spielberg in 2007 saying "I was a real devotee of the UFO phenomenon in the 1970s but since then, I’ve revised my thinking." - bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/…, given that quote, one could then analyze what the predominant opinion of contact was among ufologists at the time. Whitley Strieber's 'nonfiction' book came out in 1987 which started the negative abduction narratives iirc
    – NKCampbell
    Aug 1, 2020 at 16:21
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    The "negative abduction narrative" long predated Strieber. The idea that aliens might abduct humans for experiments was discussed in a 1953 article, and stories began circulating as early as 1954. It was Betty Hill's story from 1961 (that came out as a book in 1966) that made it fairly well known. By the 1980s, the idea of abduction , negative or otherwise, was well-established. Strieber merely took what was already there and added some horror elements. Aug 3, 2020 at 3:41

1 Answer 1


The movie regards the UFO phenomenon more from a scientific standpoint rather than taking the approach of earlier pulp-style "it's an invasion; fight!" storytelling: if "they" exist, why should "they" behave like Nazis from outer space with christmas lights? They would much more be like the Enterprise coming to take a look.

The movie came out in '77. By that time serious UFO studies had been written (with all the caveats attached), Hynek review book "The UFO experience" (1972) had come out, cautiously and recluctantly introducing the concept of "humanoid encounters" and labeling them as "3rd Kind" (although such encounters had been well-reported on by that time).

None of the encounters exhibited directly menacing character (AFAIK, up to that point; indeed the European flaps of the 50s for example did not deplore victims except some people shooting at each other in a nightly panic).

Jacques Vallée (basically in the movie as Lacombe) had written a few books on this. At that time had actually abandoned the idea of UFOs as "physical objects as we know them" but as "something else (left unexplained) with physical and psychological effects" directly linked to the mental state of the witness, and with a good part hoaxes and psychological warfare performed by all-too-human governmental and other actors. Although he recounted a couple of encounters with seriously bad outcomes, he didn't ascribe any malevolence to the generating (objectively real) phenomenon.

So, yeah, if there is no malevolence, but maybe a desire for "contact" during which "accidents may happen", why not go with that yarn?

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