Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind landed in our cinemas over thirty years ago, lifting the lid on UFO sightings and turning it into a worldwide phenomenon. Surpassing Star Wars as the biggest box office smash of 1977, it re-awakened our fascination with the eternal question- are we alone in the universe?

The movie follows three central characters- Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) who develops an obsession after sighting a UFO, Jillian Guiler, a single mother whose son is abducted by aliens and Claude Lacombe, a scientist working on a secret government project to establish First Contact with the extra-terrestrials. Although it’s a work of fiction, this sci-fi fantasy - including the legendary UFO road chase scene - was in fact inspired by real people, real science and real-life witness testimonies.

To ensure the film was as accurate as possible to the reported cases, Spielberg hired Dr J Allen Hynek. Widely considered to be the authority on the scientific analysis of the UFO phenomenon, Hynek came up with the UFO classification system, which Close Encounters of the Third Kind takes it title from. Originally an astronomer, Hynek was hired by the US Air Force to look into the growing number of UFO reports that arose in the late forties. As sightings became more prevalent, the US government came under pressure to set up a formal body to study the cases- its main goal was to determine if any of these sightings were a threat to the American people. Called Project Bluebook, Dr Hynek served as the organization’s scientific advisor. His role was to look into the truly inexplicable cases and try to explain them. But the more cases he looked at, the more Hynek’s position changed from firm skeptic to a believer in the unexplained. In Project Bluebook’s seventeen year history, he oversaw the investigation of over 12,000 reported sightings from all over the United States in its seventeen-year history.