’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.
Under the watch of Dr Hynek, Project Bluebook reported 12,000 UFO sightings from all over the United States.
One of the most famous cases that Hynek investigated was the Michigan sightings of 1966. What set this case apart was the sheer number of witnesses, more than 100, including local law enforcement officers in Washtenaw County. In the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
, UFO’s speed through the skies of Indiana followed by police cars in hot pursuit. Similarly the police officers of Washtenaw County chased their UFOs, but were unable to keep up. Allen Hynek and Project Bluebook later announced to the press that the majority of lights in the Michigan sky had been generated by swamp gas. Those who believe they saw a flying craft met this theory with disgust.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – The True Story
investigates the original cases that inspired the film- from the Michigan UFO chase to the first and arguably most famous case of alien abduction in the US- the Betty and Barney Hill abduction. Using the latest scientific techniques we put Hynek’s swamp gas theory to the test and explore the psychology behind alien abduction. With contributions from leading experts in theoretical physics, astronomy and nuclear science, we explore the films central themes of interstellar travel, communication, the probability of alien life and just what real world protocols are in place for establishing first contact with an extra-terrestrial civilization.
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