Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977
visit the film locations
Visit: Devil’s Tower National Monument, northeast Wyoming in the Black Hills National Forest. Nearest airports are Gillette Campbell County Airport, Wyoming, and Rapid City Regional Airport, South Dakota.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind location: the alien landing site: Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Photograph: iStockphoto © Joe McDaniel
Steven Spielberg resurrected the Cinema of Awe not seen since the days of the great religious epics (just count the references to The Ten Commandments) as earth is visited by friendly aliens.
The opening sandstorm, and the ship stranded in the ‘Sahara Desert’ seen in the Special Edition, were filmed in California’s Mojave Desert.
Also in the California desert is the air traffic control center, which is in Palmdale. Howard K Smith, the news anchorman, shot his scenes in Washington DC, and the footage of Claude Lacombe (French director François Truffaut) making recordings of the musical notes in India was filmed in Hal, a small village near Khalapur, about 35 miles southeast of Mumbai.
Most of the filming, however, was in Alabama, where dirigible hangars, larger than any Hollywood soundstage, were found to house the enormous sets. Consequently, the whole production moved to the South. The landing site was the biggest indoor set ever built, constructed at the former air force base, now an industrial complex in Mobile.
The hangars are numbers 5 and 6, Building 17 of the Brookley Field Industrial Complex, Old Bay Street, Mobile. Other sets built in the hangars include the road bend where the cop cars attempt to follow the alien craft into space, and the interior of the Neary home. The mountainside scenes used artificial boulders – with only twelve basic shapes carefully placed at differing angles to prevent patterns becoming obvious.
The house of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is 1613 Carlisle Drive East, off Howells Ferry Road in Colonial Heights, to the west of Mobile, while Jillian’s mother’s house is in Baldwin County to the east of the city.
The big evacuation scene filmed at Bay Minette over the Mobile and Tensaw Rivers, 30 miles northeast of Mobile on Route 31.
Apart from the ‘strip’ itself, the landing site is real and has since become a major tourist attraction. The striking sawn-off peak of Devil’s Tower National Monument can be found in the northeast corner of Wyoming in the Black Hills National Forest.
According to native legend, the strange formation was made by giant bears clawing at a mountain to reach a princess on the summit. More prosaically, according to science, it’s an ‘igneous intrusion’ – solidified magma which had welled up inside (since eroded) sedimentary rock.
Devil’s Tower was designated the US’ first national monument, in 1906. It’s open all year round, and there’s a visitor centre open from April to October, about three miles from the entrance. It’s 33 miles northeast of Moorcroft, I-90.