And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.
— Acts 9:3–9, ASVSaul at the crossroads of Damascus, who biblically and metaphorically "sees the light" and becomes the second Paul to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Religious films and the miraculous made everyday permeates CE3K throughout. At one point DeMille's The Ten Commandments plays on a television in the Neary home, and its cloud special effects recall Douglas Trumbull's billowing eerie clouds around Devil's Tower before the alien ships' arrival. Revelations are made throughout. Signs that "mean something" crop up throughout the movie, and the film has fun with "turn-abouts"—where something can influence one way and then turn another—like the head-lamps that turn from car to spacecraft in this scene, or the lovely transition where Roy Neary sleeps in exhaustion in his rec room until it's suffused with a warm, orange-ish glow, not from visiting aliens, as we've previously seen, but from the normal rising of the sun, something of a miracle itself.
Neary finds his mission at this crossroads, like Saul, and his reward at the end of the film is enlightenment, literally and figuratively, as he ascends into the Heavens.
And it's Roy Neary, an Everyman, a line-man who is "chosen." Spielberg commissioned Paul Schrader to do the first draft of CE3K, which originally had more menacing aliens in it, and Schrader's screenplay had the hero be a UFO investigator at the top of his field—that's who should represent us in Schrader's mind. But not Spielberg; he wanted an ordinary schlub as our First Contact, our man in Outer Space—Neary is picked out of the line-up at Devil's Tower above trained and briefed volunteers. Spielberg continued this pattern throughout his "alien trilogy." In E.T., it is Elliott (Henry Thomas), not "Keys" (played by Peter Coyote)—who has been investigating the landings for years (according to the book, anyway)—who has the contact and study-time with the gardener from the celestial planes. And instead of a professor (Gene Barry) as in the '53 The War of the Worlds, it is a stevedore, a dockworking crane operator (Tom Cruise) that is the focus of Spielberg's 2005 version.
The Set-Up: They're he-ere! Okay, wrong Spielberg movie, but something strange is going on around the town of Tolono, near Muncie, Indiana. While a team of scientists are globe-trotting looking at an intensifying of UFO activity, line-man Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) has been called to work to see why the city is going through an unexplained power outage. He is about to see the light.
Script deletions are
EXT. DIP IN THE HIGHWAY-NIGHT
An eerie light just beneath the dip in the road throws amber shafts through an underbelly of fog.
POLICE RADIO (V.O.) Unit 1-7 Alert.
The light intensifies before a pair of headlights explode over the ridge and pull to a stop.
NEARY: Help! I'm lost!
NEARY: C'mon, you're gonna cough up a little Tolono, right?
He pulls down a jerry-rigged roll map and sticks the penlight into his mouth...backwards. His cheeks glow pink and for a moment he can't figure why no light is getting on his map.
DISPATCH (V.O) Go'ed.
NEARY: Cough up Tolono on Interstate Highway 90. Maybe a little familiar landmark of some sort.
LONGLY's VOICE (V.O.) Responding to that 10-75 on Cornbread Road and Middletown Pike. I am observing--I'm not sure exactly what, but it's a negative on the Christmas lights I think it's street-lights in the foothills residentials.
LONGLY's VOICE (V.O.) Sodium favor street lights. Power must have been restored up there. Couple hundred neighbors in their p.j.'s think its Saturday night out here.
LONGLY's VOICE (V.O.) Dispatch, this is 411. Do you want me to disregard that Tolono call?
Neary is tearing at maps and absently waves an arm out the side window.
The automobile headlights pass him and somebody yells:
PASSENGER: You're in the middle of the road,
NEARY: Can you tell me where Cornbread is...
OFFICER LONGLY (V.O.) Couple hundred neighbors in their pajamas think its Saturday night over here.
Neary's fingers trace the route.
His two fingers meet and he takes off, tires screeching.
FARM COUNTRY ROAD - THIN GROUND FOG - NEARY
He turns into a rutted road, shines his spotlight on the street sign.
He checks his map. It confuses him. Neary backs onto the main highway and stops, pulling the map closer, twisting the gooseneck tensor lamp close enough to burn a hole.
NEARY: M-Mary 10 through M-Mary 12. Okay.
DISPATCH (V.O) 10-47
A bank of lights from an approaching vehicle can be seen from the rear window. They draw up close and stop.
Neary is only slightly annoyed by the glare from the rear and side view mirrors as he pours over the wrinkled map. He absently sticks out his left hand and begins to signal "go around."
NEARY: Alright, Stoppage in the single circuits will lead you right to nowhere.
For a moment, nothing happens,...
...then, soundlessly, the super highbeams comply...
...rising vertically out of sight leaving darkness behind.
NEARY: M-Mary 10.
Neary hasn't seen this.
Then there is this noise.
It is like the rattling of tin. Neary looks around.
He shines his spotlight on the road sign.
ANGLE - ROAD SIGN
It is vibrating so fast that the letters seem to multiply and super-impose. He looks again with an almost comical "Huuuh?"
DISPATCH (V.O) Units 2-11, 10-13...
DISPATCH (V.O) ...five-sev-*
CLICK! The entire area for thirty yards around his car is bathed in the brightest light imaginable.
Neary tries to look out the open side window but it hurts,
He ducks back in and goes for his radio. It is dead. Neary is too scared to budge.
Just his eyes move. Nothing more.
Falling open at the hinges, the glove compartment rattles as everything mettalic begins sticking together.
A box of paperclips comes undone and dozens fasten themselves to the roof of the car.
The ashtray empties itself out as though sucked weightless by a current of air from outside -
- and CLICK!
The hotlight is gone.
Paperclips rain down on him from the rooftop. The sign is no longer shaking. A DISTANT RATTLING causes Neary to swing around in his seat. His highbeams, spotlight, lamp, etc. come to life.
Down the road there is a FOUR-WAY STOP.
The signs are dancing to and fro, vibrating so violently that the metal around the edges curls against the force.
CLICK! The intersection a hundred yards down the road is awash in the same intense light. But only for a second. CLICK! And in the dark, the signs are no longer moving.
All is still. Not even a hint of a breeze.
Click!! His car lights and radio blast back on and Neary screams.
FOUR-WAY STOP - NIGHT
The radio is making noises that sound like overload excitement.
RADIO VOICE (v.O.) What do you guys got out there?
RADIO VOICE (v.O.) I don't believe this. My God, it's as big as a house!
RADIO VOICE (v.O.) It's shaped like a barn!
RADIO VOICE (v.O.) This is absolutely crazy!
DISPATCH VOICE: What's your location?
LONGLEY'S VOICE: Just off the Telemark Expressway and East toward Harper Valley.
CLOSE - NEARY'S TIRES
They dig out two troughs of red Indian earth.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Words by Steven Spielberg (and Matthew Robbins, Hal Barwood, Jerry Belson, and John Hill after a first draft script by Paul Schrader)
Pictures by Vilmos Szigmond and Steven Spielberg
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.