Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Plot hole: The aliens provide coordinates for a place to make a rendezvous with humans but do not specify a time. It's possible they're monitoring and will arrive when they see enough humans gathering at Devil's Tower, but the humans seem to expect the aliens to come more or less exactly when they actually do, somehow.

TonyPH

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Suggested correction: Scientists were prepared for the aliens and knew when and where they would arrive, as seen by the extensive complex built at Devil's Tower. However, as Claude Lacombe, the French scientist, speculates towards the end, hundreds of humans may have had the Devil's Tower image recently implanted in their minds, saying they were "invited" but never made the connection. Neery figured it out and was compelled to go there at that time. Neery was then allowed to join a group of trained volunteers that were already prepared to go on the ship, while the previous "abductees" were being returned to Earth.

raywest

The aliens had not given a time to meet. The scientists may be taking it on faith that the aliens will know that they've arrived at Devil's Tower and are ready, but the way the subject of timing is left unaddressed on screen feels like an oversight.

TonyPH

We don't know for certain if the scientists were given a specific time, but it appears they were, or at least a general window. The long-lost objects, like the ship and the military aircraft, suddenly showing up in the desert, is an indication the process has started. If humans were given the precise location where the alien ship would arrive (Devil's Tower), then, logically, the aliens would also communicate when. The scientists were communicating with the aliens using tonal sounds. Early on, the scientists received map coordinates through dish satellites as repeating pulses. They would likely receive time information the same way. As often happens in movies, this info may be something that got edited out of the film, causing an inconsistency.

raywest

This might be one of those edge cases. Under most circumstances I'd agree we could assume arrangements were made off-screen by virtue of the fact that the rendezvous occurs successfully in the first place; but in the context of this movie, in which any and all forms of contact with the aliens is treated as profound and significant, leaving it unaddressed (not even with a line of dialogue) comes off like a plot hole. I suppose we'll just have to let our fellow website readers decide.

TonyPH

Factual error: The aliens broadcast a series of pulses which are decoded by the scientists to be a longitude and latitude. In degrees:minutes:seconds, the longitude is 104:44:30 and the latitude is 40:36:10. These numbers are what the computer display shows and are what the scientists say (except for one slip-up in the hallway early in the scene where 104:40:30 is said). The scientists grab a globe and declare these coordinates are in Wyoming. Everybody and his brother (and the aliens) then proceed to show up at Devils Tower, Wyoming. However, Devils Tower is at around longitude 104 deg 44 min and latitude *44* deg 36min, not the *40* deg 36 min pulsed out by the aliens. If everyone had gone to 40 deg 36 min, they would have ended up in Colorado, more than a couple hundred miles south of Devils Tower, Wyoming. (00:46:23)

More mistakes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

David Laughlin: We didn't choose this place! We didn't choose these people! They were invited!
Claude Lacombe: They belong here more than we.

More quotes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Trivia: If you have a trained eye you can see Darth Vader's ship and R2D2 from Star Wars, and several other bits of Spielberg-Lucas memorabilia.

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Question: I would really like some insight on a burning question I have had since seeing this movie as a child in 1978, when it came back around in theaters in eastern Canada, where I grew up. Not knowing much about American history in school, I didn't know at the time that there even was a Devil's Tower, or that it had been made the first US National Monument in 1906, and as such would have been famous to all American citizens. I still remember loving the psychic element in the film where our heroes agonize internally about the strange mound shape seen only in their heads, to be finally rewarded and deeply relieved with news footage later in the film which solidified their visions into something tangible and concrete (igneous rock actually!) Thus, as a boy knowing nothing about the tower in Wyoming, this part of the film played perfectly into the fantasy for me-it sold me all the way. But why or how did this work for Americans at the time the film was new? In the film, we are to believe that our adult heroes knew nothing of the tower before their initial close encounters, and were shocked to discover that it actually existed. Again, for me, Devil's Tower was an absolutely incredible and awesome choice, and made me love the film all the more for it. But I would like to know how Americans felt about it during the film's 1977 and later 1980 re-release? Was it just as awe-inspiring for them as well, or was it more like: "Duh-you're driving your family crazy making models of a natural rock formation everyone knows is less than 90 miles away from Mount Rushmore?" I would really appreciate an answer, because for me, the tower's news-footage "reveal" was a huge moment in the film, and really does provide the kick-start that launches the entire third act of the film. For American audiences, why was it not the same as if Roy had struggled to attach a garden hose under a hastily-built plywood model with a hole in the middle, because the aliens implanted a vision of "Old Faithful" in his head?

Answer: Devil's Tower really is out in the middle of nowhere, and in one of the least populated states (it's "only" 90 miles away from Mt. Rushmore, but it's an incredibly boring 90 miles of mostly empty plains) so it didn't make for a convenient tourist attraction like other landmarks and thus didn't garner as much fame (it's actually much more famous nowadays, thanks to this movie). That said, the movie seems to have cleverly provided two separate "reveals" for this plot turn: those familiar with Devil's Tower will recognize it when Richard Dreyfuss knocks the top off his sculpture, giving it the distinctive "flat top" shape; then, only minutes later the rest of the audience will discover it along with the characters during the news broadcast. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this was set up deliberately keeping in mind the landmark's status of "kind of famous but not really THAT famous."

TonyPH

Your explanation (and the other answer) helps makes the overall plot more understandable. The French scientist, Lacombe, mentions that there were probably hundreds of people who were implanted with the Devil's Tower image in their minds. As pointed out, it is not a particularly recognizable landmark, which would explain why many never made the connection to it.

raywest

Answer: "Devil's Tower" is, indeed, a national landmark. However, it isn't one of the most famous, nor most iconic. It isn't nearly as widely known as, say, the Grand Canyon, the Mississippi River, Niagara Falls, or the landmarks you mentioned - Mount Rushmore and Old Faithful Geyser. But, as you stated, its imposing form does fit so nicely into the aura of the film's alien encounter. Devil's Tower isn't something everyone knows by shape. And for those of us who do, it doesn't require much suspension of disbelief to posit that the characters in the film wouldn't have put it together prior to the news footage.

Michael Albert

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