Claim: NASA tried to stop Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'

ParanoidSkeptic2

Active Member
In 1978, a year after the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg conducted an interview with Cinema Papers where he claimed that NASA has sent him a 20 page letter discouraging him to release the film. This is all in relation to Project Serpo where apparently 12 humans were sent to Zeta Reticule for a mission.

inews speculated that Dr J Allen Hynek informed NASA director of this and then NASA tried to dissuade Spielberg.

Article:
Some say Dr Hynek passed information to the director that NASA did not want made public.

Interestingly, in a 1978 edition of the now defunct Cinema Papers magazine, Spielberg said: “If NASA took the time to write me a 20-page letter, I knew there must be something happening. When they read the script, they got very angry and felt that it was a film that would be dangerous.”


I managed to find the article that this has been talked about, it's the Cinema Paper #16 April-June 1978.

Edit: something is wrong with attaching the images, but the link above provides the link to the article; it's page 36 paragraph 4

Article:
I really found my faith when I heard that the government was opposed to the film. If NASA took the time to write me a 20-page letter, then I knew there must be something happening.

I had wanted co-operation from them, but when they read the script they got very angry and felt that it was a film that would be dangerous. I think they mainly wrote the letter because Jaws convinced so many people around the world that there were sharks in toilets and bathtubs , not just in the oceans and rivers. They were afraid some kind of epidemic would happen with UFOs.

It was the same with the Air Force; they gave us no co-operation at all. So when I was shooting the scenes with the army and air force, I had to do it the old-fashioned way and go into the costume store and buy army suits and gear


A lot of CTs latch onto the fact that Spielberg said "If NASA took the time to write me a 20-page letter, then I knew there must be something happening." which many think he was alluding to the fact that apparent UFOs are visiting earth on the daily. The argument provided by CTs is why would NASA bother writing a 20 page letter to Spielberg if nothing was happening. A major proponent of this is conspiracy theory is Linda Moulton Howe, a notorious ufologist and conspiracy theorist, from my research it seems like she is the first person who broke the story within the last decade.

Obviously, I don't think that NASA is wanted to supress this film to "hide the truth" but a 20 page letter does seem like overkill a bit.

Side note: I wasn't sure which forum to place this in (quotes, conspiracy theories of paranormal) I decided to put it in this one because the whole context of the story seems to be a misinterpreted quote, I'm sorry if this is the wrong forum for this.
 

Hevach

Senior Member.
Also relevant who it was in NASA and what kind official capacity it was in. NASA has (or at least used to have) an address you can write to for advice on anything from school projects to feature films, and there was never really any telling what would happen if you wrote to it. Gene Roddenberry ended up getting a wealth of theoretical ideas that ended up heavily informing the design of the Enterprise, in middle school I got a letter from my favorite astronaut and a chart of how orbital maneuvers work (and then failed the paper it was for because my teacher refused to believe things like slowing down to go faster).

The full context in the article sounds like this was more that than an official statement. Whoever ended up answering it didn't much like the ideas and said so.

As for the Air Force, you can get a ton of film help from the US military, but it comes with a LOT of strings attached. If you portray them in almost any negative light they'll nope out and you're on your own. And that does include things like showing them as inferior a K2 civilization higher above humanity than we are above ants. There's a reason that the Transformers took a back seat to the Marine Corps in their own movies. I honestly doubt Close Encounters as it exists would have qualified.
 

ParanoidSkeptic2

Active Member
Is there independent evidence that there was a 20 page letter?
I believe the only evidence is Spielberg's own word, he is the only person who seen the letter and talked about it that one time in 1978.

The full context in the article sounds like this was more that than an official statement
Yeah, although many people assume it was some official statement. Could it have been just some guy from NASA on his lunch break decided to respond and Spielberg phrased it as NASA because it sounds better/it could generate more hype?

Whoever ended up answering it didn't much like the ideas and said so.
I mean Spielberg says himself:

"but when they read the script they got very angry and felt that it was a film that would be dangerous. I think they mainly wrote the letter because Jaws convinced so many people around the world that there were sharks in toilets and bathtubs , not just in the oceans and rivers. They were afraid some kind of epidemic would happen with UFOs."

Maybe they just wanted to avoid a mass panic? I mean, in the 70's the UFO phenomenon was really darn popular.

There's a reason that the Transformers took a back seat to the Marine Corps in their own movies. I honestly doubt Close Encounters as it exists would have qualified.
Never watched the film but if the military wasn't portrayed as the best and brightest, it would make sense why they didn't want to go through with it if it wasn't portrayed like that, I mean J Allen Hynek was an advisor and he was into his woo (evidence suggests even before joining the UFO team) and I bet he was at odds with the military for trying to explain the phenomena in a more mundane way.

A lot of people really hit the fact that it was a 20 page letter, which does seem a bit much. Maybe the guy who wrote it was just passionate about the subject and wanted to hit the point home that he did not want a mass panic?
 

ParanoidSkeptic2

Active Member
Decided to have a gander at uploading the image of the article in case the link died or something. The bit highlighted is the portion where he talks about NASA, the rest of the article is about the filmmaking and his beliefs in UFOs (which sounds like Spielberg is a believer).
1613327043075.png
1613327265368.png
 

Amber Robot

Active Member
I believe the only evidence is Spielberg's own word, he is the only person who seen the letter and talked about it that one time in 1978.
so the “letter” may not even exist. For all we know it was a publicity stunt to draw attention to his movie.

Arguing the details of the letter makes no sense if the existence of the letter can’t even be established.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
but when they read the script they got very angry and felt that it was a film that would be dangerous. I think they mainly wrote the letter because Jaws convinced so many people around the world that there were sharks in toilets and bathtubs , not just in the oceans and rivers. They were afraid some kind of epidemic would happen with UFOs.


I'm going to paste more of the interview here for people on phones that can't download such big files. I find it interesting he says they were angry with the script, but he himself admits he removed alot of the encounters in the film.

i start mid answer as he discusses choosing Hyneck to give input.
interviewer questions in bold.

https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1137&context=cp
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
so the “letter” may not even exist. For all we know it was a publicity stunt to draw attention to his movie.

i find the "when they read the script" a bit suspicious. Does NASA have nothing better to do then read a [thousand] page script on UFOs and family drama? Have you ever read a screenplay? They aren't as pleasant as reading a novel, just because of the set up and stage directions.

Hopefully he paid them for their time at least. And if i read a screenplay that long and was asked for feedback and suggestions on technical issues, it would be way longer than 20 pages! :)
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Decided to have a gander at uploading the image of the article in case the link died or something.

just remembered i can save it as a pdf (i'm an airhead).. so i will attach below. Not the whole mag, too big, just his interview.
 

Attachments

  • Cinema Papers 16 AprilJune 1978.pdf
    9.8 MB · Views: 145

Hevach

Senior Member.
Never watched the film but if the military wasn't portrayed as the best and brightest, it would make sense why they didn't want to go through with it if it wasn't portrayed like that,
They weren't portrayed badly, exactly, but the military was woefully unable to deal with the situation, either through force or dialog. This is because these were aliens of the sort that barely recognized humans as alive, let alone peers or a threat, and only a display of simple math could ultimately convince them we were any more than hive bugs.

It's realistic and poignant and a good story... But not the Pentagon's film partnership's kind of thing. It is ultimately a propaganda program, they'll help out with alien or monster movies, but for the most part only if the US is shown to be able to meet kaiju and unfathomable extraterrestrial threats in a fair fight.

For example, the 1998 Godzilla where the army won was part of the program, but not the 2014 Godzilla where they just struggled to get out of the way while monsters fought each other with the victor just wandering off afterward.

And when I said there's a lot of strings attached, I mean a LOT. They get creative input on the script, actors, even directors. Hyneck's involvement alone might have been a deal breaker, honestly, but I think the best Spielberg could have hoped for was a list of script changes he would have balked at - he never set out to make Independence Day.
 

JMartJr

Senior Member
In terms of the "deleted encounters," those likely include finding the cargo ship Cotopaxi in the desert, a scene which was included in the "Special Edition." (A mildly interesting "Mandella Effect" moment for me; I would have sworn an oath that the ship found in the movie was the "Cyclops," the more archetypal missing collier of the Bermuda Triangle.)

cotopaxi.JPG
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
a scene which was included in the "Special Edition." (A mildly interesting "Mandella Effect" moment for me;

:( i was reading the wiki movie entry to see the timeline, and read about the cargo ship and remembered it from the original movie! what's even more weird is it looked like your pic. wth.

I absolutely did not see the Special Edition, i didnt like the movie the first time around. it was crazy long and slow (although maybe i was too young attention span wise).
 

ParanoidSkeptic2

Active Member
Maybe "20 pages" is shorthand for "a longer letter than I expected from them".
I did not think of that, could have been just an exaggeration of the quantity

so the “letter” may not even exist. For all we know it was a publicity stunt to draw attention to his movie.
True, I feel like this was used for extra attention for the film, after all ufology exploded in the 70's so that would attract certain individuals.

i find the "when they read the script" a bit suspicious. Does NASA have nothing better to do then read a [thousand] page script on UFOs and family drama? Have you ever read a screenplay? They aren't as pleasant as reading a novel, just because of the set up and stage directions.

Hopefully he paid them for their time at least. And if i read a screenplay that long and was asked for feedback and suggestions on technical issues, it would be way longer than 20 pages! :)
That is very true, something I did not consider again it is quite a dubious claim and NASA would take their time out to read such along screenplay, it would not be a short read.

So what's the overall consensus, that the letter was probably exaggerated by Spielberg?
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
So what's the overall consensus, that the letter was probably exaggerated by Spielberg?

I don't think the letter matters or proves anything.


Spielberg from early age was a "i want to believe" type. so what he opines about NASA is pretty irrelevant. and the guy does tell stories for a living. it's kinda his thing.



I dont see anything wrong with NASA trying to discourage him from making an exceptionally scary alien movie (and maybe Spielberg agreed and that's why he actually removed many scenes)


As far as the actual letter content and length, could go either way. 20 is a pretty round number. but even if it was 16.5 pages, Maybe the guy who looked at the script (or summary of script) had a daughter who was terrified to go in the pool (or the bathtub < and now that i think about it, i did wonder for a long time what was under the bubble bath suds and would move the bubbles away and "check" the water) because she saw Jaws :) and he was ticked. That's really the only input spielberg recalls or gives anyway...the Jaws angle.


**note: no my parents didnt bring me to see Jaws too young, my older brother had rented it one night and we watched it when my parents were on a "date night".


10 pages could have just been "him" ripping Spielberg for traumatizing so many people with Jaws ...still one of my favorite movies despite not being able to swim in the lake ever again without thinking something was gonna grab my leg and pull me under :)


They had pretty big margins (top, bottom and sides) if you look at other NASA letters from that time period. so if you use lots of paragraphs, "20" pages maybe isnt as long as you are picturing. And many people used double space between lines when typing.


Before the internet my girlfriend and i wrote each other at least once a week (she had moved to Florida) and a 20 page letter about nothing was not that difficult to pump out esp. if you were talking about a book you had read or something.



ex:
"Dear Mr. SPielberg


ok first alien scene.. what are you thinking?! You know young children will be watching this movie, as it is being hyped as a technical marvel. You already caused half of America's children to be afraid to go into the water

ex: [here's 5 pages of me quoting from newspaper articles].


and what's with that paper mache tower you have Richard Dreyfuss building.. sounds stupid. Now you are connecting psychic phenomenon to UFOs? what are you; a Mothman head? you irresponsible piece of...


we already have citizens with delusional disorders [insert 6 pages of psychological research on abduction delusion] who think aliens communicate with them telepathically... blah blah.


As far as Hyneck [insert 3 pages on Hyneck as consultant thoughts]..


End with 5 pages of lecture on the wonders of actual science vs science fiction and the importance of education and STEM vs made up make believe stories.




(I've spaced out my comment with more proper paragraphs, just to give you a general idea of "space"/"pages" that can be used up. But my "indents" were all removed by the software. so imagine Indents on each paragraph too!)
"but when they read the script they got very angry and felt that it was a film that would be dangerous. I think they mainly wrote the letter because Jaws convinced so many people around the world that there were sharks in toilets and bathtubs , not just in the oceans and rivers. They were afraid some kind of epidemic would happen with UFOs."
 

Amber Robot

Active Member
Or maybe the letter doesn’t even exist and thus not written by anyone at NASA. There’s no way to know.

Yes, I’m saying that Spielberg could be a liar. I find what he is saying extraordinary and he has provided no evidence to support his claim.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
For all we know it was a publicity stunt to draw attention to his movie.
The fact that Spielberg didn't talk about the letter until a year after the film had been released (as PS writes in post #1) makes this unlikely. Publicity for a movie is done in the run-up to its release; publicizing the movie when it is no longer in theaters has no benefit for Spielberg.

From the information in this thread, my guess as to what happened is this:
* Spielberg asks the US Army for support and sends them the script
* We don't know what that script looked like, it probably wasn't the final version, and may have differed from the movie
* The send back a 20-page letter, detailing everything they don't like in the script, saying 'change that or no deal'
* Among these objections, there may have been a paragraph or two expressing concern about a "War of the Worlds"-type reaction:
Article:
Actor Stefan Schnabel recalled sitting in the anteroom after finishing his on-air performance. "A few policemen trickled in, then a few more. Soon, the room was full of policemen and a massive struggle was going on between the police, page boys, and CBS executives, who were trying to prevent the cops from busting in and stopping the show. It was a show to witness."[33]

During the signoff theme, the phone began ringing. Houseman picked it up and the furious caller announced he was mayor of a Midwestern town, where mobs were in the streets. Houseman hung up quickly: "For we were off the air now and the studio door had burst open."


This would obviously not apply to a cinematic screening of the movie, but rather to a subsequent release on television, which might have occurred around the time that Spielberg gave this interview.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
The fact that Spielberg didn't talk about the letter until a year after the film had been released (as PS writes in post #1) makes this unlikely.
I need to correct myself here. Close Encounters was released November 9th, 1977, in the US, but the international release was mid-March 1978. Cinema Papers is published in Melbourne, and the interview being in the April-June issue matches the Australian release on March 16th.

Still, the fact that he doesn't seem to have used this claim more speaks against it being a "publicity stunt".
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
publicizing the movie when it is no longer in theaters has no benefit for Spielberg

there was rumors of a CE 2.

Article:
Flicking through a copy of Starburst magazine from May, 1978 I came across a couple of lines in the 'Things to Come' section and it mentions Steven Spielberg is planning on sending a camera up into space aboard the Space Shuttle to get shots for the sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Its not alone too. The Washington Post from January 1978 also mentions Spielberg booking cargo space and putting a deposit down of $500. The Washington Post state "Spielberg will orbit a camera to photograph the earth and moon from the shuttle to achieve special effects for a sequel to his movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."



and aside from ET (the "phone home" ET movie), it looks like he was still interested in alien movies. so even if it wasn't for that particular movie (or the "directors cut" he wanted to make, or the VHS releases of CE) i think "promotional" is still an ok thought.

Article:
In 1978, he announced he would shoot a film entitled Growing Up, which he would film in four weeks. The project was set aside because of delays on 1941, but the concept of making a small autobiographical film about childhood would stay with him.[5] He also thought about a follow-up to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and began to develop a darker project he had planned with John Sayles called Night Skies in which malevolent aliens terrorize a family.[5]
 

JMartJr

Senior Member
Publicity for a movie is done in the run-up to its release; publicizing the movie when it is no longer in theaters has no benefit for Spielberg.
Although it seems odd to hold off on that, there were things like his desire to make the Special Edition, TV releases, second-run openings, and the like which would be ongoing reasons to want to keep the "buzz" going and to give media folks new angles to talk about.
 
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