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Close Encounters of the Third Kind Redux – A few words from Walt Simonson

November 24, 2010

A couple of days ago I posted an article about the Marvel Comics Close Encounters of the Third Kind adaptation, in which I was mildly critical of the character likenesses and how close (or not) it stayed to the film.

I was sorting out some things on the blog this morning, and saw that there was a new comment for that post. When I clicked on it, I was more than a tad surprised to see that it was from Mr. Walt Simonson.


I think his thoughts on this topic deserve a post of their own, so here they are:

Hello, Jared.

The short version here is that back in the day (and it’s probably still true), companies generally paid extra fees to obtain the rights to use actors’ likenesses in their adaptations of movies. I don’t know how it was all worked out at the contract stage but, for example, Marvel did have the rights to use actor likenesses in their Star Wars books. Marvel did not have the rights to use actor likenesses in the Close Encounters adaptation. They also didn’t have the rights to use likenesses in the Planet of the Apes stories (although they could use photos in their b/w magazine about monster/SF movies where such use was considered promotion.) No likeness rights for Battlestar Galactica either. The rights’ situations for movie and TV adaptations are often complex and not necessarily well understood by folks outside various legal departments. Heck, I don’t understand most of them myself.

For Roy Neary, I mostly tried to draw a physical type who wasn’t too different from Dreyfuss.

With Close Encounters, the movie studio was very nervous about releasing any information (including imagery) before the film hit theaters. As a result, Archie and I had a script to work with and little else. We were shown a few stills and a brief clip of the UFOs flying over the country roads scene, none of which we were allowed to keep. It was largely a case of memorize this and then go away. And that was it. I drew a couple of scenes in the beginning of the comic in the fashion I did because, although neither Archie not I were able to see a preview screening of the film, a friend of mine with connections did see such a screening. He described some stuff to me that was different from our script so I was then able to draw certain things right at the beginning of the film/adaptation with some insight. I eventually saw the movie once it was released, and that guided me to some extent as I was still working on the pencils. But generally, working on that title was an exercise in working in the dark. Still came out okay, I thought.

Best, Walter

I’d certainly agree that it came out okay. And, the more I think of it, my criticisms of the likenesses and story beats are more about me than about the creative staff. I internalized Close Encounters over the years to such a degree, my head had (has) impossibly hard standards to live up to. In light of the double-secret probation quality of the production, I’m amazed about how near it does get to the film I’ve loved so much.

A big thanks to Mr. Simonson for sharing these first-person insights on the difficulties and contraints involved in adapting these sorts of projects. I’ve been thoroughly edified.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2010 4:55 am

    I’ve encountered Mr. Simonson twice in my life, both times from afar. I think this is noteworthy since I don’t go to conventions or to many comic-related events, always as an in-and-out, that was a good idea that didn’t deliver kind of thing.. He’s struck me as a gentleman and, of all the comics “celebrities” I may have bumped into over the years, he is the only one who made an impression that I can recall. Nice post.

  2. November 25, 2010 7:57 am

    Walt is awesome. His account pretty much confirms what I intuited from reading those movie tie-ins back in the day (though I never read the one for Close Encounters, and still haven’t). You could tell the creative teams hadn’t seen the movies, and sometimes you had to wonder if they were even given an early script; it looked more like they had a few publicity photos and made up their own story around them.

    I wonder if Marvel “cheaped out” on the adaptation for For Your Eyes Only, as well, since “James Bond” bore only a vague resemblance to Roger Moore in that book.

    Of course nothing will ever explain that Marvel Super-Special about the Beatles, where no one similar to the Fab Four is anywhere in sight.

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