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Trading Card Set of the Week – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Topps, 1979)

February 13, 2013

closeencountersbox

With only its second entry, the Trading Card Set of the Week feature is already straying a bit from the comics-related diktat. But Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a comic book adaptation, so we’re in the clear. The blog police aren’t going to break the doors in and raid the joint. Relax. Breathe.

Topps, the longtime kingpins of the trading card world, put out umpteen movie-related sets over the years, and a sci-fi blockbuster like Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters was certainly ripe for immortalization. Confession: IT’S MY FAVORITE MOVIE. Of all time. Ever. I foresee no film ever coming along to knock it off the top of the mountain. And I like the flick so much, when I found out that the movie had bubble gum cards associated with it — a fact that somehow eluded me for the first 34 years of my life — well, I had to have them. And this, friends, is why God created eBay and PayPal. A quick, reasonable Buy It Now purchase later, and a whole unopened box of CEot3K was speeding toward my home.

I fully planned to spend an evening watching the movie as I slowly worked through pack after pack, building up and savoring a treasured set. But I was stopped by a bad experience that with another vintage box of cards that I found at the same time. I won’t say what it was, simply because I want to cover it in a future Set of the Week post. Suffice it to say that, to my horror, the ancient gum had fused with the card adjacent to it in every pack, ruining that card completely. This was a buzz-kill beyond words, and I thought it wiser to leave the Close Encounters box as is. So back on eBay for a complete set of the cards. (This isn’t a flaunting of wealth. These things can be found dirt cheap from multiple sellers. There’s a lesson there for people thinking mass market collectibles will be worth millions at some point.)

So I now have a set and an unopened box. I’m very happy — and I also have some thoughts on the product. Here they are:

1.   The box itself (top of the post), as with many old-timey wax pack holders, is a work of pop art in itself. This one combines the old movie poster, with an empty nighttime road and a bright light over the horizon, with iconic imagery from the film itself. It’s a bit of a surprise that the mothership and the only alien we ever get a good look at are so up front, though. Granted, people buying the cards have already seen the movie, but other people who saw the display might not have. Not a big deal, and maybe I’m overthinking this, but the placement still briefly raised an eyebrow.

2.   The box design carried over to the packs, which are bright and waxy and gorgeous:

closeencounterspack

3.   Cards back in those days retold the story of the movie, with clunky captions underneath stills and publicity photos. A truly terrible job is done here, as the Close Encounters storyline is rejiggered and streamlined to condense it into 66 cardboard rectangles. It’s too much to ask for Topps to recreate the sense of fear, wonder and awe that made the film a classic, but it’s jarring to a life-long fan, someone who’s internalized every beat, to have imagery ripped from its proper context. Remember when the Neary children covered their ears because of the ear-splitting sound made by the UFOs?:

closeencounters5

closeencounters6

Yeah, neither do I. No, that was when Daddy was going crazy making mountains out of shaving cream and mashed potatoes and tearing the family apart. Still, the cards are pleasing visually, with nice black borders and the card numbers on — appearing yet again — the road/horizon motif.

4.   The backs of the cards are either movie trivia or parts of a puzzle that when assembled forms a dim, blurry picture of the mothership. Put it this way: The classic photos of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster have more resolution. The limitations of the old card stock are understandable, but be prepared to squint real hard.

5.   The highlight(s) of the set are the cards featuring the friendly, sign-language-adept alien at the end, or, as I like to call him, THE KEY PART OF THE BESTEST SCENE EVER. To wit:

closeencountersalien

He’s also the first of the 11 stickers:

closeencounterssticker1

Greetings from the limitless universe right back at you, bud. (Ignore the neck seam.)

The cards look good, even though the content is a bit lacking. I’m sure the Topps people had no idea there would be snarky bloggers writing about them 30+ years later (nor would they know what “snarky” “and blogger” were), but everything from the box to the packs to the card design has a fun retro joy to it. They’re not up to the movie’s high threshold, but they’re nevertheless manna to hardcore fans.

I’ll leave you with the card of the young, hungry Spielberg, using wonderfully non-digital camera technology and wearing Indiana Jones’ headgear — KEEP WATCHING THE CARDS:

closeencounters60

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    February 14, 2013 1:25 pm

    Pretty sure I had at least a few Close Encounters cards, even though I hadn’t seen the movie. Star Wars cards were my thing. Those were simple times.

  2. mediamugshot permalink
    February 18, 2013 7:25 pm

    I think I have a pretty complete set of these … plus extras. Thanks for posting!

  3. Harry permalink
    July 26, 2013 5:54 pm

    Stumbled across your blog while Google searching a 1979 Topps Alien wax box, which is odd, since you haven’t covered that set yet. Really enjoyed the read.

    After reading a few of your entries I couldn’t help and think “what could have been” if even more great films had a bubblegum card issue. While I’m enjoying the hunt for some of the existing issues of films that I love, I find myself searching often times for sets that do not exist.

    No Jaws? Just Jaws 2?

    American Grafitti

    Smokey and the Bandit

    Mad Max

    Enter the Dragon

    Halloween

    Aliens

    Bladerunner

    Terminator

    The Thing

    All could have conceivably had a set of bubblegum cards produced for them, but alas…

    • July 27, 2013 4:12 am

      The box art for Alien ranks near the top of any bubblegum card issue ever. It might be the very best.

  4. Alice Newberry permalink
    February 9, 2014 9:37 pm

    No Richard Dreyfuss cards in the set is like having a Star Wars set without Darth Vader. Had to be a licensing issue.

  5. Andy Zehrung permalink
    November 5, 2014 1:39 pm

    I find it interesting that it is difficult to find out the reason why Richard Dreyfus does Not appear on Any of the 66 card set? Movie cards without the star is absurd! Something legal obviously!

  6. Tim permalink
    May 26, 2016 2:41 pm

    It’s my guess that Topps was only given a vague plot summary of the movie to work with, considering the massive secrecy surrounding the production before its release, and had to guess what was happening in some of the images, which would explain the crazy inaccuracies in the captions. If you love Close Encounters and trading card sets, you should check eBay (assuming you haven’t already) for the other CE3K card set, which was produced for Wonder Bread. Most of the photos are different and there’s even one card featuring Francois Truffaut, who like Richard Dreyfuss is conspicuously absent from the Topps cards. And oddly enough, Dreyfuss does appear in one of the Wonder Bread cards, although only from behind, so I guess that doesn’t count as using his likeness.

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