Toys! Toys!: The Close Encounters Mothership

November 18, 2010 — The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA, is dedicated to all the real-world wonders of aeronautics and space exploration  (see the full OTIS article on the museum here). But it also has a few science fiction items as well, including a display on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen movie (which was filmed on the premises), the George Lucas-autographed R2-D2 mailbox that I wrote about here after seeing it in its previous location at the National Postal Museum, and the rocket-shaped World Science Fiction Society Achievement Award given to Golden Age science fiction author and influential rocketry proponent Willy Ley.

Most fascinating SF-wise, though, is the presence of the original model for the mothership in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was crafted into a grayscale thing of beauty out of random model parts. Extremely detailed and about the size of a stack of ten pizza boxes, it's one of the few pieces that could outshine the actual works of legendary human achievement that it's surrounded by.

Unfortunately, seeing it was kind of depressing. It's a great ship concept, and seeing it firsthand really emphasizes that CGI technology all but ensures that we won’t have as many artifacts like this in the future. But mostly because it made me go back and re-watch the movie for the first time in a decade or so, and I found the story more flawed than I remember. I mean, the movie was likeable, featured a great ending, and had a few individual scenes worth YouTubing over and over again, but…I don’t know. I guess my expectations were sort of UFO-high. Actually, I’m not sure if I should be outting myself about this. Jaws still holds up, though, right?

Either way, it doesn't matter. It's a great movie just for birthing this extremely engrossing prop. Heck, who am I kidding? It's a piece of art.



  1. Beautiful...thank you. Brings back the good memories from a wonderful time gone by.

  2. This is awesome. Thank you for sharing this. That ship captured my imagination big-time, still looks great today.

  3. I still like CE3K, especially the Mother Ship.

  4. I understand that the model weighed close to 300 pounds and required a lot of amperage to provide the power to light the sundry tubes and external lamps. The bottom of the model shows what appears to be a large cable. Does the model light up at all?

    1. I've been to the Smithsonian quite a few times and never seen the Mothership internally illuminated. I know that the exhibit suffered a minor fire some years ago: it was repaired, but I understand that the curators don't want to take any more chances with the lights, which are of course not modern LEDs and thus get very hot in use. So probably best to leave it be, and watch the movie on a big screen to get the best effect.

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