Taking a look at Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Spielberg seems to have a thing about aliens...

Last night I watched the director’s cut of the 1977 vintage that is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Directed and written by Steven Spielberg, this film in particular marked the re-emergence of SF back into the cinematic mainstream.

One of the most iconic films of the 20th Century, not just because of its visual effects, but also because of the music that goes with the film – a lot of the imagery used in the film is based on real life sightings of UFOs in the decades proceeding the film’s setting. I’m not saying that real aliens have been encountered, instead it is obvious that in writing the script for the film, Spielberg really did his research.

Now, while it would be easy to go on to claim that subsequent films and television series like The X-Files at least copied Spielberg’s notions of visitors from another world – and I could see how some people may think that – going through accounts of sightings that occurred prior to the creation of Close Encounters, shows that there’s plenty of source material for people to draw on. Such as the Portage County, Ohio UFO Police Chase, which certainly looks like the inspiration for the police car chase scene in the film.

Getting beyond the research, the script, direction and acting are all superb. Whilst Spielberg could have easily fallen into the SF trap of having loads of exposition being thrown into the dialogue between characters, instead he spends a lot of time showing the audience rather than telling them what was happening.

The chemistry between Richard Dreyfuss as Roy and Teri Garr as Ronnie – for instance – allows you to see the breakdown of a marriage without a single long boring monologue passing between anyone’s lips. Even Roy and Jilian’s obsession with the mountain is shown rather than told making it all the more suspenseful when the truth of its significance is revealed.

Perhaps the most spectacular little piece of the puzzle that makes up such a huge part of the film are those five musical notes. It’s more subtle than crop circles and more mysterious than the squadron that turns up after going missing some thirty plus years previously.

Certainly a must see film if you’re someone who’s interested in making SF films.


One Comment on “Taking a look at Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

  1. Its amazing how much of CE3K’s visual lexicon has been appropriated by modern sci-fi and comic book movies. For instance, the first three minutes of Captain America mirror the opening scenes of CE3K almost shot for shot. Even the dialogue and stage direction have striking similarities.

    There is so much to learn from Spielberg’s camera in his early films. Even 1941, admittedly not a great movie by most standards, is worth watching for its rich visual story-telling.

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