Saturday, 20 February 2016

Cutting Edge: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Often science fiction films that focus on an alien species visiting our planet for the first time results in death, destruction, and violence. However, with Steven Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977) this is definitely not the case. This enchanting film introduces Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) as our hero despite his completely ordinary life. Even though the film was released in 1977, it's easy to say that the special effects have not become dated despite the drastic development in CGI since its release. The ending still feels captivating and magical, the giant surreal U.F.O. orchestrates a charming musical light-show for the scientists watching from below. The character's awe and amazement easily represents what the viewers feel while watching the climax of 'Close Encounters'.
Fig. 1 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977)

Despite the film being extraordinary and magical, when watching the film for the first time it is difficult to get a grasp on the alien's motives. "We've all become pretty used to what movies with aliens will entail...if 'Close Encounters' doesn't resort to explosions...then why is it such an exciting science fiction movie? 'Close Encounters' is saturated with imagery that fascinates, terrifies, and utterly consumes the viewer," (Haflidason, 2001). It's easy to fall into a state of anxiety and suspense while watching the film for the first time, assuming that the U.F.O's and aliens are up to no good. However, it is later discovered that this feeling of fear was unneeded and that the aliens never meant us any harm after all.

The question is, however, was Spielberg trying to make us feel afraid of these aliens despite how harmless they really were. It is difficult to determine, especially after the rather frightening scene of three year old Barry (Cary Guffey) get ripped out of his mother's arms by the red threatening lights that represented the aliens. In addition to Barry's abduction, the eerie score that accompanies scenes involving U.F.O's, the often horrified expressions of the characters, and the initial deep tonality of the mothership implies menace. Perhaps this was meant to immerse the viewers into the story since if aliens ever do visit Earth it will the a scary experience even if they are peaceful.

Fig. 2 Barry is abducted.

The story is even more immersive because of the characters presented to us. They are all very relatable because they are so average. Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) is a single mother while the protagonist, Roy, is a simple electrical lineman. "He's an Average Joe working stiff with an exhausting family in a chaotic home smack in the middle of middle America. As such, a mass audience identified with him much more intensely than with a more conventional romantic adventure hero," (Errigo, 2000). Since Roy's character is so relatable to most people, his adventure is automatically more enchanting and exciting for the audience to witness. If these sorts of events can happen to Jillian and Roy then it could happen to anyone, even the viewer.  

Some argue middle section of the film contains much unneeded, tedious content that doesn't contribute to the story. However, seeing Roy's obsession with the U.F.O.'s and the vision implanted develop is possibly part of what makes the climax of the film so satisfying and dazzling. It also explains the significance of the tune that the scientists use to communicate to the aliens, which results in the supernatural musical performance at the end of the film that induces goosebumps. "The final thirty to forty minutes of the film, however, are what it's all about - and they are breathtaking...this sequence, as beautiful as anything I've seen since 2001, as been deliberately designed to suggest a religious experience of the first kind... This is the day the earth might have stood still," (Canby, 1977). 

Fig. 3 Contact

The contact with the mothership is what the viewer has been waiting for the entire film, and Spielberg doesn't fail to deliver. The scientists are awestruck as they watch the alien ship communicate with them via elegant colourful lights and a delightful melody. The score, created by John Williams, was constructed in a way that fits perfectly with the mood of the scene. While this music didn't become as iconic as the 'Jaws' theme, once you hear it, it is impossible to forget. It is refreshing to see a film that doesn't immediately identify something foreign as a threat. Spielberg created a film that proves that something different can be beautiful and doesn't automatically mean it is a threat.

Canby, V. (1977) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) At: Accessed on 19/02/2016
Errigo, A. (2000) Close Encounters of the Third Kind Review At: Accessed on: 19/02/2016
Haflidason, A. (2001) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) At: Accessed on: 19/02/2016
Murphy, A. (1977) Review: 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' At: Accessed on: 19/02/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind [Poster] At: Accessed on: 19/02/2016
Figure 2. Barry is abducted. [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 19/02/2016
Figure 3. Contact [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 19/02/2016

1 comment:

  1. 'While this music didn't become as iconic as the 'Jaws' theme, once you hear it, it is impossible to forget.' - It's true...I have been humming those 5 notes all weekend!
    Nice review Dee; it sounds like you enjoyed this movie :)