Close Encounters of the Third Kind

“This means something. This is important.”

You got that right Dick. After his surprise hit with Sugarland Express, and the enormous Jaws (a movie that literally created the Summer Blockbuster!), Close Encounters of the Third Kind pretty much cemented Steven Spielberg’s reputation as the daddy of mainstream cinema. Good job too, because he followed it up with the dire 1941, a movie so bad it would have ended most careers (and famously caused John Wayne to give Spielberg a dressing down for treating war in such a casual, light weight manner – an incident that had great effect on him when making films such as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan); a career which he pulled out of the bag right afterwards with the outstanding Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Usually alien movies are in either one of two camps – the lone, alien-out-of-water, “Show me more of this earth thing called ‘kissing'”, visiter type; or the suck your brains out, give us your planet, “My God, it’s an invasion!” type. Thankfully, CEOTTK avoids all that, mostly by not showing us the aliens for most of the movie. Oh they’re there, and they make their presence known (in oh so many cool and interesting ways), but we don’t get to see them until the final scene, which of course makes them much more interesting, and scary, than they otherwise would be (a little trick he picked up during the making of Jaws).

Richard Dreyfus turns in an excellent ‘everyman’ performance as Roy Neary, the power company employee who encounters the aliens and can’t stop thinking about them, with Teri Garr as his poor, beleaguered wife who doesn’t know what to make of all this. What would you do if your other half kept going on about aliens and doing weird things with mashed potato? They’ve also got a couple of kids who, as in all Speilberg films, are annoying little brats, but I’ll look the other way for now as they’re not in it very much.

Francois Truffaut is in it too, doing an excellent turn as the French alien ‘expert’, with a nerdy interpeter side-kick played by Bob Balaban (who couldn’t speak a lick of French by the way, but got the part by conning Spielberg into thinking he could – Spielberg wanted a French speaker to play the part – by memorising some lines to do in the audition) – for more info check out his book on the making of Close Encounters, Spielberg, Truffaut & Me.

But for me the real star of this movie is the music by John Williams. He’s a scoring genius, of that there can be no doubt, and his orchestration at the end of the movie is just brilliant. You have to see this film for the final scene alone, it’s just so good! How good? I was in HMV on Oxford Street once, and they were showing Close Encounters on the big screen. When that scene came on, and the music played, I swear the whole top floor of the shop just stopped to watch. Seriously, everyone put their shopping on hold for 2 minutes just to watch, and listen, to the ending on Close Encounters. Now you can’t say fairer than that, can you?

As always, I’ve done my best not to give too much away (note how in the previous paragraph I don’t say exactly why or how it’s a brilliant scene exactly – which kind of undersells it a bit, but I don’t want to spoil anything). I did find a clip of the final scene in fact, which I was dying to put here, but it’s just gives the whole game away. So instead let’s check out Roy meeting some aliens (pardon the spanish subtitles). 🙂

Now if that hasn’t whetted your appetite, I dunno what will!

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