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Film Review: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

Film Review: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)


“Cableman Roy Neary is one of several people who experience a close encounter of the first kind, witnessing UFOs flying through the night sky. He is subsequently haunted by a mountain-like image in his head and becomes obsessed with discovering what it represents, putting severe strain on his marriage. Meanwhile, government agents around the world have a close encounter of the second kind, discovering physical evidence of otherworldly visitors in the form of military vehicles that went missing decades ago suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Roy and the agents both follow the clues they have been given to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind: contact.” (courtesy IMDB)


Youthful readers might not respect the truth that, earlier than 1977, science fiction movies remained on the fringes of the mainstream. Even well-known movies like Metropolis (1926), Forbidden Planet (1956) and 2001: A Area Odyssey (1968) have been thought-about novelties when in comparison with their cinema contemporaries. This modified in 1977 with the discharge of two of the highest-earning movies in historical past, each of which have been science fiction but at reverse ends of the style spectrum. The first was Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977). The second massive blockbuster of the yr was Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) and, though completely totally different to Star Wars, it has one primary function in widespread: It has extra to do with mysticism and spirituality than with science fiction.

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters correctly begins in a small rural city in Indiana the place various individuals expertise a wierd manifestation. It begins in the home of Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) when all her younger son’s toys come to life. The boy, three-year-old Barry (Cary Guffey), is delighted however his mom’s response is one in every of sheer panic, notably when each electrical gadget in the home begins to run wild. The subsequent individual to grow to be concerned is energy firm employee Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), who units out in his truck to research the sudden energy failure solely to be caught up in a nightmarish collection of phenomena he finds incomprehensible. Unusual lights encompass him, the dashboard of his truck goes wild and his gear begins to maneuver round as if with a lifetime of its personal. Then he sees, hovering overhead, the glowing form of a flying saucer. The night’s occasions have a profound impact on him and, from then on, he begins to behave like a person who has undergone a deeply spiritual expertise. He turns into obsessive about UFOs, loses his job in consequence and alienates his spouse (Teri Garr) and his three youngsters when he persists in making an attempt to sculpt the form of a wierd mountain (a imaginative and prescient firmly implanted in his thoughts since his encounter with the UFO) with no matter materials is at hand, be it cleaning soap, backyard soil or mashed potatoes.

This imaginative and prescient is shared by different residents of Indiana who’ve additionally seen the lights of the UFO, and Jillian is satisfied that her son has been kidnapped by the alien craft. From then on the movie considerations their makes an attempt to find what the mountain-like form represents, and that is inter-cut with a subplot regarding a mysterious group of scientific and army specialists, headed by Frenchman Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) and his translator (Bob Balaban), who’re touring the world making an attempt to decipher and interpret the musical alerts and lights which were recorded emanating from numerous UFOs. This center half is probably the weakest a part of the movie, as Speilberg was obliged to pad it out with a variety of extraneous sequences and subplots. The movie’s remaining forty minutes are the necessary ones. Roy, Jillian and the others converge with Lacombe’s workforce at a mountain referred to as Satan’s Tower in Wyoming, which seems to be the mysterious mountain within the imaginative and prescient. All of them watch for the titular ‘encounter’, Lacombe and his males have introduced alongside a Moog synthesiser and what seems to be like an up-ended disco dance flooring with which they hope to speak with the aliens. They don’t seem to be disenchanted. The UFOs, within the type of a stunning show of lights, seem on cue and there follows a barrage of spectacular visuals accompanied by bursts of electronica, which culminates within the touchdown of the huge alien mothership, a round object with cathedral-like spires rising from its centre and coated with hundred of illuminated home windows. Then the aliens seem – first a swarm of child-like aliens, glowing and vague like humanoid fireflies, adopted by the chief alien whom we see in close-up – an ethereal and apparently androgynous determine with an extended neck and no hair. As he stands there, Lacombe steps ahead and smiles and, after a pause, the alien smiles again.

Like 2001: A Area Odyssey, Close Encounters is a spiritual movie. The aliens in each characterize God or gods, however whereas Kubrick’s masterpiece they remained past human comprehension – chilly impersonal entities enjoying some kind of cosmic recreation with mankind for incomprehensible causes of their very own – in Close Encounters they reveal themselves as benign pleasant beings who’ve humanity’s greatest pursuits at coronary heart. As critic Pauline Kael noticed, the message of the movie is, “God is up there in a crystal-chandelier spaceship, and he likes us.” The major flaw within the movie is that it seems to be the results of two completely totally different scripts. The mischevious and downright sadistic behaviour of the UFOs within the early levels of the movie bears no relation to the clearly pleasant creatures who’re revealed on the finish.

The launch of Close Encounters coincided with revived curiosity in UFOs. Studies of sightings have been on the rise and even then-President Carter claimed to have seen a flying saucer. NASA had acquired an official request to research potential new strategies of approaching the entire query. The rising cult of UFO-ology is taken into account by some to be like a brand new faith, a mirrored image of the necessity of people that can’t settle for the normal religions however need to consider that one thing ‘Out There’ is serious about them. Anthropologist Ronald Grunloh proposed the idea that, like man’s oldest spiritual beliefs, UFOs and alien abductions are a contemporary manifestation of varied subjective experiences which have hitherto been interpreted as spiritual visions. Neatly reversing the then-popular theories of Erik Von Daniken, Grunloh said that individuals who assume they see ‘flying saucers’ are actually seeing the identical factor because the biblical prophets noticed, however whereas the latter tended to visualise lions, chariots and hoofed creatures on fiery clouds, individuals as we speak visualise brief bald males in glowing spacesuits. “All human beings can have spontaneous visions,” stated Grunloh, “even in groups. If we understood hallucinations better, we might know why the shapes and colours and lights are so often the same.” He believes that these spiritual visions/UFO sightings improve in quantity during times of social upheaval, however that their trigger is inside ourselves and never within the sky. This view was utterly supported by scientist and writer Isaac Asimov who, on the time, publicly denounced Close Encounters as a harmful affect on impressionable minds and contributing to the overall transfer away from rationalism in the direction of mysticism. “Such people can be stampeded into all kinds of fantasy, folly and warfare,” he warned.

On a purely visible degree, Close Encounters is an outstanding movie and Spielberg demonstrates as soon as once more how properly he can manipulate an viewers. His movies might not precisely be artwork however they symbolize the height of expertise, good machines through which all of the elements – story, actors, results, modifying, music, and so forth. – mesh collectively right into a seamless entire. “Making movies is an illusion,” Mr. Spielberg as soon as advised me on the set of Poltergeist (1982), “and my job is to take that technique and hide it so well that never once are you taken out of your chair and reminded where you are.”

The particular results have been created by Douglas Trumbull, who supervised the optical results, and Roy Arbogast, who dealt with the mechanical results. Arbogast had beforehand labored with Spielberg on Jaws (1975), and Trumbull had labored on 2001: A Area Odyssey, The Andromeda Pressure (1971) and his personal movie Silent Operating (1972). Close Encounters introduced him with a number of the hardest challenges of his profession, and the optical results alone consumed US$three.5 million out of the entire price range of US$19 million. “I turned down Star Wars,” Mr. Trumbull as soon as informed me, “because I felt it was just another space opera – just an extension of the stuff I’d already done in 2001 and Silent Running – and I was totally bored with that kind of thing. I liked Close Encounters because it was a totally different look with new kinds of effects. The hardest thing about this picture was that we didn’t have the advantage of being out in space creating a fantasy. We had to be down on Earth with totally believable illusions. But putting a UFO on the screen is like photographing God – people have a very abstract mind’s-eye view of what they expect to see in a flying saucer. So the general look we went for was one of motion, velocity, luminosity and brilliance. We used very sophisticated fibre optics and light-scanning techniques to modulate, control and colour light on film to create the appearance of shape when, in fact, no shape existed.” Mr. Trumbull was so pleased with his work on Close Encounters, he vowed by no means once more to do particular results for anybody else. As an alternative he began work on a undertaking of his personal entitled Brainstorm (1983), a much-troubled manufacturing that suffered the unhappy lack of its main woman, Natalie Wooden, mid-production.

The aliens who emerge from the mothership have been designed by Carlo Rambaldi, the person chargeable for the forty-foot-tall mechanical embarrassment that briefly appeared in King Kong (1976). The tall alien who smiles at Lacombe took three months to construct (the child-like aliens have been precisely that – youngsters in costumes) and was animated by means of a mixture of mechanical and hydraulic devices. The temporary smile was achieved by way of synthetic tendons operated by distant management. As normal, Rambaldi made excuses for his fairly shoddy animatronics: “He doesn’t have a wide range of expressions, because probably very great advances in civilisation would gradually bring people to lose much of their emotional nature.” In reality, Rambaldi is chargeable for a few of the shonkiest monsters to seem on the silver display: The aforementioned big ape in King Kong, the tentacled alien in Possession (1981), the enormous snake in Conan The Barbarian (1982), the enormous worms in Dune (1984) and, most infamously, E.T.: The Additional-Terrestrial (1982). As soon as on-set, none of those mechanical creations ever labored correctly, forcing the filmmakers to compromise throughout images and modifying. How he continued to get work is past me. I consider there’s an previous Hollywood adage that states one ought to by no means work with youngsters or animals or Carlo Rambaldi.

And it’s with that considerate aphorism in thoughts I’ll ask you to please be a part of me subsequent week, however not earlier than thanking The New Yorker (November 1977), Newsweek (November 1977), Time (November 1977) and Filmmaker’s Publication (quantity 11 concern 2) for aiding me in my analysis for this text. I sit up for having fun with your organization once more quickly when I’ve the chance to provide you swift kick within the previous brain-box with one other fright-filled fear-fest from the far aspect of…Horror Information! Toodles!

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)