The further along we get into the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list the more films I’ve seen, and this one is one of my faves. Spielberg’s UFO classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I’ve always found the idea of UFOs and visitors endlessly fascinating. I remember laying out on the sports field at CFS Daniel’s Head and just looking at the vast array of stars hanging in the firmament above and being utterly convinced that there is so much life out there.
Of course they could be more advanced than we are, perhaps they’d even been here! Maybe they were visiting all the time! I couldn’t help but wonder what they were like. How was their society laid out? What were there stories like? Their history? And would we ever meet them?
With CE3K Spielberg creates a wonderful tale, showing that perhaps we don’t have to be so scared of the unknown. Something each of the film’s characters go through during the course of the film except for young Barry (Cary Guffey) who seems to except the magic and wonder of these unseen creatures (until the film’s climax) whole-heartedly.
The film follows an everyman, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) as he is thrust into an extraordinary adventure, having an encounter with something he doesn’t know, and his eventual obsession with it, caused by an idea planted in his mind, and some other chosen few, including Barry’s mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon).
Roy becomes obsessed with a shape, seeing it in pillows, mashed potatoes, clay, trying to discern its meaning before it drives him insane… Until he makes the connection that it’s an actual place, and sets out to find it, losing his wife (Teri Garr) and kids in the process, when she takes them to her mother’s.
Jillian, paints and draws the image instead, hoping it will reunite her with her now missing son.
When the pair unite they race across Wyoming, heading for a final confrontation with the unknown.
But they aren’t the only ones on their way to this incredible meeting. The U.S. government is involved as well, working with a UFO expert, Lacombe (famed French director Francois Truffaut) his translator, who used to be a cartographer, David Laughlin (Bob Balaban) and a blink and you’ll miss him, as he never says anything Lance Henriksen. Watch also for a cameo by J. Allen Hynek during the film’s fantastic climax (he was involved in the original Project Blue Book).
In the end though, the choice isn’t the governments, but the two peoples who reach across the gulf between the stars towards each other, seeking understanding, communication and perhaps even friendship…
John Williams, the incredible composer who has written so much of the music that scores my life, crafts a beautiful score, and makes five notes resonant not only through the film, but through those nights when I just look at the sky and wonder. He helps create a language that is based on tones, music and Lacombe ties it all in with hand signs, AWESOME.
This is a favorite of mine, and I always hope that someone will make another one like it, restoring the wonder and the mystery of the unknown, facing our fear and then coming out on the other side to realize maybe we didn’t have to be scared after all.
The model work and UFO designs are decidedly otherworldly, watch for an upside down R2-D2 on the underside of the Mothership, and they still dazzle 36 (!) years later.
One can walk away from this film with two important messages, we don’t have to be afraid and watch the skies. That’s kind of reassuring…
What do you think of it?