Martin Rayburn plays the five tones...
In 1977, the year in which Star Wars destroyed box office records along with audiences expectations towards special effects and science fiction movies in general, another film from the same genre was equally changing people's perceptions of sci-fi. But instead of focusing on extraterrestrial space battles this movie stayed a little closer to home. It still explored the topic of life outside earth but in a distinctly different fashion. In fact, Close Encounters of the Third Kind could almost be considered the antithesis to George Lucas' sprawling blockbuster space epic.
For a film based on a phenomenon sweeping the globe, from the United States to India, Steven Spielberg delivered a surprisingly small, intimate movie, grounded in realism and plausibility. An examination of the human side of extraterrestrial contact, a celebration of the unknown and man's innate fascination with it.
Thinking back to the time, here is Spielberg, he's just hit it big with Jaws, the safe route would be to shoot a pulse pounding alien invasion film, but with Close Encounters he made an incredibly daring choice. It's almost a non-mainstream film, and certainly one that you would unlikely credit to the same person responsible for, say, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Lengthy, leisurely and never once spelling out the scope of what is actually happening, Close Encounters has a hypnotic, haunting quality as we explore the surprisingly credible human side of the gradual progress towards alien contact. There are enticing tidbits of the looming confrontation but Spielberg resists any 'money shots', never exposing the aliens in all their glory. In fact, for a film so captivated with their inevitable presence, we see next to nothing to do with aliens whatsoever - and yet it works perfectly because of it. Of course, there's the sheer awe factor involved with depicting an otherworldly presence, and Spielberg certainly knows how to work those moments. The few fleeting glimpses of alien life are truly stunning, captivating and often terrifying.
John Williams' also shows restraint in his magical score. Shunning his usual orchestral bravado, his work adds to the splendour. The simple five note theme builds into an engrossing orchestral rendition which, again, perfectly captures the awe of the unknown.
The human heart of the film comes in the form of Richard Dreyfus as electrician Roy Neary. Haunted by visions of mountain-like structures after an encounter with an alien vessel, Dreyfus' unique energy alternates between wryly comical and heartwarming when interacting with his family, to manic and obsessive when yearning to discover the meaning behind his visions.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a compelling and entirely believable examination of a much disputed phenomenon, providing on the whole a surprisingly non-mainstream feel without jeopardising the essential movie magic which makes it such a joy to behold. For these reasons I think it must be Spielberg's most personal film. The vision he presents is unlike anyone would've expected from him. A near perfect, intimate, elegant examination of humankind's fascination with the unknown. An absolute example of classic sci-fi.
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary
bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows
up. He is currently 49.