Written and Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr
and Francois Truffaut
Interpreter: He says the sun came out at night. He says it sang to him.
Inexplicably, I have always been intrigued by alien life. I have never seen a UFO; nor have I ever been abducted. But boy oh boy do I love watching movies where these things happen to other people. One of the greatest examples of the genre is Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Made in 1977 with a reported budget of $2.5 million, Spielberg created a giant blockbuster with all the awe and excitement that is expected to be there but with a few surprises as well. Just beneath the jaw-dropping special effects that still hold up against anything put out today, is a quiet level of introspection the slowly comes to a full boil by the time these encounters truly get close.
From the very start, Spielberg plants the seeds of wonder and curiosity in the viewer’s mind. An elaborate sandstorm is whipping across the screen and a bunch of men begin to arrive at different intervals. They don’t all speak the same language and ask vague questions with impossible answers like, “Are we the first?” Amidst all this chaos is the key to Spielberg’s success, the hook. The action is so disorienting and so clearly of great importance given the urgency in everyone’s tone, that one cannot help but want to know just what on earth in going on. Suddenly there are planes in a desert, found after 30 years of being missing but there are no signs of any pilots and all of this is somehow good news for the French. The need to know where all of this is going is intense.
Before you know it, we are on a farm in Indiana. The imagery is so iconic, it is almost a close encounter all unto itself. There is something unsettling in the night sky. You can sense that something is coming, something never seen before. A child runs into the night but he doesn’t know why or where he is going, just that he must. Suddenly, power everywhere is going out and an electrical lineman, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), is called out to investigate. Instead of figuring out the power problem, he comes into contact with something way bigger. Roy’s encounter is the closest we see and he is not the same after it’s done. The sounds, the colours, the lights, they all haunt him after the fact and his fascination becomes obsession, one that he is powerless to calm.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND is a grand experience and irrefutable evidence that Spielberg is one of the greatest film directors of all time. Not only does he know where he is going and how to get there, he also has an uncanny ability to inspire an immense amount of child-like enthusiasm in his audience. In this case, he divides his characters into believers and non-believers. If you choose to ignore the obvious, that we are not alone in this universe, then you check out of the film early. If you do believe, or at least if you want to, the desperate need to understand and get closer to the encounters themselves is infectious. Adult or no, your desire is innocent and simple. It is almost as if we aren’t really chasing aliens at all. Rather, we gravitate uncontrollably toward believing in our own boundless imaginations.