Now this is a little more modern than I would normally go to for a classic science fiction review, but it was recently at the cinema so I got to see it in all its glory on the big screen (and thankfully it was the director’s cut not the cut down version) so here’s a review.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg is a masterpiece. While we so often see films of a terrifying alien encounter, this film instead focuses on the wonder of such an event. We follow 2 main people and a group of scientists but they don’t really interact till the very end.
What we would call our main lead is Roy Neary, an electrician with a far from ideal family: the house is a mess, children noisy etc. Our other main lead is single mother Jillian Guiler. These two present the stand point of this encounter from regular people’s perspective, not some ultra perfect athlete or political figure. During the first main sighting of the alien crafts Jillian’s son sees something messing about in their house which he was not frightened of (very much a precursor to ET) and then follows it outside. Apparently having become friends, Jillian chases after it. Roy is called out because of a massive power cut and they both meet up as they see the crafts fly by being chased by police. The crafts moving in an almost playful manner.
The two main people from the scientific angle are Claude Lacombe and David Laughlin (who amusingly was a cartographer they just brought along as they needed someone to translate Claude Lacombe because he speaks French) who investigate strange occurences around the world, like reappearances of missing planes and boats as well as people in India all singing a strange hum they heard from the sky.
The film is very much an anti B-Movie Alien film, as there is no sense of menace from anyone.
The scientific group is working out sensibly where the meeting with the aliens is to take place but also rudimentary communications. Very wisely the film understands that these aliens wouldn’t speak our language so instead communication is all done through gestures of light sound and colour. The two civilian leads meanwhile try to work out what this strange image in their heads is. Roy because this obsession has torn his family away from him (which interestingly he understands it’s sad but still is drawn by the sense of wonder) and Jillian because the aliens and her son went off together and she wants to him back.
The stories all come together into the final act where the Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind happens. It’s a beautiful scene and probably one of the best pieces of cinema in history. Very few words are ever said and none between the two species. It’s all done through music, light and colours.
Though there is a small sense of shock when an alien comes out of the enormous craft that’s soon dissipated by the sense of wonder that Spielberg understands would be theirs. Two races properly meeting for the first time, no hatred or fear, just one of peace and culture. I was so happy to have witnessed it on the big screen. While the rest of the movie is great, that final act is truly amazing.
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