Steven Spielberg had already made his mark with Jaws – the first summer blockbuster. Due to the success of this film, Spielberg was handed creative control and a large budget to make his next film, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, a sort of remake of his earlier ultra low budget effort Firelight which he made at the age of 17. The film was released in 1977 and along with Star Wars, launched the tradition of big budget, special effects extravaganzas. It went on to be nominated for 8 Oscars and won Vilmos Zsigmond an Oscar for best cinematography.
Spielberg tells the story of human kind’s first encounter with aliens, as seen through the eyes of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon). Both become obsessed with discovering the truth after Roy sees a UFO fly over his car and Jillian loses her 3-year old son, Barry, to the aliens.
Spielberg is well known for creating scenes of wonder in his films. Check out the flying BMX’s in ET and Indiana Jones running from a giant boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here, the audience shares a sense of awe alongside the film’s protagonists. This includes young Barry entering the bright orange glow of a spaceship, and Roy and Gillian reaching the top of a hill and encountering the alien mothership for the first time. That sense of awe is amplified by John Williams’ score and his famous five-tone motif that the scientists use to communicate with the mothership.
In this film, the aliens are friendly. Originally the alien models were created through puppetry but this proved problematic. Another outrageous idea was to use an orang-utan on roller skates but this, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a bad idea. Eventually, the aliens were played by young girls who, in Spielberg’s opinion, moved more gracefully than boys. The mothership was based on an oil refinery Spielberg had seen in India. Its bright lights and luminescent look add to the sense of wonder the film provokes.
A genuine film classic; prepare to be amazed all over again by one of Spielberg’s most dazzling films.
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