Saturday, 22 September 2012

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Science Fiction drama remains today one of the most highly decorated and successful Sci-Fi films of all time, garnering eight Oscar nominations and two wins for cinematography and sound editing. The film was also nominated for nine BAFTAS and four Golden Globes. I’d been looking forward to seeing it for a long time and when I noticed it was on offer on Blu-Ray at HMV I jumped at the chance to buy it. As is often the case when you hear so much positivity about a film before you see it, Close Encounters didn’t live up to my expectations but is still a very good film with obvious influences on the last thirty-five years of Science Fiction.

While investigating a large scale power cut, electrician Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) has a close encounter with what appears to be a UFO. As he follows the flashing lights in the sky he comes across others who have spotted the phenomenon including single mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) and her young son Barry. Their claims are met with scepticism but neither can get the image of a mountain out of their head and when they discover what the image is, feel uncontrollably drawn towards it. Meanwhile Scientists are working on linguistic and musical possibilities in case aliens ever make themselves known to humanity.  

In terms of tone and action the film is very 1970s. It is a lot slower and more considered than modern Sci-Fi and takes much longer to get to its point. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing but it wasn’t as exciting as I’d expected and felt a little long. Despite this there were several sequences which I absolutely loved and these were well spread out through the 137 minute run time. Early on I really liked the scene in which Roy has his close encounter. The introduction of the UFO was very clever with Spielberg concealing it as a car to begin with before it rises up from behind Roy’s truck and shines blinding light on him. The cinematography in that scene is particularly beautiful. I also really liked the scenes where Roy was appearing to go mad, causing his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) to leave with their children. The sequence was terrifying but funny. My favourite sequence was the end though which was visually stunning and also quite poignant.

The special effects design by Doug Trumbull (Blade Runner, 2001, Tree of Life) was great and looked very different to Star Wars which was released in the same year. Rather than going for solid looking effects they were based on light and luminescence which helps to give them an otherworldly feel.  Together with the terrific direction and cinematography the effects created some incredibly eerie and fantastically visually pleasing shots. The sounds design and score by John Williams is also extraordinary. The five note motif is stuck in my head and I expect will be for some time and I thought the idea to use music to speak to extraterrestrials was inspired.

My only real problem with the film is that it didn’t completely excite and interest me all the way through. I experienced high peaks of excitement but also several low lulls. I also felt that some of the acting was a little over the top at times but the central actors were generally fine. The films influence can be seen in many films from Super 8 to Signs and although I didn’t love it as much as I expected to, I’m still glad I’ve finally seen it.


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