Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - Film Review


Awe inspiring shots, incredible special effects and an unforgettable piece of music, all things Steven Spielberg's 1977 film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind has firmly in its grasp. This epic science fiction tale follows the story of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a man who is subject to a UFO sighting and finds himself strangely compelled to visit a landmark based in Wyoming along with a select handful of others who experienced the phenomena. Roy is the father of a dysfunctional family comprised of himself, his wife and three children when he is forced under the gaze of the visiting aliens which sends him and his family in an emotional downward spiral. After being bombarded with the otherworldly lights of the UFO, Roy finds himself drawn to specific shapes that resemble the Devils Tower, a landmark in Wyoming. Once Roy realises what this strange mound that has been taking over his life resembles, he sets out to see the real thing, despite public warnings and a barricade of soldiers. Running along side Roy's plot is the story of Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dilon) a woman who finds herself and her son Barry (Carey Guffey) also being put under the pressure of the intruding outsiders, which eventually results in the abduction of young Barry. After Roy and Jillian share a sighting of the parade of UFOs and the Neary family has been pushed to its limits, the pair set out to see the spectacle together, through blockades and staged animal deaths placed by the army to repulse any unwanted intruders. The fanatic pair, who both share the issue of home life disintegration, finally reach the top of Devils Tower and witness the incredible spectacle of the other worldly space crafts landing, almost signifying the end of  both their family struggles as Jillian is one step closer to retrieving her lost son and Roy is one step closer to freeing himself from the life of a nuclear family, and arguably setting out on the adventure he never had. This 135 minute story of delusion, disbelief, family and fanatics all culminates into one of the most unforgettable final sequences in cinematic history, as the mother ship lands, accompanied by a chilling yet spellbinding riff of notes that floats through different scenes from the entire film, to release previously abducted citizens and an array of iconic aliens to greet the landing party, before finally allowing Roy on board to start a more prosperous life in a world so different from his own

Fig 1: Movie Poster, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
 
Even though Close Encounters Of The Third Kind was created in 1977, there is no doubt whatsoever that the special effects and visual wonders could easily sit amongst the goliath's of modern day cinema, and in some cases even dwarf the competition. Other reviews have stated that "Close Encounters is most stunning when it is dealing in visual and aural sensations that might be described as being in the seventies Disco Style" (Canby, 1977), really proving that the effects accomplished in this science fiction piece have really had an impact on the vast majority of audiences, if not all. It almost seems incomprehensible that a film created 39 years ago could retain all its aesthetic glory, even after audiences have witnessed some real visual marvels in today's creations. It seems that Close Encounters Of The Third Kind almost possesses a timeless quality that allows the special effects and camera work to remain glorious and unbelievably compelling to this date. This could all possibly be put down to Spielbergs 'cinematic touch', the same touch that gave films such as ET (1982) and Jurassic Park (1993) the shared quality of longevity, or it could all come down to the incredible stories this director seems set on telling. Accompanied with superb writing and excellent casting choices, Spielberg's creations seem to all be granted the gift of life. One of the most incredible uses of these special effects, limited by the technology of an era, in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is used in the arrival of the aliens, as the crowd of space dwellers dock the space craft and walk amongst the crowd of Devils Tower a light protruding from the ship casts and an incredible glow around these aliens, lighting only brief sections of the anatomy, never allowing the audience to fully see the creatures in harsh light, which almost allows the viewer to fill in the pieces of the aesthetic puzzle themselves, giving each audience member a unique experience of wonderment.

In amongst all the glory of the special effects and compelling plot line, Spielberg still manages to let the camera do the majority of the work, with trademark pans and tracking shots that describe entire vistas and environments, Spielberg manages to tell an entire story without an ounce of dialogue, leaving everything to the imagination and yet some how leaving nothing. Others have described the film as being "richer and more ambitious than Jaws, and it reaches the viewer at a far more profound level than Star Wars" (Rich, 2014), which has surely been accomplished through this method of vacuuming a viewers attention via camera work. Spielberg seems no stranger to this use of engaging camera work, as other projects such as Jurassic Park and War Of The Worlds share the same gift of being able to force an entire audience to the edge of their seat, as huge landmarks and vast environments are revealed through the use of a close up of a characters expression, perfectly describing the reaction you wish you were having. Within Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, their is a shot which almost mirrors a shot from Spielberg's later work, namely Jurassic Park. As Roy and Jillian leave their vehicle in awe of the sight of Devils Tower, the camera stays focused on the characters whilst they approach the landmark, only revealing the subject of their gaze to the audience at the last minute. This shot is recycled in the scene from Jurassic Park, when Alan Grant (Sam Neill) leaves his seat in awe of the prehistoric Giants, Spielberg only reveals the beasts at the last moment, leaving the majority of the work to the audiences imagination. This technique that Spielberg has used time and time again is completely responsible for the way that his stories compel an audience, as nothing keeps a viewer more involved than forcing them to rattle their brains in anticipation as to what they are about to see.

Fig 2: Screenshot, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
 
Just like a gang of other Spielberg films, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind also leaves room for a number of fan theories and speculation. With films such as Jaws (1975) leaving audiences to ponder over the real meaning of the aquatic intruder, it seems only plausible that the arrival of other worldly explorers and a towering mother ship from outer space could also carry a more symbolic reasoning. It could be argued that the UFOs featured in this film have arrived on earth in the form of a metaphor, a metaphor highlighting the issues and dysfunction within the modern day nuclear family and the problems it harbours, as arguably the two main characters, Roy and Jillian, both have their fair share of problems. Roy is the father of a troubled family who seem to be stepping on each others toes and falling out over minor issues, leading to him 'being selected' by the UfOs to be freed from the restraints of this life and welcomed into a more positive, enlightening existence that we all primarily desire. It is also worth noting that presumably single mother, Jillian, is bringing up her son alone, which could lead to her and her son 'being selected' by the metaphorical Angels to enrich their lives and leave the problems of their past earth life behind them.

Another interpretation of these inter-galactic events could possibly state that the invading UFOs have arrived to distribute a new level of diversity across America, or even that the UFOs themselves are a physical metaphor for a new way of life and a new level of equality being incorporated into the modern day. As Close Encounters Of The Third Kind was created in 1977, an era that has been described as "The women’s movement, the new social upheavals in the workplace, the rise of the service sector, and the debates over affirmative action all contributed to the blossoming diversity of the working class in the 1970s" (Cowie, 2011), it is not unreasonable to believe that this film served as Spielberg's vessel of diversity, literally ushering in a new way of life and a new era of understanding that would come to be the norm in the every day world. As the aliens themselves are foreign body's to the humans of earth and their way of life also extremely foreign, it almost parades across the screen as Spielberg showing the arrival of a new time, much like the way women in the work place was a new idea in the 1970's. However metaphorical, it becomes plain to see that the arrival of the aliens in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind could easily sit as a huge metaphor for the welcome arrival of Women into working environments in a time that was just starting to broaden its horizons in terms of equality.

Fig 3: Screenshot, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
 
Steven Spielberg's 1977 film Close Encounters Of The Third kind, no matter which way interpreted, remains an aesthetically stunning film containing one of the most riveting an original story lines in cinematic history, as it is not often that our otherworldly friends are seen as kind or welcome on the silver screen. Fit with one of the most memorable soundtracks to date, the film has without a doubt proved its worth and stood the fatal test of time, remaining just as original and engaging as it did in the era of its release. Whether this epic science fiction masterpiece holds a deeper meaning is for Spielberg to know and audiences to speculate, but one thing certainly remains true, this iconic director has once again gifted the world with an incredible film that will retain its beauty for decades to come.


Bibliography

Canby, Vincent, 1977, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF1739E560BC4F52DFB767838C669EDE,  Accessed on: 16/02/16

Rich, Frank, 2014, Show Business: The Aliens Are Coming!  http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,947980,00.html, Accessed on: 16/02/16

Cowie, Jefferson, 2011, Red, White and Blue Collar, http://democracyjournal.org/magazine/20/red-white-and-blue-collar/, Accessed on: 16/02/16


Illustration List

Fig 1: Movie Poster, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, http://www.postersfromhell.com/product/close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-movie-poster-style-h-27x40-inch-one-sheet/, Accessed on: 16/02/16

Fig 2: Screenshot, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/180079/did-close-encounters-herald-the-advent-of-a-new-religion, Accessed on: 16/02/16

Fig 3: Screenshot, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, http://www.wallpaperup.com/224036/CLOSE_ENCOUNTERS_OF_THE_THIRD_KIND_sci-fi_drama_thriller_spaceship_dw.html, Accessed on: 16/02/16



 

4 comments:

  1. Something tells me that you enjoyed this film, Lewis :)
    Excellent review!

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    1. Thank You Jackie! yeah I love it! one of my favourites!

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  2. "Spielberg's creations seem to all be granted the gift of life" - that is a beautiful expression of the longevity of his films - 'the gift of life' - nice, bravo! And the argument re. 'diversity' starts to thrum with the just kind of 'magical thinking' that can turn 'theory assignments' into creative writing. It's always a pleasure to revisit this film on the big screen - and 39 years old - wow. Not bad for the middle-aged! ;) God love the 1970s and its cinema!

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    1. Thanks Phil! I love the film! one of my favourites!

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