Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977 after being pushed back after Spielberg could not receive funds while also being side-tracked by a little film titled Jaws. After Jaws became a huge success, Spielberg was reared with essentially free reign to create a movie just the way he wanted. With a huge budget and the creative control he wanted, Spielberg set out to make a movie about UFOs and eventually settled on the concept that has earned a spot in the National Film Registry.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind kicks off in the Sonoran Desert where five warplanes; un-damaged and pilot-less, appeared over-night. While a team of scientists attempt to unravel this mystery, the film shifts focus to a home of a single mother in rural Indiana. The scene opens with the Barry; the mother’s 3-year-old kid, being awoken by all of his motorized toys lighting up and driving around, wonders around the house and eventually outside to follow lights he saw in the sky.
After his mother, Jillian, wakes up and catches onto the fact that her son is walking out of the house and into the woods; she chases after him. At this point, the film shifts focus again and we see Roy, a father of a couple boys, spending some quality time with his family by threatening their lives to get them to calm down. After a call from his boss at the electrical company, Roy leaves in his truck to go find out what’s going on with a large power outage. While on his way to the town without power, he stops to look at a map to figure out where he is going. The first time he stops, he motions a vehicle behind him to go around which leads to the driver yelling at Roy for being in the middle of the road. A moment later, another vehicle pulls up behind Roy and again, he motions. Only this time the vehicle didn’t go around. It went over.
Roy, perplexed at the map, doesn’t notice the lights in his rear view mirror lift off the ground nor the lack of a vehicle going around him. A set of mailboxes violently shaking finally get his attention and he has an interaction with the UFO. The UFO kills the truck’s motor and Roy’s flashlight and the light emitting from the UFO burns his face. Once the UFO gets bored of this, it starts flying down the highway luring Roy to follow.
As Roy speeds down the road, he eventually comes around a bend and narrowly misses a kid who is standing in the road as multiple UFOs fly off of the road’s path into the night sky. A combination of the kid’s mom and Roy swerving assures no one is injured. What Roy did not know though was that the kid (Barry) also had an interaction with an UFO that same night. Roy returns home to wake his family and drive them to the same bend only to see no lights or indication of UFOs.
At this point it is obvious that Roy is fascinated by what he has been introduced to and over the course of several scenes he descends into madness. From playing with his food to sculpting a mountain in his kitchen made from dirt, trash, and the neighbor’s fence, this is more than enough to send his wife and kids packing. At the same time, Jillian is also fixated on this mountainous image and begins sketching out several pieces of art detailing it. Shortly after all the chaos starts, it climaxes in the scene where the UFO arrives at Barry’s and Jillian’s house. After arriving, the UFO begins to scare and otherwise lure the two outside of the house. While Barry is willing to go investigate, his mother is far from the same. Eventually, Barry escapes out of the doggy door in the kitchen and is abducted by the UFO.
At this point, it cuts back to focus on the scientists who learn that the UFO emit a distinct set of tonal sounds that can be replicated using a synth keyboard. The team sets out to broadcast this set of sounds into space only to receive nothing but numbers back. Every scientist apparently assume these number mean a dead end until a mapmaker; David Laughlin, exclaims that the numbers are formatted like coordinates. They go find a globe to pinpoint where these coordinates lead to. The interesting aspect in this scene though is that the scientists roll the three foot globe down the hallway and then it cuts to Laughlin; surrounded by the scientists, carrying the globe upon his shoulders like Atlas up the stairs into the research modular building.
These coordinates are the location of a flat-topped mountain that has been plaguing the minds of Jillian and Roy for some while. The news of the coordinate site spreads and both Roy and Jillian sees it on the television and realizes that is where they are meant to go. The two, along with some other citizens who have had encounters, go to Devils Tower(the mountain) despite warnings from the government about nerve gas they deployed. Once they make it to the top, they observe as a scientist plays the tonal notes on a keyboard that is hooked to a huge amplifier and a visual representation of the notes. The mothership arrives in a few moments after an exchange of notes and tones and opens its doors. The scientists, along with Roy and Jillian, greet the figures exiting from the ship only to be surprised when the beings are human. These humans consist of those abducted: Barry and the pilots of the planes from the beginning most notably. After everyone has a reunion, the actual alien beings exit and allow the audience and the people of Earth to see them for the first time. The alien beings all Roy to board the mothership and after an exchange of sign language that mimics the tonal sounds and a smile, the UFOs jettison off into space and the credits roll.
Spielberg has utilized through Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that music and sign language are both universal languages that can be used to communicate between beings. At no point in Close Encounters is anyone or anything harmed fatally, no weapons are used to attack the UFOs, or any explanation is given for why only Roy is let onto the mothership and taken with the visiting beings. Maybe it’s because Roy was one of them all along, or maybe because they “chose” him during that encounter, or maybe it’s because they saw the lengths he went through to meet them. One thing is for sure, Steven Spielberg created a masterpiece of sci-fi that forgoes useless hostility toward visiting beings as seen in many sci-fi films. Regardless of any film genre you claim as your favourite, Close Encounters of the Third Kind will be a solid choice of viewing whenever you do not know when to watch.