Simon Dillon reviews the classic film.

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"I want to talk to someone in charge!"

Needless to say, Roy and Jillian defy the quarantine, but are captured and are eventually questioned by Laughlin (Bob Balaban) and LaCombe (Francois Truffaut). The scene where Roy berates them, telling them they have no right to make people crazy, demanding to see "someone in charge" has been paid homage to in several films, most recently the 2014 Godzilla.

The appearance of the mothership

This sequence alone fully justifies seeking this film out on the biggest screen and best sound system possible. Mere words cannot describe the sheer jaw dropping spectacle and beauty of that moment, not to mention the incredible use of sound (most speakers simply cannot handle the low frequencies). The staggering, non-CGI visual effects were ground-breaking and remain as impressive as ever today.

"Play the five tones."

Sound and music play key roles in the narrative, which includes John Williams' evocative, Oscar-nominated score (he lost out at the Oscars - to himself - for Star Wars). The sequence where the aliens and humans learn to talk together with music remains a delightful, whimsical moment. Of course, communication is a key theme of the film.


Which brings me to the ending. The moment where Roy volunteers to be taken away by the aliens - sticking out like a sore thumb next to the other potential astronauts all lined up with perfect neatness - is a sublime fusion of exquisite direction, cinematography, editing, sound and music. The way the aliens choose him, lifting his arms and carrying him away in a moment of rapture. It always brings a tear to my eye. Final farewells are said, and the mothership ascends. A cathedral of lights rising into the heavens, becoming a star.

My one criticism?

No matter how you slice it, the fact that Roy goes off with the aliens, leaving his wife and children (presumably forever) doesn't quite sit right with me. Nor with Spielberg. Years later he admitted he made a mistake with that part of the script, which was doubtless influenced by the trauma of his own parent's separation (he explored this theme much more effectively in the later E.T. The Extra Terrestrial).

That said, I understand what Spielberg was aiming for at a metaphorical level - a spiritual journey whereby those of limited vision cannot understand what is happening to Roy. I just think the story would have been better served if Roy had a different backstory that meant his ascent with the aliens didn't mean abandoning a family.

One final thought: This is, absolutely, a deeply spiritual film akin to something of a religious experience. Interest in the UFO phenomena is an understandable response to the spiritual yearning in all of humanity for something greater than themselves. The problem, from a Christian perspective, is that the real UFO phenomena is both deeply alarming and almost certainly demonic. In 1977, Spielberg claimed he would never make a film about unfriendly aliens as the idea seemed absurd to him. Yet since then he has made a number of films that feature more malevolent extra-terrestrials, including War of the Worlds and the fourth Indiana Jones film. I can only wonder at where Spielberg's research has taken him, and what has caused him to change his mind.

All that said, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is still a magnificent, moving and uplifting science fiction classic, filled with wonderful performances and stunning, iconic set pieces. It remains an essential watch on the big screen. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.