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Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

By Patrick Samuel • February 8th, 2014
EMI Films

Original release: November 16th, 1977
Running time: 137 minutes

Writer and director: Steven Spielberg
Composer: John Williams

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Cary Guffey

The third kind 01:38:29 to 02:11:38

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Have you ever had a close encounter with an unidentified flying object (a UFO)? Truth be told we tend to think of such stories as coming from nutcases and people desperate for some kind of attention, and while we might assume reports started with the infamous 1947 Roswell crash, there’s an impressive amount of documented evidence that people as far back as 74BC were witnessing strange objects in the sky; a Roman army under L. Licinius Lucullus was about to engage the forces of King Mithridates VI of Pontus when he had the following encounter:

“But presently, … with no apparent change of weather, but all on a sudden, the sky burst asunder, and a huge, flame-like body was seen to fall between the two armies. In shape, it was most like a wine-jar (pithoi), and in color, like molten silver. Both sides were astonished at the sight, and separated. This marvel, as they say, occurred in Phrygia, at a place called Otrya.” [1]

What Lucullus saw is what we’ve come to call a “close encounter of the first kind”. Characteristically, it’s an observation at close range of a UFO that fails to interact with the observer but doesn’t leave a physical trace. Human history is littered with more examples of these than you might first imagine. These sightings have been represented in cave paintings, etchings, in writing and even in religious art where they sometimes appear as fiery chariots in the sky. “The Crucifixion”, dating back to 1350, hangs above the altar at the Visoki Decani Monestary in Kosovo, Yugoslavia and shows the crucified Christ but in the background we see a pair of sky-cars, one chasing the other, while “The Madonna with Saint Giovannino” from the 15th century, depicts the Virgin and Child, but in the left had corner we can clearly see a glowing, disk shaped object.

As amazing as these recordings are, that’s not even half of it. Maybe you’ve heard of a “close encounter of the second kind”? This is a visual sighting plus the accompanying of physical evidence. There’ve been reports of UFO sightings where witnesses also describe interference with electrical systems to landing marks, burns and physically measurable effects to plants, trees, animals or people. Sometimes they also have radiation burns or have experienced missing time. For example, it’s believed by some that the Tunguska event of 1908 was the result of an exploding UFO while the 1942 Battle of Los Angeles is perhaps a much more widely documented event:

“Reports following that night were very sketchy on the exact details which lead to the hour-long anti-aircraft artillery bombardment over the city of Los Angeles but conspiracy theorists have attributed it to UFO’s while the Navy issued a statement claiming it was a false alarm due to “war nerves”. As the city tried to protect itself against the mystery target it was said that “the air over Los Angeles erupted like a volcano.” [2]

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

And yet that still doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the UFO phenomenon that governments and media outlets worldwide continue to play down, along with space agencies such as NASA (dubbed by many as “Never A Straight Answer”), as if they’re all in on some kind of cosmic joke which the rest of us aren’t privy to. This brings us to our subject – a “close encounter of the third kind”. All three terms were coined as a system of classification by astronomer and UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek in his 1972 book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. Hynek defines “the third kind” as cases where the presence of occupants in or about the UFO are reported. [3]

In his book, Hynek goes on to say:

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that reports such as these have brought down upon the entire UFO problem the opprobriwn and ridicule of scientists and public alike, keeping alive the popular image of little green men and the fictional atmosphere surrounding that aspect of the subject. The typical Close Encounter of the Third Kind happens to the same sorts of persons who experience all other types of UFOs, representing the same cross section of the public. The experience comes upon these reporters just as unexpectedly and surprises them just as much as it does the reporters of the other types of Close Encounters. These reporters are in no way special. They are not religious fanatics; they are more apt to be policemen, businessmen, schoolteachers, and other respect­able citizens. Almost invariably their UFO involvement is a one-time experience (whereas as we have seen, the contactee cases almost always involve rampant repeaters), and the sighting of occupants is generally a peripheral matter. The occupants in these cases almost never make an attempt to communicate; in contrast, they invariably are reported to scamper away or back into their craft and fly out of sight. They do not seem to have any messages for mankind – except don’t bother me.” [3]

Whoever our visitors – or even “engineers” – are, storytellers and filmmakers have long been fascinated by them, just as we are, and none perhaps more so than Steven Spielberg who unleashed upon an unsuspecting world the awe-inspiring film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in 1977. Using Hynek’s system of classification on its promotional posters and even as inspiration for film’s title (having been changed from Watch the Skies and Kingdom Come in earlier drafts), Spielberg’s film tells the story of humanity’s greatest step – the moment when our world’s population realise we’re truly not alone in the universe.

Just as in Hynek’s book, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind tells us of the encounters with various UFO by some very ordinary people who at first struggle to come to terms with what they’ve experienced. Unlike Hynek’s book though the film goes on to show that the mysterious occupants of these UFOs do want to communicate and they have a message for mankind – one that first needs to be decoded in order to be understood.

The film’s protagonist is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrical lineman in Indiana who’s married and has children. Between his dreary job and his cluttered and noisy home life there doesn’t seem to be much else for him, but while out on a job one night his whole life suddenly changes. As the film progresses we see him having each of these encounters that Hynek describes and as they escalate so to does our sense of wonder and awe at the sheer spectacle Spielberg fills the screen with, both in terms of visuals and sounds.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Starting with an close encounter of the first kind, Roy finds himself on a lonely stretch of road at night, lost and trying to read a map. From behind approaches a vehicle which we can see because of its lights and he assumes it’s another driver so he signals for him to go around. However, what Roy doesn’t see are the lights (and the vehicle along with it) lifting off the ground to float above his truck. What seems like a close encounter of the first kind now turns into the second kind as there’s interference with his radio and engine, as well metallic objects, and a brief moment of weightlessness before he’s burned by a blast of white light that shoots out from the UFO to illuminate his truck. As suddenly as the UFO appeared it disappears into the night sky, but that won’t be the last time he has such an encounter.

Though his wife doesn’t understand (or want to understand) what’s happened to Roy, he finds that his is not an isolated incident. A chance encounter with Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her young son Barry (Cary Guffey) on a highway shortly afterwards leads them to develop a strong bond. United by their obsession with the UFOs, as well as the image of a mountain-like shape and a strange melody, they become a few of the many who’ve been invited to witness the most important event in our history – a close encounter of the third kind. Contact.

As Close Encounters Of The Third Kind makes its way to an unforgettable and moving finale, what we as audience experience along with Roy and Jillian is one of cinema’s most beautifully captured moments. Watching them climb the mountain, despite the government and military presence and their false warnings about a nerve gas, they realise the images and sounds that’ve been plaguing them are actually real and that they’ve been kept in the dark all along about these visitors. Unusually though, the authorities are presented as having good reasons for keeping the UFO phenomenon quiet as they try to handle the situation without creating a mass panic.

There’s also Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut), a French government scientist who’s in charge of UFO-related activities in the United States. The character is based on Jacques Vallee, a venture capitalist, computer scientist, author, ufologist and former astronomer whose work also inspired Spielberg.

“Coming to the U.S. as an astronomer at the University of Texas, where he co-developed the first computer-based map of Mars for NASA, Jacques later moved to Northwestern University where he received his Ph.D. in computer science. He went on to work at SRI International and the Institute for the Future, where he directed the project to build the world’s first network-based groupware system as a Principal Investigator on Arpanet, the prototype for the Internet.” [4]

As Roy and Jillian make it to the top of the mountain – where below they can see the authorities have built a runway to welcome the visitors – they see a formation of lights in the sky, but the manner in which they’re moving suggests these are not our aircrafts. Then a lone UFO appears much closer, followed by another, and then more as they descend toward the runway. Below we see people rushing to their stations to observe this moment, among them is Lacombe who puts on his sunglasses. They all do. And the UFO makes its historic touchdown.

Using the melody they’ve been hearing all along they attempt to communicate and the UFO responds as Lacombe looks on intently. What happens next as the UFO opens its doors is something none of them are prepared for as contact between humans and extra-terrestrials is initiated. I’ve so often wondered if this event has already taken place or if this day is yet to come. Unlike so many of the UFO related films such as The War of the Worlds (1953) Independence Day (1996) and Mars Attacks! (1996), Close Encounters Of The Third Kind shows us that contact doesn’t always have to result in battle, but that it can be met with humility and a gracefulness that forever future generations will be able to look back on as the most profound moment in mankind’s existence.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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