Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition (1980)
I can’t remember if I ever saw the original 1977 cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which now seems like far longer than it probably was. It was time to remind myself of this classic piece of science fiction. Released the same year as Star Wars (1977) which would have been stiff competition for Steven Spielberg who would have enjoyed rubbing shoulders up against his contemporary George Lucas. Both having significant effect on the genre and the medium of mainstream cinema that as I have said previously was going through a Silver age in Hollywood. In the closing years we probably have the adult version of Steven Spielberg’s later film ET: The Extra-Terrestial (1982) which flipped the experience to the view of the child.
Both steeped in the wonder of the unknown, wanting to believe what is yet not understand by humanity. That is a brief summation of the film without really breaking down whats really going on. I remember seeing an Inside the Actors Studio with the director who mentioned that light means life, which is indeed very true. The main source of life on the planet we live on, its position to the sun makes it perfect for life to be sustained. To think we are the only civilisation in the Universe is however nonsense, short-sighted and ignorant in my opinion. I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories as there really is little proof. However time will only tell, anything can happen.
Close Encounters is about that possibility and letting it happen, instead of the army, usually American coming out with tanks, briefing the president who then tells the world during the 1990’s onwards. The sense of fear in the films played down, instead focusing on the scientific investigation led by Francois Truffaut and his bearded colleagues who travel the world. Traveling with Nato, a peace organisation that only wants answers, communicating with those who have witnessed and been touched by the blue and red lights that have lit up the nights sky. A universal experience yet shared by so few who are only seen as mad in the eyes of the general public. Reflecting a nation who had been fed lies, not knowing what to believe. Here we have only a few who stay together through this shared experience in rural America (Ohio), some are seen as the usual nut-cases which adds to the humor of the film. However there is no joking out this otherwise outer-body experience.
A young boy Barry (Cary Guffey) is the first to truly accept this bright flashes of light for what they are, he is reached by these aliens who only want to communicate. They don’t cause and destruction to the planet. Instead create a sense of hysteria among the general public. It’s only a child that can truly be open to the unknown as they have no real fear or inhibitions, everything is new, an experience that can lead to new behaviour’s and responses being formed in later life. His mother Gillian (Melinda Dillon) is more cautious but only as a parent, she has shared the same moments, only age determines their responses. It’s about the faith in the unknown and walking up to touch it.
The adult version of Barry is Spielberg’s go to every-man of the 1970’s and 80’s Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) who I could only remember before in the film for trying to build his first Devils Tower out of mashed potato.
An obsession that consumes his home-life and marriage, they leave him out of fear. He’s driven by an urge to create an image that is not fully formed in his head. Like an artist whose trying to express an idea, struggling to find the right form. Not leaving the studio until they see it taking form they way it should be, taking on a life of its own. Roy has a need that can’t be controlled. The audience can only watch on in disbelief at this creative output by both Roy and Gillian who have the energy to carry on almost regardless of other commitments.
Turning again to the scientist who I believe have more screen time in this special edition, I’m not entirely sure if I have seen the original it has been that long, almost becoming a blur of images among the mass of films I consume on a yearly basis, some are more than likely to be forgotten. The search for meaning in the events that they follow’s driven by a sense of understanding not fear. Fear is only a weapon the use later for reasons of safety in the local vicinity of Devils Tower, to keep the event as quiet as possible, it makes it more special, maybe other events have happened in the past, this could be the seed of another crack-pot theory, it’s possible. This weapon of fear doesn’t stop those who have made it past all the barriers both physical and ideological that are in their way. A blind devotion to a feeling that is as indescribable as the shared experience they had at the beginning.
Away from all the theory this is a classic piece of sci-fi that relies less on special effects for most of the film it’s about the feeling of wonder thats created, the emotion that those who have been touched by the aliens drives them, When we do have these flying saucers that heavily informed by B-movies still hold up today. It’s all about the light, both on the UFO’s and with the cinematography. There are countless scenes where light is flaring, almost bleeding over the frame. This is intentional – light means life – and should leak through from the other space that is visiting the film, rarely are we in the dark for long.
I’m so pleased that I have revisited this film that is all about experience, letting your imagination run away with you. That’s the power of Spielberg’s greatest films, they are rarely heavy on the mind, instead sweeping you on a journey that you rarely get to taken on today. Heavily referencing the classic cinema as he has continued to do; revitalised for a new audience who need have forgotten the power of the silver screen. I felt that less than 24 hours ago, having several moment where I paused in wonder at the images before me.