Iconic Images: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

If Jaws is considered Steven Spielberg’s greatest achievement in most people’s eyes then Close Encounters of the Third Kind (my personal favourite) has to be next in line…


Often we’ve seen in Spielberg films how the reaction shot is the key ingredient to his mise-en-scene. He uses it beautifully in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as characters convey a sense of awe at the fantastical events occurring before them. The film follows Richard Dreyfuss’ character – a blue collar family man – who becomes obsessed with the possibility of aliens landing on earth. As his infatuation with little green men grows, his relationship with his wife and children breaks down. He ultimately goes in search of answers and discovers others like him – adults and children who feel a kinship with the alien creatures, who are drawn to a location in Wyoming called Devils Tower. Spielberg uses every trick in the movie-making book to make this “close encounter” as exciting and awe-inspiring for the audience as it is for the characters involved. In the shot I have chosen here, we see a group of onlookers – made up mainly of scientists and military staff – overseeing the alien ship as it lands. Spielberg creates a real sense of scale underpinned by the drama and tension of making contact with an alien being. But what makes the film so brilliant isn’t its alien encounters but its celebration of the imagination. I like to think of it as a kids movie made entirely for adults – it’s for those people who still cling to the innocence of youth and the sense of wonder that withers and dies as adulthood and responsibility takes hold.

Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

Related Posts

  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Is there anyone who has a better streak that what Spielberg had from 1975-1984? Sure he had a blip with 1979’s 1941, but look at his other 5 films. Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T and Temple of Doom. There is no director than can rival that streak.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      …spot on. It’s an incredible body of work when he was at the height of his powers. For me, Close Encounters and E.T. really example what’s at the heart of Spielberg – imagination and childhood innocence and the ability to dream and believe in those dreams. We see it as a child in E.T., we see it as an adult in Close Encounters. Indiana Jones is the embodiment of those dreams – the nice-guy, plain-job, no superpowers hero who we can relate to. He’s a wonderful film-maker and someone I’ve admired since I first laid eyes on Jaws!

  2. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Yep, our admiration for Spielberg obviously goes back to our childhood. It’s interesting too, you’re from the UK, I’m from Canada and yet his themes reach us both even though we are 5000 miles away. I guess that’s the power of great film making.

  3. Avatar
    Raghav Reply

    I think the magic about Spielberg’s films, especially from the 1970-80s, is that each one has one iconic figure that is still stuck in everyone’s mind. ET on the Cycle about to fly is another as is the one you posted above. Also as Dan suggested above his films can be enjoyed across borders because they have this certain appeal since they tackle issues like family and relationships in-between all the events that are taking place.

Leave a Reply