Classic Scenes #12: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is undoubtedly one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest achievements. Its tale of first contact with friendly extraterrestrials is awe-inspiring & full of wonder…

Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a really great movie. I’d say Spielberg’s best work is a tie between Jaws and Close Encounters but, when I put together my top 10 films, I felt his 1977 work was worthy of top spot. Jaws is, of course, an incredible achievement, both technically and creatively, while its lasting impression on the film industry is unique and unsurpassed. But Close Encounters of the Third Kind is far more personal story. Indeed, it is one of the few instances in Spielberg’s career in which he both wrote and directed the film. In it we see the themes that would become Spielberg’s calling card exhibited beautifully such as the makeup of the typical suburban family and the problems its faces, predominantly as seen through the eyes of children. There are a lot of absent fathers and in the case of Close Encounters we see a father who knowingly leaves his family to pursue something which he believes to be extraordinary. It is in this sense of childlike imagination and sense of wonder that we are introduced to a friendly group of aliens who, it turns out, have been studying earth and earthlings for decades.

If you’d like to know more about Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, read my review or check out my Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films and my Top 10 Richard Dreyfuss Films, where Close Encounters makes the number one slot in both.

In one of my favourite scenes, Spielberg brilliantly oversees the collision of fantasy and reality. This particular sequence appears near the beginning of the movie and sees Richard Dreyfuss’ character Roy Neary sent out at night by his power company employers to deal with a spate of electrical blackouts. The scene is premised by a secretive government department investigating the appearance of World War II planes in the Sonoran Desert. The planes, part of a squadron that went missing 30 years earlier, are found mysteriously dumped in the desert intact and operational. Their pilots, however, remain missing…

Roy stops at a railway line crossing…

Suddenly behind him appear brights lights that seem to be a large truck. Roy waves the truck by…but Spielberg brilliantly reveals the lights to be that of an alien spacecraft as it rises up and flies above Roy’s truck…

Roy quickly realises something strange is happening…

The aliens seem to be testing or examining Roy. This becomes more apparent later in the film when it is revealed he is the one they choose to take with them when they leave…

This terrific sequence is memorable for me because of its subtle revelation. Spielberg makes us think the lights behind Roy’s truck are that of another road user because he precedes the scene with a similar event. In the first instance Roy correctly waves past another vehicle. If I’d been lucky enough to see Close Encounters in the cinema with an audience I’m sure I would have heard a collective gasp as the spaceship slowly rose into the sky. It’s another one of those Spielberg moments (like the shaking water of the glass in Jurassic Park or Chief Brody’s first run in with the shark in Jaws prompting him to utter the immortal line: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”) that reminds you just how even the smallest cinematic moment can excite, enthrall and live long in the memory.

Written by Dan Stephens

Find out more about Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban
Released: 1977 / Genre: Science-Fiction / Country: USA / IMDB
Buy on DVD & Blu-ray: DVD | Blu-ray DVD | Blu-ray
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.

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