Updated: Nov 11, 2019
Nominee #15 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The first aliens in movies had a very simple purpose, scare the living daylights out of the
audience. Obviously, this can be and has been done very well. However, it takes an artist
like the great Steven Spielberg to say something different.
After Roy Neary played by Richard Dreyfuss, experiences an unusual encounter following a
power outage he begins to see visions and hear mysterious sounds. Convinced he’s not
insane, Roy embarks on an incredible journey to discover the reason behind the visions and
sounds. Meanwhile, across the world governments are discovering more evidence that the
human race is far from alone in the universe.
Spielberg accomplishes something almost magical with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977),
he transforms the typical fear of these extra-terrestrials into larger, warmer
emotion…wonder. From the representations of aliens, audiences were used to at the time
and are still used to today, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a refreshing counter
argument. Spielberg explores this flip side with expertise.
What if the aliens were the good guys?
The first acts of the film do indeed approach the concept of extra-terrestrials with a degree of apprehension and fear however, Spielberg asks us to consider the situation more deeply. As creatures who define existence by the scope of our vision, we are often afraid of what lies beyond, Spielberg tells us to appreciate the possibility of extra-terrestrials rather than be disturbed by it and as we
follow Roy Neary’s journey we begin to see Spielberg’s perspective and suddenly the idea of
aliens isn’t as unsettling as it was before. Ironically, Spielberg did almost the opposite in his
1975 classic Jaws (1975) where he single-handedly created the fear of sharks.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a visual treat. Bright lights and wide, scenic shots make
Close Encounters of the Third Kind an enthralling experience. The visuals coupled with a
sweeping, magical score by none other than the master John Williams make for the
complete cinematic experience with a powerful, positive message.
To this day, films are influenced by the messages and themes Close Encounters of the Third
Kind first introduced. Even before E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind asked the question,
‘what if the aliens were the good guys?’ Aliens, if they exist, may be hostile invaders. They
may also be incredible, intelligent creatures eager to share their cosmic knowledge, that is
the possibility Spielberg wants us to see and that is precisely what he achieves.