If you were living in a reality that was different from anything you could ever imagine, would you ask questions? This is what Steven Spielberg proposes in his 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” AMC Loews in Stony Brook will be showing this portrait film on the big screen once again for its 40th anniversary.
The story follows the unexplainable events of a UFO sighting and the subsequent spiral into insanity for Roy Neary, a working class family man who alienates his wife and kids with his changing reality. Unable to connect with his wife on this new phenomenon, Neary finds solace in a struggling woman Jillian Guiler, who has witnessed the same sighting. Guiler is convinced that her son has been abducted by the sudden visitors. She and Neary have been visualizing the same geometric shape and artfully reconstructing it with what tools they have at their disposal, in the hopes that finding its meaning will provide answers. As the two journey through their intergalactic connection, they remain adamant and bypass all government securities that may stop them from uncovering the truth.
The musical score mimics and yet transcends the plot in this communicative experiment, heightening the emotional response scenes. The score, composed by genius John Williams, grips the attention of moviegoers from the first note to the last, as he incorporates “When You Wish Upon a Star” into the final moments of music.
Williams is a renowned film composer and music revolutionizer, having arranged scores for iconic films throughout history such as “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Indiana Jones,” “Home Alone,” “Jurassic Park,” and the first three “Harry Potter” films to name a few. Williams is famous for making a film’s score become an integral part of the story. Because of this, most of the films he works on can no longer be thought of without their accompanying music.
This is just the case in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Spielberg and Williams work in unison, telling a story in which visionary work and sound melody become codependent.
Music was truly the last puzzle piece for Spielberg. In a one-on-one interview in 2007 with Sony Home Entertainment, he explains how his vision for the film was to morph light and sound to communicate with the audience. Spielberg’s ideas were beyond pure entertainment – he used his fascinations solidify the movie’s place in the sci-fi category.
As scenes build upon each other, the audience and movie characters follow a synonymous path – both groups do not understand the UFO phenomenon. The music fills in missing gaps by broadening the creative mind and allowing a different reality to take place, one of beautiful insanity. Williams’ score is not overloaded with voluptuous themes. Instead, he takes advantage of single-note beauty and dramatizes emotions with tone pitch.
The final scene of the film puts a spotlight on the concept of musical communication, literally, complementing luminescence with musical tones on the stage between intergalactic beings. Each group attempts to understand and interact with each other using rudimentary tools of sound and sight, and their meeting is one of emotional beauty emphasized with magnificent imagery. In Spielberg’s discussion of the film’s influences, it would seem that imagining this scene without using any kind of musical score would be absolutely preposterous and frankly impossible.
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” goes beyond viewing the “cinematic window” experience and audiences become essential to the action through providing their own emotional experience. The film’s theme fuels off the responses from both its characters and its audiences. It is beautiful in and of itself that each person will have a different understanding of the experience. In this way, as the audience grows, so does the film. With the film brought back to theaters, you can’t help but laugh to think that it has existed on any other screen.
In the cinematic glory of the dark theater, Spielberg’s story takes precedence and earns its rightful place. Are you ready to encounter a different reality, one that may be closer to you than you think?