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To Infinity, and Beyond: Science Fiction Countdown – 5

Close Encounters poster

The first time I saw this film was on television one Saturday afternoon, and it was one of my earliest realisations of the sheer wonder of film. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a remarkable play of light and sound (which is the fundamental action of cinema – no nonsense about characters you have to care about, that comes later), a visual and aural display that takes the viewer on the same journey as the protagonist Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfus). Roy’s abandonment of his family is problematic (Steven Spielberg has said in interviews that were he to make the film since becoming a parent, he would make different choices), but the infantalising journey of wonder that Roy goes on is still alluring and transporting. Roy, along with the young boy Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), follows the lights not towards death but towards rebirth; the term mothership has rarely been used so aptly. Even if the viewer baulks at the journey of Roy himself, there are also the military and scientific spectators at Devil’s Tower, who are treated to an extraordinary display of light and sound, including the famous five tone theme. These spectators are similar to those of a cinema audience, also assembled for the dazzling display of the film itself, making Close Encounters of the Third Kind a meta-cinematic experience. Just as characters within the film make a pilgrimage to the mountain, audiences flocked to cinemas for the release of this film and continue to do so for other journeys into the imagination. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is at times the purest form of cinema – a transportive experience through the play of light and sound towards the infinite. Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) tells Roy that he envies him for the journey he is taking. The journey of the film, and of sci-fi cinema as a whole, expresses this journey and, at its best, gives us a sense of what that journey might be like.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind still

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1 Comment

  1. […] of my top five transportive sci-fi films has some similarities with a previous entry. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner transports its viewer to a sci-fi environment on Earth with suggestions of the […]

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