While I give Steven Spielberg plenty of flak for the turn his career has taken over the last 15 years, that in no way diminishes from his early masterpieces. I don’t know that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would be the hit today that it was back in 1977. It’s a very deliberately paced film for Spielberg, and the fascination with UFOs isn’t near today what it was even back during the heyday of The X-Files. We’ve all but shuttered the exploration of space. We’re a very inward looking species, rather than looking to the stars and thinking about what or who might be out there, and how we might talk to them were they to someday show up.
Today’s planet would almost certainly start lobbing nukes at anything it didn’t understand, and maybe 1977’s would have too, but I love Spielberg’s optimistic and beautiful take on a first encounter with extraterrestrials. Math is the universal language, and music, at its core, is math. It’s logical that would be a way to communicate, and if you have John Williams as your composer, you can have a five-minute sequence of simple notes building into a cacophony of musical dialogue that is as spellbinding as any written words could be. The five tones of initial communication are the most easily iconic thing about Close Encounters. Over 40 years after its release, this sequence is still chillingly beautiful….and then Richard Dreyfus gets on a spaceship and leaves his family behind (that part I never quite got).