Close Encounter Of The Third Kind: Reliving Steven Spielberg's First Ten Years (1971-1982)

close encounters Spielberg

Well we are at the halfway point in the Spielberg collection and next week Spielberg's latest movie 'The Fabelman's' is released here in the UK. So we will be taking a week hiatus on the artwork before picking up again with the final two pieces and reviews of the collection.

In his childhood, Spielberg's father took him to see a meteor shower which would leave a lasting impression.


"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is a science fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg based on a short film he shot called Firelight when he was only 17. Released in 1977, The film tells the story of a group of people who have encountered a UFO and the government's attempts to keep the event a secret. 

After the success of "Jaws" financially and critically, Steven Spielberg was given a significant amount of creative freedom by Columbia Pictures to make "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." 

However, the pressure built as production began as Columbia pictures were on the verge of bankruptcy and its future would depend on its success.


The film stars Richard Dreyfuss as the blue-collar worker Roy Neary, who has contact with a UFO and becomes obsessed with finding out more about the experience. The film also stars Melinda Dillon and François Truffaut. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $300 million worldwide, and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Director for Spielberg.

In "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," a 3-year-old boy named Barry Guiler wakes up to find that his toys have come to life. The scene is directed by Steven Spielberg, known for his horror film skills. As Barry notices something strange off-screen, he runs into the woods, with his mother, Jillian Dillon (Melinda Dillon), chasing after him. Our main Protagonist is the introduced Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and he experiences a strange event in his car and chases after the mysterious lights where he meets a group of people including Jillian and Barry who all witness and experience a close encounter. 


Roy becomes increasingly preoccupied with this experience and starts to neglect his family and responsibilities. He is driven to leave his family because of an obsession with a mysterious encounter he had with an unidentified flying object (UFO). He is plagued by vivid nightmares and visions of a mountain-like shape, obsessively he makes the shape out of shaving foam, mashed potatoes and finally destroys his house with a sculpture of dirt in what was once his living room.

The scene with the aforementioned potatoes at the dinner table is more emotional and scary than the unknown encounter, as it shows a family on the verge of collapse with Roy’s gradual breakdown, neurosis and the destruction of his family unit that bring about the most disturbing sequences. 

‘Encounters’ was not specifically based on Steven Spielberg's family. However, Spielberg has said that the character of Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is loosely based on his own experiences as a child and his own obsession with movies.

It certainly is a deeply personal piece of work and like his next feature, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial dealt with the separation of a family which echoed his own experience growing up with divorced parents.

Roy's obsession with the mental image of a mountain, which soon becomes all-encompassing, slowly drives a wedge between him and his wife played by Teri Garr. Again like in Duel and Jaws before the main character of Roy is the everyman, the guy next door who ambles along.  He’s not special. Again, he’s you and me, and his close encounter completely alters the balance of his life. It is this attack on a family man’s normality that makes Close Encounters such an unsettling film.


However, the best scene in the movie is when Barry, the small child who we were introduced to early in the film, finally gets abducted. Starting with the now-famous five-note tune of Re, Mi, Do, Do, So, as Barry plays it out on a xylophone while his mother is obsessively sketching the same mountain as Roy's sculptures. Spielberg shows off his suspense and horror skills. The moment the light shines through the keyhole and when the door opens bathing the scene in an ominous glow is one of Spielberg's best ever committed to film. This scene is one that I chose to paint as it really is iconic. The rest of the scene continues and is just pure magic, (The music of Johnny Mathis never sounded so eerie) I'm sure the pov camera work of the mysterious presence rushing down the chimney has influenced Sam Raimi and the Evil Dead series. More recently Jordan Peele's Nope has taken inspiration from the ominous sky that appears in the scene and what may hide behind it. 6 minutes or so of sheer terror, Spielberg at his best.


Spielberg has said that he grew up in a household where his father was often working on computers, his mother was more emotional and artistic than his logical father and although he believed any possible communication between ETs would be mathematics he chose to make the central premise of music as a way to communicate (as perhaps a nod to his closeness with his mother) as it would deliver a more emotional and spiritual experience. 

Unlike the science-fiction films of the 50s and 60s which were influenced by the cold war and depicted alien visitors as a threat, Close encounters reflect themes of the search for meaning and understanding in the face of the unknown, the power of communication, the potential for peaceful coexistence between different beings. The film also raises questions about the nature of reality and the possibility of other forms of intelligent life existing in the universe. Furthermore, the movie explores the idea of the transcendent and the spiritual, as well as the human longing for connection, transcendence, and spiritual fulfilment.


One of the things that make "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" so special is its visual style. The film's depiction of the alien mothership and the iconic mountain-like shape is truly unforgettable, and it helped to establish Spielberg as a master of visual storytelling. The film's special effects were groundbreaking for its time and still hold up today. Its innovative and visually striking cinematography was shot by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. His and Spielberg's use of light is jaw-dropping. The film features a wide range of lighting techniques, from the intense, white light of the UFOs to the warm, natural light of the sun. This creates a sense of otherworldliness and helps to convey the awe and wonder of the encounter. The film also makes use of a variety of camera techniques, including long takes, slow-motion and handheld camera movements, that help to create a sense of tension and drama, particularly in the scenes involving the UFOs.

The film features a variety of visual effects, from miniatures to matte paintings, to create the various UFO and spaceship scenes. The use of special effects was groundbreaking at the time and helped to create a sense of realism that added to the film's overall impact. All were done by Douglas Trumbull, who also worked on "2001: A Space Odyssey" and changed the way effects were done throughout the 70s and 80s.

The movie was shot in several locations around the United States, including the Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming, which served as the location for the climax of the film.

The movie was a huge influence on the science fiction genre and it was considered a game-changer for the way it dealt with the subject of Science fiction. Spielberg proved he was no one-hit wonder and confirmed his status as the master of popular culture. 

The film won Best Cinematography at the 50th Annual Academy Awards and was also nominated for Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Dillon). It was selected for preservation at the National Film Registry in December 2007, with the United States Library of Congress characterising the movie as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Spielberg was now untouchable both artistically and commercially with back to back classics, however that would soon change with his next film 1941. The story involves a panic in the Los Angeles area after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The critics gave it a mauling, Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars out of four, writing that the film "feels forced together chaotically, as if the editors wanted to keep the material moving at any cost. The movie finally reduces itself to an assault on our eyes and ears, a nonstop series of climaxes, screams, explosions, double-takes, sight gags, and ethnic jokes that's finally just not very funny."

Spielberg for the first time had questions asked about his film making and his next movie choice would now be critical to answer any doubters. He wanted to make a Bond movie, then his friend and Starwars creator George Lucas had an idea.......



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