Sunday, May 21, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Alien movies tend to go in two directions.  You have movies where aliens invade Earth, either forcefully or subtly.  Then, there are movies like Alien Nation, with the aliens generally being peaceful.  (Don’t even get me started on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.)  A few, like Contact, deal strictly with first contact.  We don’t get to see much of the aliens, if anything at all.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is closest to Contact.   What we see of the aliens is mostly their ships.  One of them seems to take notice of Roy Neary’s truck before moving on.  After that encounter, Roy becomes increasingly obsessed with something.  He doesn’t know exactly what, but the vision is getting clearer.  It gets to the point where his wife takes the kids to her sister’s house.

Roy eventually gets a clear picture of what he learns is Devils Tower in Wyoming.  Along the way, he catches up with Jillian Guiler, who is also headed to Devils Tower.  Her son was abducted by the aliens and, in the process, she apparently got the same message as Roy.

It’s not going to be easy for them.  The government has also received coordinates for Devil’s Tower and subsequently quarantined the surrounding area.  Roy, Jillian and a few others do manage to make it most of the way, but are stopped by the government.  Claude Lacombe, who’s running the show for the government, realizes that they were invited by the aliens, but that doesn’t make things easier for those who were invited.

The thing that I’ve always wondered, and I know I’m not the first to do so, is why we tend towards the extremes.  If we’re to assume that aliens invade, we would have to ask why.  What does this planet have that’s so valuable that it would be worth going through all the effort of wiping us out.  You‘d think they‘d be able to get it by some other means.  On the other hand, would a peaceful race even want anything to do with us?  I’ve often thought that any civilization capable of crossing vast interstellar distances would probably have a look at us and be scared.  Look at what we do to our own species.  Do you think we’d treat them any better?

What would first contact actually look like?  I mean, what would actually happen if aliens came down and asked to meet our leaders?  Would it be a simple message like The Day the Earth Stood Still?  Would it be obvious like all of the invasion movies or would it be more subtle like They Live?

The close encounters for Roy and Jillian are a bit bumpy.  When the aliens visit Jillian’s house, all of her electronics seem to turn on.  Radios start blaring.  Toys start moving around.  Roy’s experience is similar.  Nearby signs and mailboxes start rattling.  Is it the aliens intent to scare them?  It could just be a byproduct of their technology.

There is an assumption that aliens would look like us.  It’s easier to have a human actor play the alien, hence the proliferation of humanoid aliens on TV and in movies.  However, there’s no reason to think that we’d have a common form or language for that matter.  The use of music in Close Encounters of the Third Kind makes sense, at least, as would the use of hand gestures.  It stands to reason that if they’ve studied us, they would be able to find some way to at least attempt communication.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is relatively well known.  I remember watching Jeopardy! once.  The final clue referenced the five-note tune repeated throughout the movie.  I remember not only getting it instantly, but wondering why my parents didn’t.  It was one of those clues that if you had seen the movie, the response was obvious.  There are definitely worse ways to spend a few hours of your life.

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