Music Webmaster Len Mullenger





John WILLIAMS Close Encounters of the Third Kind The Collector's Edition Soundtrack ARISTA 07822-19004-2 [77:23]   


Crotchet (UK)

Some years ago I listed my favourite all-time film scores for the UK produced magazine, Classic CD. I included John Williams's score for Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind in that list. This music is still my favourite of all of Williams's brilliant scores. The original Arista soundtrack recording LP has had a special place in my collection since its release in 1978; it was stunningly recorded with the best musical selections from the film. [Charles Gerhardt's suite from the film recorded with the National Philharmonic Orchestra was also a treasured album. (It was issued with a suite from Star Wars; since available on an RCA CD.)]. Now my old LP has been superseded by this new collector's edition which not only brings the original soundtrack music back in CD format but also boasts an extra 37 minutes of additional music which was either previously unreleased or not used in the film.

The producers of this new album went back to the original recording sessions of the score and selected a generous 78 minutes of music. The cues, given in their entirety (even those that were shortened in the film), are presented in the order they appear in the film to recreate the progression of the narrative structure. Thus we hear the music that gives a sense of awe an mystery and vivid evocation of the opening scene shrouded in a swirling desert sandstorm as the lost planes form the 1940s are discovered in a condition as though they had left their base only an hour before.

Later in "Roy's First Encounter" we hear the ambiguous shifting out-of-this-world tonality that we associate with the aliens. These alien sonorities are developed in the substantial and very impressive 6½-minute cue "Barry's Kidnapping" the music takes on a menacing dimension for we are seeing their threat through the young mother's eyes; she instinctively knows the little aliens are after her son and the threat comes from every corner of the house; the chimney, the ventilation grilles and at length through the cat flap. The music shimmers, shifts, slithers, screeches; voices and instruments twist, turn and rise swiftly away... It is also good to have the music which accompanies the young mother and hero Richard Dreyfuss to the tower shaped mountain rendezvous. Williams's music with its driving rhythms splendidly and sympathetically conveys their rising excitement and anxiety. In "The Mountain" cue containing previously unreleased material, their overwhelming sense of wonder as they first see the Devil's Tower is palpable as the music reaches (with the addition of women's wordless chorus) an ecstatic climax but the elation is mixed to with a sense of tragedy and regret as the pair pass animals struck down dead (or drugged). In "The Cover Up" Williams uses snare drums, timpani and bass drums up front to underscore the ruthless efficiency of the military machine in deterring public interest in the alien's impending visit.

But it is of course, the music for the climactic meeting with the aliens which everybody anticipates starting form the point when Dreyfuss reaches the rendezvous point on the other side of the mountain and the smaller space craft swoop down. Here we have 30 minutes of Williams's remarkable music which brilliantly captures and makes credible the amazing series of events. Starting with the swooping down of the advance guard of smaller space craft Williams conjures music that underscores the vivid colour and brilliant lights of the space vehicles and parallels their breathlessly swift trajectories. The arrival of the giant "Mothership" begins as something of a concerto for the orchestras bass instruments the music rising through the orchestra as it descends through the clouds passes majestically over the mountain and reverses itself for touchdown. Then we have the almost comical interchange of data between the mothership and the base's electronic console commencing with that famous five-note figure. It is interesting to note that Williams achieved this dialogue using acoustic instruments only ( probably double bassoon, bass trombone and tuba for the mother ship's contribution). The last sequence "The Visitors/Bye/End Titles, represented her with 12 minutes of material includes material not used in the film. It covers of course those last very affecting scenes as the tall stick-like alien waves goodbye and the mothership leaves. Williams responds with really inspired music which truly uplifts the soul and spirit. All is perfect, the allusion to When You Wish Upon a Star is kept subtle and oblique. Unhappily the music that was not included in the film and very wisely was an overt reference to the song which brings you crashing back to earth with a bang. My advice is to slowly drop the volume when you get to about 10:20 in this last cue and switch off.

Nevertheless a wonderful souvenir of what must be for many a treasured cinematic experience.

It is very attractively presented in chrome etched packaging with a sumptuously produced well illustrated, full colour booklet with notes about John Williams's work on the score and an interview with the composer.

And a review of the associated video:-


This video is presented in the same design and chrome etched packaging as the CD so that they are effectively a matched pair. But the rub is that who wants it except the Close Encounters fanatics (all right I will admit to being numbered among them). We have had Close Encounters videos in normal ratio then wide screen editions then digitally enhanced editions and now this special edition. So what's really special about it? Well the main thing is that you gain the 15 minute documentary about the making of the film tacked onto the end. But you also loose the scenes in the mother ship which has distinguished most other editions. So has Spielberg now decided that his definitive edition should be sans these scenes? He is interviewed for this documentary on the set of Saving Private Ryan. He first of all talks about his childhood experience of being taken out in the middle of the night by his father to see the spectacle of a meteor shower. It was this experience he says that prompted his desire to make sci-fi pictures like Close Encounters and E.T. Later in the interview he talks about his youthful naivety and idealism of twenty years ago when he made the film. Now that he is older and maturer he would make the film quite differently, he claims. He says that he would never allow the Dreyfuss character to become so obsessed with his encounter and cause his family so much distress and allow them to leave home so that he could pursue his dream and go off in an alien spaceship. He chose to make the Dreyfuss a very ordinary guy so that the majority could identify with him. In my opinion that was the main weakness of the film; he was too much of a nerd and his family were pretty obnoxious too. I would like to respectfully suggest to Mr Spielberg that he should have another go at Close Encounters but that he might consider starting from the premise that there were other mothership's making other rendezvous at the same time so that he could invent another set of main characters and use today's computer-based technology to enhance the same basic story (maybe taking it a little further to hint at the aliens short/long term purpose) but, please, giving the equivalent Dreyfuss character more dignity, sensitivity and intelligence. Interestingly the documentary includes comment by Richard Dreyfuss who was attracted to the film because of its noble theme and its idea of suggesting that we are not alone but that we probably have nothing to fear and that the aliens could be friendly. This concept broke new ground. The two female leads also contribute thoughts; Melinda Dillon noting the extreme heat when they were filming Garry's abduction scenes. The actor who played Garry, now a young man, is also seen. Douglas Trumball talks about the visual effects for which he was responsible. He says that Spielberg wisely wanted to get away from the conventional flat saucer-like images to make the space-craft seem more credible. When Spielberg saw the lights of a huge oil refinery he hit on the idea of making the mother ship look like a huge city in the sky. John Williams appears briefly just to explain how the five note theme was developed.

Think twice about spending money on this special edition if you already have the digitally enhanced wide screen version of the film. This edition is not all that special


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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