Last week my husband surprised me with tickets to see the 40th anniversary re-mastered edition of Close Encounters of The Third Kind at the cinema. Close Encounters has long been one of my favorite films right back to my childhood, and finally seeing those epic images on a big screen was a dream come true.
Seeing the film at the cinema also reminded me of its excellent score, composed by John Williams just months after he finished work on the very first Star Wars movie – a fact which initially had director Steven Spielberg concerned as he wondered how much Williams could possibly have left to give after creating such a masterpiece. Spielberg need not have worried though, as the Close Encounters score is a masterpiece in its own right and gave us what is possibly the most iconic five-note sequence in movie history.
Here then, are my favorite five tracks from the Close Encounters of the Third Kind score.
1. Opening: Let There Be Light
2. Navy Planes
3. Lost Squadron
4. Roy’s First Encounter
5. Encounter At Crescendo Summit
6. Chasing UFOs
7. False Alarm
8. Barry’s Kidnapping
9. The Cover-Up
10. Stars And Trucks
11. Forming The Mountain
12. TV Reveals
13. Roy And Gillian On The Road
14. The Mountain
15. “Who Are You People?”
16. The Escape
17. The Escape (Alternate Cue)
19. Climbing The Mountain
20. Outstretch Hands
23. The Mothership
24. Wild Signals
25. The Returnees
26. The Visitors/”Bye”/End Titles: The Special Edition
Roy’s First Encounter
As might be obvious from the title, this piece plays over the scene when Roy – and we – first encounter the alien spaceships. The music moves from a rumbling atmospheric sound while Roy is scared and confused after his encounter with the first ship, to a scurrying chase sequence when he takes off to chase the ship right over the state line into Ohio. The music perfectly mirrors Roy’s journey from understandable fear, to desperately needing to know what he has witnessed and the beginnings of his search for the truth.
A relatively short track, this piece plays at the moment when Roy and Gillian simultaneously see a news report on television and realise what the visions which have plagued them both have been trying to tell them. The first half of the track features a building choral element, giving the piece even more of a “hallelujah” feel, while the second half becomes increasingly dramatic as Roy takes to the road – now with a destination to reach. This is a moment of clarity for both main characters as they go from revelation to determination, finally knowing where it is they need to be.
This piece begins at the point where Roy and Gillian, now reunited, finally lay eyes on the mountain that has been haunting their minds. The music builds to a crescendo as they scramble up a dirt bank and finally take in a good look at the bizarre object, neither of them quite able to believe that it’s real. Williams really captures that feeling of awe at the moment when they and us the audience first see the mountain rising up – briefly bringing in vocal harmonies that give the moment a feeling of almost religious wonder.
The second half of the track adds an ever increasing sensation of impending doom as the pair drive closer and closer to the mountain, passing by dead livestock and allowing their paranoia to take hold. Is this all really a coverup, or are they truly putting their lives at risk in their quest?
Easily one of the most unique tracks ever to grace a movie score, “Wild Signals” is less a piece of music, and more a conversation. It is the sounds of the communication between the alien mothership and the humans on the ground, described as the aliens teaching us “a basic tonal vocabulary” in the film. It is never revealed just what the aliens are saying to us, but the resulting sounds is one of the most joyful pieces of “music” ever to grace a score.
The Visitors/”Bye”/End Titles
The final, and longest, piece on the score – this sequence covers the opening of the ship to reveal our first look at the alien beings, Roy boarding, the ship’s departure, and on to the closing credits. It is a beautiful piece of music that conveys the sense of awe and curiosity felt by everyone present at this first contact between humanity and an alien race.
You may also notice a few familiar notes smuggled inside this piece. Williams included the most iconic notes from “When You Wish Upon a Star” when Roy chooses to go with the aliens and the Disney track can be heard again in orchestral style during the closing credits.