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Richard Dreyfus plays Roy Neary, a family man who has a UFO experience when driving home one night. His car is drowned in a bright, white light and the electrics break down. From that moment on, Roy is obsessed with a need to know more about what was responsible.

Meanwhile, the government is tracking the appearance of UFO’s around the world and learning about the musical phrase they use to communicate. Is there anyone in the west not familiar with the melodic five note phrase of John Williams’ marvelous score for this film?

What follows is a story of a man finding again the wonder we lose as children, a man with a need for an adventure and to go out and discover the unknown. Where some people see the appearance of the lights in the sky as a portent of Doom, Roy and some like-minded individuals look on in wonder and excitement.

There is a government conspiracy to cover up the alien communication, a mother who loses her child only to be reunited with his at the end, a marriage break up and a sense of innocent enquiry running through the movie. These are now what we would call hallmarks of a Spielberg film, story telling done by a master of his craft. It’s sad to see how he tried – and, in my opinion, failed – to recapture this recently in Super 8.

The scene when the mother ship appears and communicates with those on the ground via an extraterrestrial son et lumière is awe inspiring. I always watch it at home with the bass turned up on the speakers so the whole house shakes and I too can try to experience the physicality of the sound.

Spielberg’s aliens are not scary green men with evil intent but kind, graceful and benevolent greys. He shows us that we need not fear what we don’t yet understand.

I was 15 when Close encounters was released in 1977. I’m fifty now and it still has the ability to make me laugh and cry and envy Roy’s adventure. And I still keep an eye on the night sky and hope.

Starring Richard Dreyfus and Teri Garr
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