Study Guide

Close Encounters of the Third Kind Director

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Steven Spielberg

If you've watched more than a handful of movies in your life, chances are you've watched one directed by Steven Spielberg.

There's no genre he hasn't tried, no subject he's been afraid to address. The list of his films is mind-boggling: Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List, The Color Purple, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Jurassic Park, Amistad, Catch Me if You Can—and that's just a start. He's without a doubt one of the most successful, influential, and busy directors in the movie biz.

Spielberg's been directing since he was twelve years old, when he made his first disaster movie—filming his toy trains crashing in his living room. This was soon followed by a short 8mm film that earned him his first award—a Boy Scout merit badge in photography. (Source)

The awards just kept coming. Of his more than 50 director credits, six are among the top 25 all-time box-office successes and five are on the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest Films of All Time" list. He's been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards three times and won twice (Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan). In fact, the list of his award nominations and wins is so extensive it's got its own Wikipedia page.

So, yeah, he's doing pretty well for himself.

Close Encounters represents a number of firsts for Spielberg's directing career. It would be the first time he directed a feature-length science fiction film, a genre he'd return to successfully a number of times: E.T., Jurassic Park, Minority Report, and War of the Worlds, to name a few. It was also the first time he worked with editor Michael Kahn. The two have collaborated ever since, with Kahn having edited most of Spielberg's films.

It was also the third Spielberg film scored by John Williams, who went on to score every Spielberg film since 1974 with the exceptions of The Color Purple and Bridge of Spies. (Source)

But what connects CE3K to all of Spielberg's works are the movies.

Let us explain.

As film professor Tom Doherty has noted, "[Spielberg's] perennial theme is his constant subject, the movies" (source). Spielberg loves movies and all of his own works are basically love letters to the medium. One of the ways Spielberg shows his love is to pack his films with allusions and shout-outs to others.

As Donald Mott and Cheryl McAllister Saunders have pointed out, Close Encounters is no exception as it "[pays] homage to The Birds (1963), North by Northwest (1959), Pinocchio (1940), Bambi (1942), Fantasia (1940), and Invaders from Mars (1953)." (Source)

Neary gives the obvious Pinocchio shout-out when he tries to convince his kids it's a great flick, but Spielberg and Williams also hide a few bars of "When You Wish Upon a Star" into the finale's soundtrack. Anyone who has ever seen Fantasia, especially the Tocata y Fuga section, can see its influences in the film's finale, too. And Roy and Jillian's climb up Devils Tower is a massive allusion to the Mr. Rushmore chase scene in Alfred Hitchcock's classic, North by Northwest.

Spielberg's not above referencing his own films, though. Listen to the closing bars of the mother ship's tonal message and you'll hear a familiar two-note tuba motif.


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