Study Guide

Close Encounters of the Third Kind Technology and Modernization

Technology and Modernization

PROJECT LEADER: He says this guy is local. He was here last night. He saw what happened.

LACOMBE [Examining the old man]: Sunburn?

[Lacombe expresses his sympathies in French. The old man speaks in Spanish.]

PROJECT LEADER [Translating]: He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.

Science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke's third law states that any highly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Here, the UFOs aren't being compared to rabbits in hats, but the language used to describe them is cosmically mysterious and unexplainable.

HARRY: Air East 31, can you say aircraft type?

AIR EAST PILOT: Negative, Center. No distinct outline. To tell you the truth, the target's rather brilliant. It has the brightest anti-collision lights I think I've ever seen, alternating white to red. The colors are a little striking.

Maybe that old man in the desert couldn't recognize a weather balloon or other modern-day aircraft, but pilots and air traffic controllers should be able to explain what they're witnessing. They can't. We love the understatement: "The colors are a little striking." Well, yeah.

TEAM MEMBER: Here are the patterns. We just received two 15-minute broadcasts.

DIRECTOR: Are these non-random signals?

TEAM MEMBER: 104 rapid pulses. After a five-second interval, 40 pulses. Another five-second break and 30 pulses. 60 seconds of silence and then an entirely new set of numbers. 40, break five, 36, break five, 10. 104 rapid pulses. Wait 60 seconds and the whole god-darn thing repeats.

DIRECTOR: Where are these signals coming from?

TEAM MEMBER: Right in the neighborhood. Light travel time, roughly seven seconds. It's well within the plane of the ecliptic.

In this scene, we're seeing the technology that's allowing the humans to interpret the signals from space and locate the proposed landing site. Good thing, too. Otherwise, the aliens would have come a long way to see a bunch of apes tossing bones into the air.

MAJOR WALSH: Yes, sir. It's already been ordered.

MAN ON RADIO: Major Walsh, listen, I don't like to do this. We're in enough trouble with these cattlemen already. But if you can't get these folks off the mountain and out of the area by 2000 hours, start dusting with E-Z-four.

LACOMBE: What is E-Z-four?

MAJOR WALSH: It's a sleep aerosol. Same stuff we used with the livestock. Comes out of Riot Control. They'll sleep for six hours and wake up with a hell of a headache.

Technology isn't used just in the service of progress in Close Encounters. Here Major Walsh and his superiors use the latest and greatest stuff to try to knock out those invited to Devils Tower by our alien visitors. The worst of the fallout is a hangover, but it doesn't take much to imagine technologies with more serious side effects.

PROJECT LEADER: If everything's ready here on the dark side of the moon, play the five tones.

As the Project Leader's words suggest, our technology has taken us to uncharted territory, the "dark side of the moon." This is a huge problem with rapidly evolving technology. Sometimes we have the technology before we know what the consequences might be. No, we're not talking about cat videos and Instagram; HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey is what comes to mind. Ditto tinkering around with DNA. Some very smart people are pretty worried about this, despite the promise of tech to improve our lives.

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