Science fiction films generally see technology in one of two ways: It's either going to destroy us all or it's what's gonna save us. Close Encounters is in the latter camp. It's optimistic about technology; it sees it as driving humankind's progress.
When the extraterrestrials arrive, our technology is exposed as the caveman-era stuff that it is. Just the presence of a UFO energy field is enough to make every appliance in Jillian's house go crazy. It's as though her oven died of shame when it saw how cool that anti-gravity device was. While the massively sophisticated mother ship is alighting, a marvel of technology light-years from our own, scientists are snapping photos with their little Kodak Instamatics.
The film's handling of the scientists' work, like its scenes with foreign languages, adds a sense of mystery and wonderment. There's not a lot of explanation in the tech-heavy scenes. Lights are blinking, sounds are playing, mainframe computers are humming, people are saying scientific-sounding things— we watch them work and don't understand a lot of what's going on. They look professional, competent, and in control, so we trust them. They look like grownups.
Give us primitive creatures some credit: It's our technology that allows Lacombe to track down the clues the aliens left behind. We know enough to transmit the five-tone phrase into space, prepare for the landing, welcome the visitors, and equip some astronauts for a trip around the galaxy. Definitely a start.
Questions About Technology and Modernization
- Lacombe and his team don't use souped-up sci-fi tech to learn about the aliens. They use the modern (pre-Internet) technology available to them. Why do you think this is important to the film's narrative?
- What's the film's take on military technology?
- Why do the aliens want to teach the scientists some of their advanced technology via the musical conversation?
Chew on This
The aliens are presented as beings who can teach humans about a technology we can't even begin to understand.
Since the alien energy fields affect Barry's electronic toys and Jillian's appliances, we know we're at least on the right track. Thanks, Thomas Edison!