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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


    May 7, 2014 @ 11:38 am

    Beautiful piece of writing.

    I get the sense I appreciate Close Encounters more than I enjoy it. It's a wonderfully constructed film – Spielberg gets a lot of hate for what he does, but the fact is that he does it better than anybody. The blend of spectacle and emotion is easy to be cynical about, something I think dictated some of the response to his more recent films, and he is just masterful at it.

    Once again, great piece.



  2. T. Hartwell
    May 7, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    An absolutely lovely piece.

    Close Encounters was one of those films I saw when I was younger that I definitely enjoyed and appreciated, but more than anything nested into my brain in such a way that watching them years later became a profound and moving experience (I was originally going to connect it to "Forbidden Planet" in this respect, but on reflection I've always had a much more esoteric connection to that film, whereas Encounters exist entirely on the emotional level for me). It really is a remarkably beautiful film in so many ways, and I can barely begin to cover all the aspects except to say that when it all comes together at that awesome sequence at Devil's Tower, it's a wonder to behold.

    But what stayed in my brain the most, perhaps rather predictably, was the 5-note motif (this is probably Williams's finest score if only for that creation). Less predictably, it was the fact it was communicated through Sol Fege- Re Mi Do Do So. See, when I was much younger (like, early elementary school/kindergaten younger), my music teacher taught us pitches and scales using Sol Fege, and it had the odd side effect of lodging itself in my brain so absolutely that I now instinctively hear every note as their Sol Fege syllable (though because we were taught exclusively in C major, I only connect the notes to those pitches and automatically correct sharps/flats to certain keys- it's somewhat odd to explain properly).

    The end result of this was that I stopped hearing music as, well, music, and started hearing it as its own language of syllables, layered together in endless combinations to produce words and phrases and essays of pure and simple sound. It fostered in me a love of musical construction, and is a large part of why I continued learning piano and started messing with arrangements and instrumentation and, even now, composing.

    All of which is to say: I know for a fact I was learning Sol Fege around the same time I first saw this movie, and I have no doubt that seeing a movie in which music is presented as a universal point of harmony and understanding is what helped create that appreciation in me for so many years later.

    Thank you so much for the essay.


  3. BerserkRL
    May 10, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

    Perhaps worth mentioning Jung's book on flying saucers as a partial anticipation of Vallée.


  4. Daru
    May 11, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

    Thanks again Josh! I want to have a lot more to say as this film for me holds so much personal magic. The magic of my childhood nostalgia and the awe that I still carry over from my early experiences of watching it then – and especially nowadays watching it and being utterly drawn in by my child into a feeling that can only be described as love of the cosmos. If there is any sentimentality within that then I don't care! Any analysis falls away for me, as I noticed when I watched this for the first time in years a couple of months ago with my partner, and I just watched this film through the eyes of my child.


  5. mystigri75
    June 7, 2015 @ 9:14 am

    In my view, CE3K is a fable of a journey to enlightenment (God being represented by the mother ship). The two separate narrative lines meeting in the end tell the same story considered at two different levels : Neary’s quest (or Jillian’s) shows the person as a whole while Lacombe’s team shows a microscopic view of the person and details its various mental functions. Read more:


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