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I don't normally listen to film soundtracks - in fact I rarely take notice of them, and in some respects this means the composer has done his job.
Would I be too bold in saying that your average person who enjoys a film, but is not a film buff or cinema goer, doesn't take too much notice of the soundtrack, but enjoys it passively as part of the overall film?
Very few film soundtracks stand out in my mind. Star Wars does. A Clockwork Orange does, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind's soundtrack definitely does. This might have something to do with the fact that I have seen these films a number of times.
I have had the opportunity of hearing both the original vinyl soundtrack, dating all the way back to 1977, and the recently released extended CD, which has much more than the original vinyl.
I am no musicologist and when all is said and done I have no knowledge of classical music. Close Encounters soundtrack is orchestral - when it comes to classical music and art, I can only say I either like it or I don't, I may not be able to say why.
This soundtrack is one of those ocassions when I can't say why I like the music. I do know when I am listening to it, I am transported in my mind back to the scenes of the film.
Both old vinyl and recent CD have that same crescendo, that you will know from the film (I won't describe it, it will spoil watching the film), which will make you jump, in a similar fashion to the classic Jaws scene. There is a feeling of menace, urgency and eeriness throughout much of this soundtrack, and other feelings of hope and near resolution. One my favourite pieces is Track 14 (CD) "The Mountain". Where Roy and Gillian finally get to a first glimpse at what has been haunting them. I won't describe the scene, as it might spoil things, if you have seen the film you will know what I mean.
There is a rather magic, if not cheesey, finale to this album starting with track 24 "Wild Signals", which is essentially the showcase of 'that' Iconic five note motif, which has been parodied to Kingdom Come over the years. This is interesting and the film must be seen to appreciate this piece of music.
I also think the end sequence is rather special - not only does it nicely incorporate 'the five tones', but John Williams magically weaves a classic Disney tune into it - I won't say which, as it is pivotal to the story. this end peice has such a great feeling of relief, resolution and conclusion, with just a teensy hint of 'what if?' and 'what next?'
Parts of the soundtrack reminds me of bits and pieces of the music from Hitchcock films, as indeed do many of the actual scenes from the film - try comparing this film with North by Northwest, and you might just see what I mean.
This soundtrack, to me, is different. It stands out. I actually wanted to own this, as well as the film's DVD.
Did I mention Spielberg made the visuals and John Williams made the music? That is magic in itself.
*Dedicated to the Memory of Basil Poledouris (19452006), one of the all time great film composers who have ever lived. May the lights lead to the path of eternity.
Hello again. I am back with my on going survey into the scores of John Williams Golden Age. First of all thank you for the warm reception of the previous two installments, and the accompanying encouragements. They mean a lot. 1977 was the year of sci-fi, and in that genre Williams was at the front in going all out with traditionality instead of the poppy cheese that might have been expected, helping in turning B-movies into A-listers. Few composers have managed to blow the bank twice within a year in producing Oscar caliber works one after the other, but Williams almost made a habit of it in subsequent years. And it is very interesting of these efforts how usually contrasted they are to one another. But, without boring you with further preamble, let us get on with the review proper shall we. Enjoy!
With Star Wars becoming a huge mega-hit both cinematically as well as musically, John Williams was only starting to flex his muscles in the scoring of huge, summer blockbusters with larger than life symphonic scores that were to become the norm from there on end. For the large populus, this kind of romantically accessible music for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Superman sagas came to epitomise the sound of film music of the era in very much the same way as the epics of Miklós Rózsa did in the 1950s and the jazzy grooviness of Lalo Schifrin did in the 1960s. With a lot of his major scores from the late-1970s to early-1980s containing an instantly recognizable main theme that have since become an unforgettable part of pop culture, it is easy to overlook Williams other major score from 1977, Steven Speilbergs Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg was at the time still a pretty up-and-coming director, a kind of a wiz-kid of the younger generation of film-makers, who had already shown great promise with Jaws in 1975, when deciding to tackle a sci-fi story of his own. Close Encounters most certainly remains one of Spielbergs greatest achievements when he didnt fall into the major traps of either making a horror-scifi alien invasion film as in War of the Worlds in 2005 or trying to make it overly saccharine such as E.T. turned out to be in 1982. Close Encounters brilliantly balances the mysterious and scary qualities with a humane story about a positive outlook for alien lifeforms coming to visit Earth, decidedly having aliens that dont want to invade our planet or blast us into smithereens, but rather shows them as explorers willing to get familiar with different races.
Musically, the film is an almost 180 degree turn from Star Wars, in being much more modernistic in the sense of contemporary classical music. With the story taking place on Earth instead of the black and white galaxy far, far away, the music likewise is less in-your-face accessible, accentuating the frightened reality of the unknown brought right to our own backyard. As such, the music is in a continuous developmental flux that doesnt particularly rely on the Wagnerian leitmotif device of the previous score and rather moves in one, big, giant arc to its ultimately grandiose finale. So with that in mind, should you be a big fan of the Williams of the epic themes who never strays from the paths of tonality and 19th century romanticism, then Close Encounters may very well be something you will not enjoy with as much relish. The opening itself is something that immediately makes you stand up and take note as Williams begins with nothing but atonal noise raising out of the darkness, finally building up to a huge crescendo as the main title appears on screen. It is extremely simple, yet hugely effective in setting the scene.
Apart from the more action oriented Navy Planes and Lost Squadron, much of the music that follows continues in the same vein of eerie mystery that is sprinkled with slight hints of thematic material that will develop into more signifigance later in the score. Most notably in these cues is the interesting effect Williams created to simulate the sounds of the little probe type lights by recording old car horns from the 1920s and then playing them backwards when the little ships whizz past to create an even more strange soundworld for the alien lifeforms, showcased best in cues such as Chasing UFOs and Barrys Kidnapping. The middle part of the score then takes a different turn as the aliens disappear for a while, and we centre more on the character of Roy Neary, his obsession with finding a certain mountain that hes been seeing in his mind and the upping of the militarys presence. The music used here is more conventional than the alien music, particularly the military cues like The Cover-Up and Stars and Trucks (the latter also containing a luminous harp and an early reference to the Devils Tower theme), that mostly consist of brassy pompousness and stereotypical snare drumming. The theme for the Devils Tower mountain also starts to gather importance at this point, being further developed in Forming the Mountain, TV Reveals (with a nice surge of choir as well), Roy and Gillian on the Road (being a more strident and fun travel cue), and finally finding a culmination point in The Mountain. The theme itself travels in the crossroads of being traditionally enjoyable, but still retaining a certain awe-inspired grandiosity to it that is just a little unearthy.
The eerier alien music finally returns for the grand finale at the mountain with the cue Lightshow, only this time being cast with a warmer tone instead of being horrific as it was in the beginning, which is further emphasised in the arrival of The Mothership. This cue is followed by what must be the most widely remembered sequence of the film when humans and aliens strike up a communication with musical sounds, the famous five-note motif used becoming an almost synonym for a greeting (even used by the U.S. government to send messaged to outer space). This five-note motif originally caused a lot of hard work for Williams who wrote around 300 different sequences and never quite found the right combination, until in exasperation he just decided to choose one randomly and went with that (so much for your universal greeting!). This motif gets its proper working out in the cue Wild Signals where a combination of real instruments and electronics are used to create a colourful and weirdly fantastic discussion that is just great fun. And when combined with the effects in the film in using colours to signify different tones as was Aleksandr Scriabins original idea in the 1910s and the musical handsignals devised by composer Zoltán Kódaly to play music for deaf children, this sequence really is a melting pot of different musical innovations put together.
Finally, the grand culmination of the entire score is reached in the 13-minute The Visitors/Bye/End Titles where all the elements of the score are drawn together for a suite that rises from the original eeriness of the opening scenes to the more grandious departure of the mothership with the Devils Tower theme transforming into an impressive send-off along with the five-note motif and even incorporating Leigh Harlines If You Wish Upon a Star into the mix (incidentally this was something Williams had in mind from the beginning, but Spielberg was adamant about having a five-note motif instead of the seven notes the song would have required). It is a wonderful conclusion to the score and makes for some fabulous Williams magic in the process, alone just about worth the price of admission.
The original album contained roughly 40 minutes of music as was customary for standard LP releases, which was then re-released on CD in 1986 bearing the same contents. The original Arista album was also later re-released by Varèse Sarabande with identical content, but also including the most unfathomable disco arrangement of the five-note motif called Theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The less said about that one, the better! After the trail of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1995 and the entire original Star Wars Trilogy in 1997, an expanded release of the Close Encounters score was finally assembled in 1998, this time featuring over 78 minutes of music, most of it even being previously unreleased or featuring extensions of various kinds. Coupled with extensive liner notes that include an extensive interview with the composer, this expanded release offers roughly all the music from the movie (or at least just about all youll ever need). My only criticism with this release is that it comes in a weird cardboard casing with the linernotes glued to the flipside, which already seems to have begun to warp and rip within just a couple of weeks of my ownership (and I generally try to keep my records and their cases in good condition). With that minor quibble aside however, the presentation of the music is perfect and is most certainly the only way to go for anybody wanting this score today. Overall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is not the score for you if you enjoy only Williams more heroic and romantic music, but as far as it goes is none the worse for it. While it is not quite as enjoyable than his more outgoing music, there are plenty of moments that are just a pleasure to hear and the finale is more than worth the purchase. In the end, this score stands in a unique position for Williams as he hasnt really written anything quite as modernistic before or since, only briefly breaking the mold in 2005 when he revisited the soundworld in War of the Worlds (though not quite with the same engaging power). This is Williams the way you dont often hear him like, and is as essential as the stars in the sky.
Amazon is at the moment selling it for the very affordable £5.97 with used copies going even cheaper.
Produced by John Williams / Shawn Murphy
Music Composed and Conducted by John Williams
Orchestrated by Herbert W. Spencer
Recorded by John Neal
Recorded at Warner Brothers Scoring Stage I, Burbank, CA
Music Editor: Ken Wannberg
1977 / Arista, 1986 (ARCD 8365)
Arista, 1998 (07822-19004-2)
Original 1986 album
1. Main Title and Mountain Visions (3:17)
2. Nocturnal Pursuit (2:34)
3. The Abduction of Barry (4:33)
4. I Cant Believe Its Real (6:33)
5. Climbing Devils Tower (2:29)
6. The Arrival at Sky Harbor (4:31)
7. Night Siege (6:22)
8. The Conversation (3:06)
9. The Appearance of the Visitors (4:49)
10. Resolution and End Title (6:51)
Expanded 1998 album
1. Opening: Let There Be Light (0:46)
2. Navy Planes* (2:07)
3. Lost Squadron* (2:23)
4. Roys First Encounter* (2:41)
5. Encounter at Crescendo Summit* (1:21)
6. Chasing UFOs** (1:18)
7. False Alarm* (1:42)
8. Barrys Kidnapping** (6:19)
9. The Cover-Up* (2:26)
10. Stars and Trucks** (0:44)
11. Forming the Mountain* (1:50)
12. TV Reveals* (1:50)
13. Roy and Gillian on the Road (1:10)
14. The Mountain** (3:31)
15. Who Are You People? (1:35)
16. The Escape* (2:18)
17. The Escape (alternate)* (2:40)
18. Trucking** (2:01)
19. Climbing the Mountain** (2:32)
20. Outstretched Hands* (2:48)
21. Lightshow* (3:43)
22. Barnstorming** (4:26)
23. The Mothership** (4:34)
24. Wild Signals** (4:12)
25. The Returnees** (3:45)
26. The Visitors*/Bye/End Titles: The Special Edition** (12:31)
* previously unreleased
** contains previously unreleased music
© berlioz, 2006
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Let There Be Light
3 Navy Planes
4 Lost Squadron
5 Roy's First Encounter
6 Encounter At Crescendo Summit
7 Chasing UFO's
8 False Alarm
9 Barry's Kidnapping
10 Cover Up
11 Stars And Trucks
12 Forming The Mountain
13 TV Reveals
14 Roy And Gillian On The Road
16 Who Are The People
19 Climbing The Mountain
20 Outstretch Hands
25 Visitors/Bye/End Titles