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Close Encounters Of The Third Kind: Daddy Has Lost It

By Karel Segers

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DADDY HAS LOST IT

In the Simpsons episode Homie The Clown, Homer forms his mashed potatoes into a circus tent.

If this moment was lost on you, you're probably a whole lot younger than me. I'll fill you in.

Back in 1977, I started a movie scrap book and the first entry was the cover of the lifestyle mag featuring the Devil's Tower from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. I wasn't allowed to see the movie yet as my parents thought I was too young. I was twelve, go figure…  Times have changed.

When I finally did, the movie awakened in me an obsessive fascination for cinema and astronomy... plus a hint of ufology, be it rather short-lived.

THEME

Many movies of the mid to late seventies showed people's eroding faith in authority and religion. Some were turning their attention elsewhere for hope and guidance, even to the stars. It was the time when people like Carl Sagan became gurus for many, including the young teenage boy I was.

Today it surprises me how little of a sci-fi movie Close Encounters really is. The best scenes are pure family drama, telling the story of Roy Leary, a failed father who never grew up. Steven Spielberg reiterated this theme - less successfully - fourteen years later with Hook.

THE MOVIE MOMENT

When one night Roy sees a UFO, it takes over his life. Like a kid he drops everything - including his family - to chase his new obsession. Wherever he goes, he sees the same mountain-like shape until no-one can ignore his madness. He scoops potato mash on his plate… and more… and more. Then he does what every baby does: he starts playing with his food.

It's only the start of Roy's madness. Soon he transforms the entire lounge room into a building site. The mountain grows larger and larger as Roy wheels in barrow-loads of soil and bricks, as if it were an absurdist stage play. By this time his family have left him.

Then, another movie moment occurs. While Roy is on the phone, we see the exact same mountainous shape Roy has been building replicated on the TV screen. When Roy notices the shape too, he realizes he has to visit Wyoming.

STRUCTURAL CHALLENGE

At this point we finally reach the end of a first act that lasted for no less than seventy eight minutes.

Waiting this long until our hero knows what to do next is asking much from today's ADHD kids.

If the movie still works after thirty-five years, it is thanks to Spielberg's supreme mise en scene, his play with mystery and suspense and his wonderful actors direction. You will never forget the genuine wonder on Barry's face (Carey Guffey) when he watches the aliens. And then there's of course Richard Dreyfuss playing with his food.

About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and Logline.it!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.

 

Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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