Support Filmtracks! Click here first:
iTunes (U.S.)
eBay (U.S.)
This Week's Most Popular Reviews:
   1. Romeo & Juliet
   2. Hobbit: Unexpected Journey
   3. The Phantom of the Opera
   4. Lady in the Water
   5. Harry Potter: Sorcerer's Stone
   6. Moulin Rouge
   7. Gladiator
   8. Titanic
   9. LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring
   10. Thor: The Dark World
Newest Major Reviews: Best-Selling Albums:
   1. Chappie
   2. Fifty Shades of Grey
   3. Night/Museum: Secret/Tomb
   4. The Imitation Game
   5. Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies
   1. Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
   2. City of Ember
   3. Jack the Giant Slayer
   4. Indiana Jones Collection
   5. King Kong Lives
Section Header
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1986 Arista

1989 RCA

1990 Varèse

1997 Lacombe

1998 Arista

Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

1998 Album Produced by:
Shawn Murphy

Labels and Dates:
Arista Records

RCA Victor (Gerhardt)

Varèse Sarabande

Lacombe (Bootleg)

Arista Records
(April 28th, 1998)

Also See:
Star Wars
Raiders of the Lost Ark
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Jurassic Park
The Towering Inferno
The Empire Strikes Back

Audio Clips:
1998 Album:

1. Opening: Let There Be Light (0:15):
WMA (105K)  MP3 (124K)
Real Audio (77K)

11. Forming the Mountain (0:25):
WMA (166K)  MP3 (203K)
Real Audio (126K)

23. The Mothership (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (245K)
Real Audio (152K)

24. Wild Signals (0:30):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (243K)
Real Audio (151K)

The original 1986 Arista and 1990 Varèse Sarabande albums are both out of print and difficult to obtain, however they are virtually identical in content. The only difference is that the Varèse album includes the horrible disco version of the theme (it appears at the end and makes up the entire total-time difference between the two).

The 1989 RCA Gerhardt album is available used for about $5 to $7. The 1997 Lacombe release with very poor sound quality is a bootleg despite the fact that it claims to be a promo. The 1998 Arista release with 20-bit digital mastering is called a "Collector's Edition." The first 50,000 copies feature chromium-printed packaging with the insert notes glued to the back of the front cover. That album is now also out of print and has fetched as much as $50

  Winner of a Grammy Award. Nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Golden Globe.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
•  Printer Friendly Version
Used Price: $17.00

Sales Rank: 52525

Buy from

or read more reviews and hear more audio clips at

  Compare Prices:
 1998 Album:

eBay Stores
(new and used)
(new and used)

iTunes ($9.99)

 1989 RCA Gerhardt:

eBay Stores
(new and used)

  Find it Used:
Check for used copies of this album in the:

Soundtrack Section at eBay

(including eBay Stores and listings)

Buy it... on the 1998 Arista album with reservations, because despite being the best presentation of the score, it features far more of the atonal ambience that John Williams wrote for the first half of the film.

Avoid it... on any of the releases of the original score before 1998, for their sound quality is significantly inferior (and they might contain a horrendous disco version of the title theme).

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: (John Williams) If not for the misfortune of being released later in the same year as George Lucas' Star Wars, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind may have resonated with the same kind of appeal in memory. While both films feature science fiction stories at their best, as well as wide-ranging Oscar nominations that both recognized John Williams' music, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is by far a more contemplative and, at times, quite scary alternative to alien introductions. The Spielberg story combined fears of alien kidnapping with the uncertainty of facing and communicating with a far superior species. While the suspense of the story dominates its first half, the actual military encounter with the aliens at the end is conducted successfully with the help of communication through lights, colors, and music. As such, Spielberg needed to identify a short musical motif early enough that he could use it during the production of the film's final half hour. While already yielding an Oscar win for the composer, the collaboration between Williams and Spielberg was still in its infancy, and Williams had to convince studio executives that he was far enough along with Star Wars to contribute his best to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He sat down with Spielberg several times for the specific purpose of conjuring and agreeing upon the five-note greeting that humans would use to solicit a response from the aliens. Williams had the theme to "When You Wish Upon a Star" in mind from the start, and he would eventually weave that tune into the last minutes of his score, but despite Williams' request to be able to use seven or eight notes to form the greeting, Spielberg was steadfast in placing the five-note limit. After all, greetings are meant to be succinct and it's no coincidence that the word "hello" is five letters long. Williams ran through hundreds of permutations and neither man was satisfied with the results. After several sessions, Spielberg chose one out of frustration and, ironically, it was the successful and famous motif known to the world today.

Although almost all of the attention given to the music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind involves that five-note motif (and to some degree, rightfully so... It makes such a dramatic impact in the story of the film), Williams' score for the picture is far more complex than that. While Star Wars was a straight forward space opera from start to finish, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a score with three distinct parts. The first act of the story offers lengthy sequences of atonal and dissonant passages that accompany the kidnapping and mysterious hints of an alien presence. The middle portions of the score alternate between this restrained sound and explosive action cues that would foreshadow rhythmic, orchestral harmony to come in Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The final third of the score, opened by the famous communication sequence, is where the familiar harmonic melodies of Williams career flourish. The five-note communication motif isn't actually the title theme for the picture. Williams allows the wonder of the aliens to inspire the true title theme, and that idea takes quite some time to announce itself. Alternately representing Devil's Tower (the majestic mountain at which the aliens are to be received), this theme first forms cohesion with the help of a choir in "Forming the Mountain" and especially "TV Reveals." As Richard Dreyfuss' character (Roy) sculpts the peak from memory and finally learns of the name and location of the mountain, Williams unleashes a grand crescendo of harmony with the choir in the latter cue. The lush romanticism that defines this theme is first provided in "The Mountain," as the film switches to its final location. Audiences will most likely recall this theme's lengthy, flowing performances after the alien exchange, for the theme and its concert arrangement occupies the finale and closing titles. While the arrangement that Williams' takes with him on concert tours gives a distinct nod to the five-note communication motif, most of its running time is devoted to the primary theme.

The government cover-up and military presence is provided with rhythmic flurries and slightly more coherent suspense before the final confrontation. The "Navy Planes" and "Lost Squadron" cues are somewhat understated (to match the surrounding material), though the material in "Roy and Gillian on the Road," the latter half of "The Mountain," and "The Escape" is a precursor to the tumultuous brass movements of Jurassic Park and, more interestingly, The Witches of Eastwick. The military motif in "Stars and Trucks" and "Who Are You People?" is a precursor to the chase music in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Two versions of "The Escape" exist, with the version not used in the film offering the better action material while the final version actually used has a short statement of the title theme with an upbeat spirit and xylophone accompaniment that reminds of the opening to The Towering Inferno. The two-note theme of wonder that precedes the title theme in "Forming the Mountain" is the score's only other major recurring idea. The mass of the atonal material early in the score is difficult to enjoy, and it's frankly why the score is often forgotten in relation to Star Wars and Superman on either side of it. The opening cue is the one exception; Williams allows the orchestra to stew with atonal noise for thirty seconds before unleashing one, grand harmonic hit from the full ensemble to coincide with the title. Like the crashing start to Bernard Herrmann's Cape Fear, this smart tactic definitely gets a crowd's attention. For color in the early cues, Williams also employs the choir to produce inconsistent noise, as well as the low tuba blasts that the alien ship communicates with at the end. Parts also feature synthetic elements that mimic the sound effects that accompany the smaller alien ships that pass overhead earlier in the film. The conservative approach to the score's early sections has a surprisingly strong hold on the score well into the Devil's Tower scenes, with the actual landing of the mothership treated with musical caution. As such, the vast majority of the music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind remains turbulent and unsure.

Overall, most casual film score collectors will be best served by one of the numerous, lengthy suites that Williams has himself recorded for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The score simply contains too much atonal, ambient material to be a full-length listening experience for the vast majority of mainstream fans (and even, perhaps, for a moderate Williams collector). A notable aspect of the score's history on album is the 21 minutes available via a Charles Gerhardt re-recording with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. For years, Gerhardt and the NPO had recorded famous film scores from mostly the Golden Age of Hollywood, but as a few of their final collaborations, Gerhardt recorded the three classic Star Wars scores near the times of their release. Included with the December 1977 recording of Star Wars, five major cues from late in Close Encounters of the Third Kind were offered as well ("Barnstorming," "Arrival of the Mother Ship," "The Pilot's Return," "The Visitors," and "Final Scene"). Released on LP at the time, a CD version of the recording was remastered and released in 1989. The outstanding quality of this Gerhardt recording, mixed into Dolby Surround for the CD, remains among the best available sources of music from the score. In its original form, the score has seen several releases through the years. Its first CD release came from Arista in 1986 and offered 40 minutes of music that included a variety of material heard badly merged together and, in some cases, arranged specifically for the album. Four years later, Varèse Sarabande released essentially the same album but added a disco version of the theme at the end; this disgraceful variant of Williams' themes is, like others that came before and after, an insufferable reminder of the worst of 1970's pop culture. Sound quality on the two early releases is identical. A 1997 bootleg added eighteen minutes of material, but at the expense of sound quality; at times, it's unlistenable.

1998 Album:
Only $9.99
In 1998, to coincide with the film's "Collector's Edition" release in video stores (and on laser disc... Remember those cumbersome beasts?), Arista returned to the score and assembled a definitive 77-minute collection of original and complete cues, arranged them in film order, and remastered each one from the source tapes. It also has alternate, un-used cues for multiple scenes, and features only three tracks that were available in their entirety before (on commercial releases). The original conversation between the human keyboard operator and the mothership is included as well, and although it's fun to listen to once, it can get on the nerves after about a minute. Use it on that pesky roommate of yours early in the morning when he or she is just entering the prime phase of a hangover. Luckily, Arista dumped the disco track. Some incidental cues didn't make the cut either, but realistically, there's nothing more a fan of the score and composer could ask for. The sound quality is distinctly improved and a lengthy interview with Williams conducted at the time of the film's resurrection is transcribed for the colorful booklet. In short, the other three releases of the score can't compare. To avoid confusion, it should be mentioned that Arista did press two variants of their 1998 album; the first 50,000 copies of these were called a "Collector's Edition" to coincide with the film's relaunch and they feature chromium-printed packaging with the insert notes glued to the back of the front cover (which is, in reality, a bit irritating). In the end, Close Encounters of the Third Kind may have been overshadowed by Star Wars and Superman in an incredible 18-month time span for Williams, but the score still stands on its own as one of Williams better known. When the United States government included the five-note communication motif as one of the welcoming messages it transmits in the direction of distant worlds, the score's status was confirmed. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Score as Written for Film: ****
    1986 Arista release: ***
    1990 Varèse Sarabande release: ***
    1997 Lacombe bootleg: *
    1998 Arista release: *****
    Overall: ****

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 337,522 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.77 Stars
Smart Average: 3.56 Stars*
***** 865 
**** 534 
*** 398 
** 203 
* 181 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   music project
  project -- 8/2/13 (10:52 p.m.)
   Fear of the 5-note motif
  Trinette Rani Johnson -- 12/6/11 (12:39 p.m.)
   Re: Wonderful
  Michael Björk -- 10/10/08 (1:43 a.m.)
  Eric G -- 9/23/08 (5:07 p.m.)
   Re: Star Trek backwards
  CS_TBL -- 8/5/07 (12:24 p.m.)
Read All | Add New Post | Search | Help  

 Track Listings (1986 Arista Album): Total Time: 40:53

• 1. Main Title and Mountain Visions (3:13)
• 2. Nocturnal Pursuits (2:31)
• 3. The Abduction of Barry (4:28)
• 4. I Can't Believe it's Real (3:18)
• 5. Climbing Devil's Tower (2:05)
• 6. The Arrival of Sky Harbor (4:27)
• 7. Night Siege (6:18)
• 8. The Conversation (2:19)
• 9. The Appearance of the Visitors (4:49)
• 10. Resolution and End Title (6:51)

 Track Listings (1989 RCA Gerhardt Album): Total Time: 54:18

Star Wars:
• 1. Main Title (5:43)
• 2. The Little People Work (4:55)
• 3. Here They Come! (2:07)
• 4. Princess Leia (5:07)
• 5. The Final Battle (7:18)
• 6. The Throne Room and End Title (8:03)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind:
• 7. Barnstorming/Arrival of the Mother Ship/The Pilot's Return/The Visitors/Final Scene (21:04)

 Track Listings (1990 Varèse Sarabande Album): Total Time: 44:02

• 1. Main Title and Mountain Visions (3:13)
• 2. Nocturnal Pursuits (2:31)
• 3. The Abduction of Barry (4:28)
• 4. I Can't Believe it's Real (3:18)
• 5. Climbing Devil's Tower (2:05)
• 6. The Arrival of Sky Harbor (4:27)
• 7. Night Siege (6:18)
• 8. The Conversation (2:19)
• 9. The Appearance of the Visitors (4:49)
• 10. Resolution and End Title (6:51)
• 11. "Theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (3:09)

 Track Listings (1997 Lacombe Bootleg): Total Time: 58:29

• 1. The Police Chase the U.F.O.'s (1:49)
• 2. Cosmic Kidnapping/Secret Preparations (2:52)
• 3. Fake U.F.O.'s (4:06)
• 4. Breaking Road Barriers (1:24)
• 5. I Can't Believe it's Real/Dead Animals (3:10)
• 6. Abandoned Planes in the Desert (4:09)
• 7. More Forces Arrive/The Helicopter/Escape! (2:12)
• 8. Up the Mountain - Cropdusting (2:25)
• 9. Over the Mountain (3:04)
• 10. The Stars Move! (3:45)
• 11. Night Siege (6:16)
• 12. Arrival of the Mother Ship (4:24)
• 13. The Conversation (2:51)
• 14. Return of the Captives/Return of Barry (3:38)
• 15. The Aliens Appear/The Head Alien/Original Finale (11:34)

 Track Listings (1998 Arista Album): Total Time: 77:21

• 1. Opening: Let There Be Light (0:48)
• 2. Navy Planes * (2:07)
• 3. Lost Squadron * (2:23)
• 4. Roy's First Encounter * (2:41)
• 5. Encounter at Crescento Summit */*** (1:21)
• 6. Chasing UFOs ** (1:18)
• 7. False Alarm * (1:42)
• 8. Barry's 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 Cue) */*** (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 Title: The Special Edition **/*** (12:31)

* previously unreleased
** contains previously unreleased music
*** not used in the film

 Notes and Quotes:  

Williams and Spielberg
John Williams with Steven Spielberg, 1977.

The 1986, 1990, and 1998 albums contain extensive notes about the score. Those from the first two albums are included below. The 1989 RCA Gerhardt album contains no information about the film, score, or recording. The 1998 Arista album includes an interview conducted with Williams at the time of its release.

The following is an early statement from Steven Spielberg:

    "One day John Williams told me something I never would have imagined... that creating a musical score for a nearly compeleted motion picture is far and away more frustrating than creating an original symphonic composition that never has to conform to the beats, measures, and boundary layers of a screen story, but instead flows freely from the composer's imagination as he tells his own story from start to finish. This is perhaps why much of John's music for Close Encounters of the Third Kind is so airborne and awe inspiring. He actually started work on musical ideas two years before Close Encounters was finalized, basing his impressions on the unfinished script and dinner conversations we would have twice a week.

    In many instances, John wrote his music first, while I put the scenes to it much later. Because of the complicated special effects that adorn the final 35 minutes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, John found himself composing to blank leader months before the effects were finished and cut in. This was a challenge to both of us, but it liberated John to score freely -sans coitus interruptus- and inspired me in reconstructing certain visuals to the final music.

    John became more than just a composer for hire. He was a creative collaborator in all phases of post production, spending every day for fifteen weeks in the mixing studio and editing rooms. He taught me about underrated Russian composers and good German wines, and I taught him how to pace the hallways and how to eat junkfoods.

    John's freedom of choice is evident in every selection on this album. Once again John Williams has taken a motion picture and interwoven his own musical story - telling skills to create higher levels of beauty and suspense His music for Close Encounters goes beyond simply allowing the listener to recall his favorite scenes but stands on its own as a serious symphonic achievement - timeless and without restraints."

The following is a note from Kevin Mulhall in the 1990 album:

    "In 1977, John Williams singlehandedly revived popular interest in symphonic film music. His scores for George Lucas' Star Wars and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind were both commercial and critical successes, and introduced the sounds of a symphony orchestra to a new generation of filmgoers. For Close Encounters, Williams discarded the lietmotif approach that worked so well in Star Wars, opting instead for a developmental score that progresses from the pure atonality of the "Main Title" to the breathtaking romanticism of the "Resolution and End Title." In between the composer offers a myriad of textures, motifs, and themes that illuminate Spielberg's visionary magic and childlike spirit while proceedingwith fluid logic. Whether it be the driving B-note motif in "Mountain Visions," the haunting theme in "I Can't Believe It's Real," or the orchestral turbulence of "Night Seige" and "The Abduction of Barry," the portrait painted by Williams' complex score is mysterious and inspiring.

    For "The Conversation," Williams developed a musical language that enabled the mother ship and ground crew to communicate. Williams and Spielberg listened to 150 permutations of the central 5-note motif before deciding upon the one finally used. As the pace of the conversation quickens so does the music - perhaps the most memorable case of "overlapping dialogue" in film history, and a telling instance of Williams' art.

    By now it is well known that Spielberg edited the final act of the film to williams' music, a rare case where the editing of the visual image was dictated by the musical structure. As a result, the music achieves a form of considerable substance. Indeed, Williams has said that the best directors are musical: "I think part of what they do is musical. The art of editing film is a musical art. At the base of both these entities is rhythm." The end of the film is a perfect marriage of sound and visuals - at no time is there an image unsuitable for sale in a signed, limited edition. Williams' dramatic submersion is so complete the finished score stands on its own as a complete symphonic work, one of the finest composed in the 1970s.

    John Williams has worked with Steven Spielberg on no less than 11 occasions, in films that wouldn't have been the same without his unseen presence. Their association includes The Sugarland Express (1974), Jaws (1975), 1941 (1979), The Indiana Jones Trilogy ('81/'84/'89), E.T. (1982), Empire of the Sun (1987), and, most recently, Always (1989). By allowing Williams to become an integral and equal partner in his creative planning, Steven Spielberg has proven that he is one of the few directors who instinctively comprehends the function and emotive impact of music in films. Although Williams admits we don't know much about how music affects ourreactions in a clinical or scientific sense, his music has influenced the psychological responses of audiences throughout the world, in these and dozens of other films since he began scoring features in 1960. Williams' music has helped elevate Close Encounters to a classic example of the affective power of the cinema. In doing so, the composerhas also affirmed the value of film as an important vehicle for serious musical expression."

  All artwork and sound clips from Close Encounters of the Third Kind are Copyright © 1986, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1998, Arista Records, RCA Victor (Gerhardt), Varèse Sarabande, Lacombe (Bootleg), Arista Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 5/11/98 and last updated 4/15/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1998-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.