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Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Album Cover Art
1986 Arista
1989 RCA
Album 2 Cover Art
1990 Varèse
Album 3 Cover Art
1997 Lacombe
Album 4 Cover Art
1998 Arista
Album 5 Cover Art
2017 La-La Land
Album 6 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer
Labels Icon
Arista Records

RCA Victor (Gerhardt)

Varèse Sarabande

Lacombe (Bootleg)

Arista Records
(April 28th, 1998)

La-La Land Records
(November 28th, 2017)
Availability Icon
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 was long available used for about $5 to $7. The 1997 Lacombe release with very poor sound quality was a bootleg despite the fact that it claimed to be promotional. The 1998 Arista release with 20-bit digital mastering was 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 fetched as much as $50.

The 2017 La-La Land set is limited to 5,000 copies and available initially for $30 through soundtrack specialty outlets.
Winner of a Grammy Award. Nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Golden Globe.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... on the 1998 Arista or 2017 La-La Land albums with reservations, because such expansive presentations of the intellectually fascinating score fully reveal the challenging atonal ambience that John Williams wrote for the first half of the film.

Avoid it... on any of the albums for this score before 1998, for the sound quality of these products is significantly inferior and they might contain a horrendous disco version of the main theme that is best left forgotten.
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WRITTEN 5/11/98, REVISED 5/30/18
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: (John Williams) If not for the misfortune of being released later in the same year as George Lucas' massively epic Star Wars: A New Hope, 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 creative communication through lights, colors, and music. As such, Spielberg needed to identify a short musical motif early enough in production that he could use it during the preparation 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 classic Pinocchio melody to "When You Wish Upon a Star" in mind from the start as well, 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 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 just that iconic phrase. 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 discordant passages that accompany the kidnapping and mysterious hints of an alien presence, inspired clearly by the avant-garde musical techniques applied to films involving otherworldliness in the prior decade. The middle portions of the score alternate between this restrained sound and explosive action cues that foreshadowed 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 tonal melodies of Williams career flourish. The five-note communication motif isn't actually the main theme for the picture. Williams allows the wonder of the aliens to inspire the true primary identity, and that idea takes quite some time to announce itself. Alternately representing Devil's Tower (the majestic mountain in Wyoming 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 satisfaction 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. It receives an exuberant expression near the end of "The Escape." 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 this primary theme.

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Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1986 Arista Album Tracks   ▼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)
1989 RCA Gerhardt Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 54:18
1990 Varèse Sarabande Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 44:02
1997 Lacombe Bootleg Tracks   ▼Total Time: 58:29
1998 Arista Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 77:21
2017 La-La Land Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 153:02

Notes Icon
Williams & Spielberg
John Williams with Steven Spielberg, 1977.
The 1986, 1990, 1998, and 2017 albums contain extensive notes about the score and film. 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."

Copyright © 1998-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Close Encounters of the Third Kind are Copyright © 1986, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1998, 2017, Arista Records, RCA Victor (Gerhardt), Varèse Sarabande, Lacombe (Bootleg), Arista Records, La-La Land Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 5/11/98 and last updated 5/30/18.
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