- Alternative Character Interpretation:
- Is Roy a lovable everyman on a grand spiritual journey? Or a selfish, unstable jerk who abandoned his wife and children?
- Is Ronnie a sympathetic woman trying (and failing) to deal with her husband's eccentric behavior? Or a shallow, dismissive, self-centered woman that unfairly blamed Roy for destroying their family?
- Awesome Music: The communication music has forever been associated with films about aliens. Also, the score is done by John Motherfucking Williams. Case closed.
- For reference, the communication music is known as "Signals."
- Listen carefully for musical Shout Outs to Jaws (when the mothership is communicating with the Devils Tower base) and Pinocchio (when Roy is being led into the ship).
- The Special Edition of the main theme ends with a beautiful rendition of "When You Wish Upon A Star", which gets quieter and quieter, and at the end segues into a choir singing the five notes. One suspects John Williams wanted to sing the audience to sleep, and he did a good job of it.
- The "voice" of the mothership was done by Jim Self, a legendary tuba player in his own right. Spielberg used him because the skill and difficulty of playing the tuba gave the mothership a "human" characteristic.
- In fact, the film was edited after the music was scored — in other words, the music informed the editing, instead of the usual.
- Ear Worm: Bah bi bah bom baaaaaaa. That is all.
- Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: The film can be interpreted as a metaphor for a spiritual awakening and journey: An ordinary man (Roy Neary) has an experience with a higher power (encounters UFOs one night on the highway) that completely changes his life (becomes obsessed with UFOs to the detriment of his family and social life) and is subsequently compelled by this higher power (through a mentally implanted image) to make a pilgrimage to a predetermined location (travels to Devil's Tower, Wyoming) where he communes with the higher power (takes part in First Contact with the aliens) and is ascended into the heavens (departs with the aliens after being chosen to join them). Roy getting sunburned by the UFOs during his initial encounter marks his symbolic baptism from normal everyman to alien contactee.
- That is just exactly how many New Age devotees perceived it at the time, although they recognized Spielberg may not have deliberately planned it this way. In fact, the "New Age Movement" as we know it, with the Channeling and Starseed and so on, although existing in one form or another since the 1950s, was deeply influenced by this picture.
- Harsher in Hindsight:
- Six years after Close Encounters was released, Colorado suffered a real toxic-gas spill following a train crash that forced an emergency evacuation, much like the cover story that was used in the film to justify evacuating the Devil's Tower area.
- An example for Steven Spielberg himself: he mentioned on an interview in 2005 that the fact Roy abandons his family to be taken by the aliens at the end isn't something he would have added to the script, if he'd had made the film nowadays, now that he is a father himself.
- Hilarious in Hindsight:
- The humans who enter the mothership at the end are dressed in red jumpsuits and sunglasses, which in hindsight look like cheap versions of the aliens' outfits from the V1983 miniseries (in which the aliens did not turn out to be cuddly, friendly greys).
- That little ball of red light that was always lagging behind the other alien craft, but is much too small to be another craft with a pilot inside flying it? Now we all know what that was all along; it was an alien drone that was being remote piloted by the other craft as a "rear lookout" or "rear guard" for the group.
- Back in them days, sonny, we called that thar gizmo a "probe", but yeah, what you said is what fans assumed it to be at the time.
- Narm: The scene where Lacombe's research team finally communicates with the mothership can come off as fairly silly once you realize that the mothership's communication tones are just angry tuba noises.
- Retroactive Recognition:
- "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: The film has defined near any "alien encounter" stories from The X-Files to Independence Day. As a result a lot of the mood and imagery has been emulated to death, and it's harder to recognize how revolutionary the film was.
- Ship Tease: Roy and Jillian have chemistry and are bonded by their UFO experience. Generally downplayed, but towards the end of the film they actually do kiss and it's Jillian who tells Roy that it's OK for him to leave on the mothership. Of course the fact the two are married to other people means this falls into the category of an affair, albeit one under extraordinary circumstances.
- Signature Scene: The encounter at Devil's Tower is the movie's best known scene.
- Unintentionally Unsympathetic: At the end of the film it's implied that all of this was in order to make First Contact with the Human race, that the aliens are benevolent and want to be friends. Which is all well and good except they very explicitly have kidnapped people over the course of the last century. We don't speak to these people after they are returned except for Barry, who is a very young child and was only gone for perhaps a few months. These people are years out of time, their family and friends have moved on or died without them, never having known what happened to them. They haven't visibly aged, so they may not even know how long they were gone and are in for a nasty shock when they attempt to go home. We don't even know what was done to them while on the alien craft and it's possible Roy and the other astronauts are in danger.
- Values Dissonance: New Age faith in alien intelligence as a benevolent Higher Power, and in the sterile void of space as Heaven, doesn't resonate much any more (especially not after Alien), to say nothing of the hatred that comes down these days on a parent who abandons his family to pursue some other goal. That last point has been rather controversial, though, to say the least.
- Visual Effects of Awesome: The spaceships are still pretty damn impressive.
YMMV / Close Encounters of the Third Kind