Juxtaposition Blogathon: Double Features: CE3K = Jaws with BEMs instead of Bruce
Have you ever thought that Close Encounters of the Third Kind is really nothing but a remake of Jaws? No? Well, what’s the main difference? Instead of a giant shark that keeps popping up and killing people, CE3K has giant flying saucers that keep popping up and abducting people.
Still skeptical? Please continue.
1. Just like the shark, we see the saucers bit by bit. In Jaws, instead of seeing the shark all in one go, we see signs of the shark: bodies and buoys that are pulled down below the waves, shark bites on bodies, giant shark jaw skeletons. Most ominous of all, a shark fin. It’s well into the film before we see the whole shark. (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”) It’s the same for the flying saucers and aliens in Close Encounters. We see a giant ship in the desert, pots and pans shake and rattle in a kitchen, blinding lights, smaller flying saucers, etc. before we see the mother ship itself near the end of the film. (For what it’s worth, the fancy words for this sort of thing, showing the parts instead of the whole, or showing something that’s related to the thing instead of the thing itself, are synecdoche and metonomy.)
2. Both films have characters who represent science and expertise. In Jaws, it’s Richard Dreyfuss. In CE3K, it’s Francois Truffaut. Both films also have an everyman character who in the end wins out in some way over the expert. In Jaws, it’s not Dreyfuss who kills the shark; it’s Sheriff Brody, who not only knows little about sharks, he doesn’t even like water. In CE3K, it’s not Truffaut who is chosen to go with the aliens, but Dreyfuss, a simple lineman for the county.
3. Many people are called, but few are chosen. In Jaws, the shark affects many people, and there are many who attempt to claim the shark bounty reward, but in the end only three make the journey that destroys the shark and only two of them survive. It’s the same in Close Encounters: many people throughout the world have images seared into their minds and are drawn to the Devil’s Tower landing site, but only one, Richard Dreyfuss, is rewarded with a cosmic journey with the aliens. (I like to read this as a metaphor for movie marketing: we are drawn by images planted in our brains by movie marketing to movie theaters where we are transported to another world by films made by aliens from planet Hollywood. It also works as an allegory for Spielberg’s escape from suburbia to Hollywood where the stars live. Then there are those who see the shark in Jaws as a symbol of Hollywood, but that’s another matter.)
4. Some critics think that CE3K is a remake of Firelight, a film that Spielberg made when he was a teen. I haven’t seen Firelight, so I’m sticking with Jaws. It’s more fun.
So there it is, my little compare and contrast exercise proving that: