Monday, February 18, 2008

Close Encounters Of My Own Kind

I didn't have Internet access for more than 24 hours, and it felt like I hadn't eaten for three weeks. It's a terrible thing, this technology. The computer has now become an extended limb. Are you hearing this, Mr Cronenberg?

Minor problems aside, I did manage to get a new adapter for the modem, so here I am back again. While my world wasn't wired temporarily, I sat and watched all three versions of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, thanks to the DVD box-set that arrived last week. Trust me, it was a gargantuan task.

And most of all, it reminded me of my own very strange UFO experience. But more on that later.

All three versions of Close Encounters - the theatrical cut, the Special Edition and the Director's Cut - have scenes removed and scenes added. Strangely, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and none is better than another. There's quite a bit taken out from the original theatrical version for the Special Edition, but one major addition occurs in both the Special Edition and the Director's Cut: the surprise discovery in the Gobi Desert. Other than that, the Special Edition takes you into the mothership to get a view of the alien cityscape inside, while the Director's Cut completely omits the scene at Roy Neary's workplace after the blackout.

Personally I like the Gobi Desert scene very much but could care less about the interiors of the mothership because it takes away a sense of the mystery, and also only Neary is privileged to see the inside and not us. But I find the theatrical version a bit more streamlined and has a better rhythm in its editing. Somehow the removal of the Gobi scene works. I guess different people are going to like the different versions for different reasons.

The extras are fascinating, with behind-the-scenes looks at the production and special effects, and some very interesting, sometimes laughable "failed" effects and deleted scenes. Lots of trivia too, like how Francois Truffaut's appearance in the film was a huge deal. He had reservations about his English lines, and sure enough, one of them is "They belong here more than we," which everyone thought sounded like "Zey belong here Mozambique" filtered through Truffaut's French accent!

There's one particular scene that got me feeling like Roy Neary, as in "Hey, I know that! I've seen it before!" There's a low-angle shot of Devil's Tower with the starlit night sky as the backdrop. You see star-like lights suddenly moving and then stopping.

Some years ago, I was having dinner with some friends at an al-fresco restaurant somewhere in Petaling Jaya. We had finished eating and were deep in conversation when I leaned back in my chair and looked up at the night sky. It was a clear night and the stars were out. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but I noticed a particularly bright object that looked like a planet. Somehow my eyes were drawn to it. I stared at it for a moment.

Then to my surprise, it started to move.

It moved some distance across the sky and then it simply disappeared. It couldn't have been a satellite or any man-made object, because it was static in the beginning, and because it suddenly disappeared after moving across the sky. And it was obviously a very faraway object, out there in space or above the stratosphere. The feeling I had was as if whatever it was had noticed that I was watching it, so it moved away and hid itself.

I wrote to one of the UFO research groups but they were of no help. They dismissed it as possibly a satellite or weather balloon or something. But of course, I never developed the urge to paint or sculpt a national monument. And I didin't get sunburned. I never heard a five-note melody in my head either.

Till today, I still don't know what I saw. I kept watching the skies afterwards, but never saw anything unusual. It remains the single, strangest, most inexplicable thing I ever witnessed.

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