I've been listening a bit this week to John Williams's amazing score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the other classic score he wrote for a sci-fi film released in 1977. (If you don't know by now what the other one was, I can't help you.) Williams's CE3K music is quite different, as it is mostly by turns either atonal, or haunting, or militaristic during the "Government agency" scenes. Only gradually does a lyricism emerge from the score, becoming stronger and stronger, beginning really with the introduction of the famous five-note "Communication with the aliens" theme. Gradually Williams stitches all of this together into an amazing tapestry of emotion that is one of his more overwhelming efforts.
This is a well-produced suite of tracks from the film, edited together very convincingly into a pretty nifty listening experience.
A few annotations:
0:01: The score opens with the swirling music that plays as the teevee reports of the disaster at Devil's Tower appear, leading Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler to separately realize that their visions of some strange mountain are of a very real place.
1:30: Roy and Jillian drive cross-country into the Wyoming back woods to try and get closer to Devil's Tower.
2:12: Roy and Jillian see Devil's Tower, in person, for the first time. "I can't believe it's real!"
What follows is some suspenseful music as they continue driving into the back woods. At about 4:15, they drive past four 'dead' cows. Now they're taken by the military and processed, with Neary being questioned by Lacombe and Loughlin.
6:40: The 'conversation' between the electronic music synthesizer and the mother ship.
10:52: The terribly sad scene where Roy thinks he's going insane. "This means something...this is important." (The subtext with Roy's family is awfully troubling, really. His wife is completely justified in thinking that he's utterly lost it, but of course, he hasn't. Now, it's never established at the end of the film how long he's going to be off with the aliens, so I don't completely buy into the notion that he's ditching his family forever. But what does poor Ronnie Neary think when she reads the next day's newspaper?)
13:25: The 'returnees' begin emerging from the Mother Ship, abductees who have been missing, in some cases, for decades (the pilots of Flight 19). Among them is little Barry Guiler, who is reunited with Jillian at the 15:14 mark.
15:35: Back to the beginning of the film. The mysterious crescendo ending in a smash as we open in the deserts of Mexico.
16:00: And back to the film's finale, as the ETs come down from the Mother Ship and begin interacting with the people gathered at the Devil's Tower landing site. Roy Neary is taken away to be prepared to join the astronauts who are being allowed to go. Note "When You Wish Upon a Star" at 17:03.
17:41: The ETs choose Roy Neary. More "When You Wish Upon a Star". Neary looks back; Lacombe urges him to go. He meets Jillian's eye, and then goes up on board.
19:00: The main ET greets Lacombe; they exchange the hand signals at 20:20. Here Williams starts letting the "Alien Communication" theme take over; where it was strange and haunting before, now it's plaintive and beautiful.
21:05: All the aliens go back on board. The music begins to swirl as the Mother Ship prepares to depart. We arrive on a gorgeous chord of resolution that holds as little Barry Guiler says, ever so perfectly, "Bye."
22:17: Oh, wow. End titles over what might be the most perfectly gorgeous finale of John Williams's career. When he lets that Alien Communication theme peal forth, complete with bells, it is one of the greatest moments in the history of movie music.