Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

I guess aliens really do like Simon Says.

Somewhere out in the rural lands of Indiana, giant UFOs sweep around and cover the sky, capturing everybody’s attention and imagination. One such person who is most definitely captured the most happens to be Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a married father-of-three who, after witnessing the unidentified flying object, gets a “sunburn” from its bright lights. From here on out, Roy is hooked and will not listen to a single person who tells him everything he saw was nothing more than his mind playing tricks on him. And because Roy refuses so much, not only does he lose his job, but he also runs the possibility of losing his family, too. Meanwhile, a single mother, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), is having issues keeping her young son in line and in check, especially now all he seems to do is be chasing after the UFO, and now makes them, or better yet, him, a target for them. All while this is going on, French and American scientists get together to figure out just what it is that these aliens want and most importantly, how to communicate with them in a simple, but peaceful way.

Still have no clue what this is.
Still have no clue what this is.

A part of me really wants to love Close Encounters because of the special place it holds in the history of film. It’s one of the first big-budget, mainstream extravaganzas to deal with aliens, UFOs, and science fiction in a realistic and humane way where we weren’t actually terrified that the aliens were going to take over our planet, kidnap our families, and ruin our lives, but wondering, quite simply, “What?” What do they want? What are they doing? And really, how can we communicate with them to where we can not only just get along, but build for a better future where, possibly, humans and aliens can live alongside one another in perfect peace, love and harmony.

For that, Steven Spielberg deserves a lot of credit.

He also deserves a lot of credit for not backing down when it comes to approaching the hard realities one person can face when they are absolutely, positively so willing to dedicate their lives to some sort of belief, that they grow mad. In the case of Richard Dreyfuss’ everyman, Roy, this happens when he believes that he sees a UFO and that they’re going to set up shop on their planet. However, because nobody around him believes him, he loses his mind and therefore, acts out in so many freakish, nearly insane ways, that you can’t blame anyone for wanting to pack up their stuff and leave as soon as he started making some sort of creation with piled-up mashed potatoes at the dinner table.

Then again, you sort of can. Spielberg is smart enough not to blame any character in particular, or make someone more of a villain than others, but what he does do is show that these characters don’t believe Roy, even if he most definitely is correct. Still, at the same time, none of us actually know what to expect with these aliens, or what their motives may be, so while we’re watching Roy loosen his grip with reality, we’re constantly wondering about the cost of it all and whether or not this is actually for anything. Even amidst of all the crazy, sometimes entrancing spacey sci-fi stuff, Spielberg never forgets that there’s a human heartbeat at the center of the story, no matter how crazy or whacked-out it may be.

And oh yeah, the visuals, even by 1977’s standards, are still pretty solid.

Having watched this on my flat-screen in the year 2016, it’s hard to really judge a movie’s special-effects based solely on what’s out and about in today’s day and age, but really, they still work. Not only does Spielberg seem like he’s having a lot of fun featuring huge, canvas-filling spaceships cover-up a solid majority of the screen, but he also enjoys the sounds, the bloops, the bleeps, and the brangs they make, even when it seems to take over every other sound in the movie. But really, that’s sort of the point; these spaceships are so ginormous, that they block out any sound, loud or not, to the point of where it’s the only thing you’re going to ever hear.

So yeah, the movie definitely deserves my respect, however, there’s a feeling that it maybe goes on way too long.

Uhh, what?
Uhh, what?

Most of this has to do with the fact that the scientist/government stuff, as well as Melinda Dillon’s character, really gets in the way of the meat of the story, which is Roy and his connection to the unidentified flying spaceship. I understand that it’s perhaps necessary and a nice add-on to tell these two subplots, along with Roy’s, but really, they get in the way of the emotion, the tension, and most of all, the impact that the final shot ultimately has. Every chance we get to spend with Roy, his middle-class family, and his slow, but sure descent into insanity, the movie breaks away elsewhere to either the government and Dillon’s character – all of which break the momentum the film’s clearly building on, all up until the final shot.

In fact, I’d say that you could have a very good movie without Dillon’s subplot altogether. Of course, this leaves Spielberg without something of a possible romantic love-interest for Roy by the end, but it wouldn’t matter because it would cut down on some time and not really interrupt the main flow of the movie. Nothing against Dillon, as she’s very good in this somewhat tragic role, but her character doesn’t offer-up much except a bunch of yelling and crying that’s not totally needed.

Same sort of goes for the scientist/government stuff, although not to the same certain extent.

This subplot offers up at least some interesting avenues into the way the movie approaches the idea of the UFO, without ever trying to get too conspirator-y. Of course, because this is a Spielberg film, the government can’t be trusted, which is fine to talk about, but really, this was an idea better explored in E.T. and it doesn’t always hit the kind of strong notes that Spielberg clearly wants them, too. That said, this inclusion is still pertinent to the story and helps with that powerful, but surprisingly majestic ending.

So yeah, hate me now. I guess.

Consensus: Close Encounters of the Third Kind may not be the ultimate Spielberg class it’s made out to be, but still features him in his element of blending eerie, but interesting sci-fi stories, with heartfelt, intimate ones about humanity.

8 / 10

"They're here!" Oh wait, wrong movie.
“They’re here!” Oh wait, wrong movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire


  1. I haven’t seen this film in a while, but I remember thinking it was interesting enough but not overwhelming. May have to revisit someday. Nice review, Dan.

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