It’s easy for me to understand why “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a classic. This movie held two big surprises for me, along with a lot of other things to admire.
First were the special effects. This movie was made in 1977?! That’s a little hard for me to believe. The effects here seemed at least as good as the original (and not digitally remastered) “Star Wars,” which came out the same year. Like Star Wars, it could only have used models and forced perspective. Am I crazy if I think one or two of the effects here might have even been better? There are several scenes where the smaller (scout?) spacecraft appear to revolve 360 degrees in midair, with remarkable depth and the appearance of a three-dimensional object. Isn’t this at least as good as many sequences In Star Wars, with its more static shots of ships seen from only one angle? (In retrospect, I don’t know if the version I saw of “Close Encounters” was itself remastered or “improved.”)
Second … was my favorite TV show of all time a rip-off of a 1970’s Steven Spielberg movie?! I couldn’t believe how directly the 1990’s’ “The X-Files” seemed inspired by this – right down to an international government cover-up. “The X-Files,” of course, was a horror-thriller series, while this is a family film – which did rob it of a lot of tension. How much suspense can we really feel if we know that this material is suitable for all ages? Indeed, the worst thing to happen to any of the major characters we follow is that he falls asleep from knockout gas.
To make things even more fun, I swear I saw a cameo by (an extremely young) Lance Henriksen, who had a guest appearance on “The X-Files.” (He’s one of the scientists at the end.)
There was more about this movie to like a hell of a lot too. Richard Dreyfuss is a damn good actor. So, too, is Terri Garr – despite dialogue that makes her sound like a hysterical shrew. (Cary Guffey was also a great child actor.)
The script is smart, with characters sounding like we’d expect them to sound. Scientists are human beings who get excited over amazing discoveries, instead of being amoral automatons and devices for exposition. The kids here sound and behave like KIDS, a lot like the characters behaved in the later “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.” And the film did a great job of juxtaposing Dreyfuss’ everyman plight with larger global events witnessed by a range of other characters.
Plus, “Close Encounters” was just plain fun. I’m not big into family movies, but even I’ve got to admit, Spielberg really does project a sense of wonder here. This seems like a great film with which to get a pre-teen interested in science fiction.
I had a few quibbles, but they were all forgivable.
- Several characters suffer unexplained “sunburns” after being near spacecraft, and then joke about it. This was 30 years after Hiroshima. Why on earth are they not terrified? If my skin burned after my proximity to strange object, I’d panic.
- One character demonstrates an incredible lack of vigilance with respect to her son.
- If a government conspiracy is so vast and resourceful, wouldn’t it make at least some effort to identify and monitor those who have had “close encounters?”
- If you think about it, the aliens actually do a Very Bad Thing. Aren’t lives destroyed by their abductions? It’s 30 years later for the returning humans, who never consented to be absent. Yet we see little concern about this – or even a single sidearm in evidence in the movie’s final scene. Wouldn’t this be an especially horrible oversight considering the nature of the scientists? They’re presumably earth’s best and brightest – perhaps even the best qualified to inform us about defending against an alien invasion. Wouldn’t it kinda suck if they were all abducted?
- A newspaper headline misspells “kidnapping.” (Sorry — I’m a former news reporter, and I can’t get past it.)
- Am I crazy, or does Dreyfuss’ character share a romantic kiss with a woman who is not his wife? This seems slightly out of place in a Spielberg movie.
- Dreyfuss’ choice at the end reflects nary an afterthought about his wife and children.
Still, this is a great movie – I’d give it an 8 out of 10.