RATING: MEH. YAY. MEH. YAY. I Don’t Know.
Okay. What are you doing reviewing a Steven Spielberg film on a blog called Movies You Don’t Care About? Spielberg movies are movies I do care about!
Very fair question and good point. I care about them too; after all, Jaws is my favorite film of all time. However, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is a movie that I feel is a very interesting one in his filmography. First off, it’s one of the few movies he directed that he has a sole writing credit on, making it the most unfiltered artistic vision he could give us. Second, I feel it’s often overlooked because E.T. is the better known (and arguably better made) alien movie that he made. Third, the whole film has a very meditative feel about it; it’s quite slow, introspective at times and it lingers on the wonder of the characters and the U.F.Os. If you take a closer look at his movies, you’ll notice he never made a movie in this way ever again.
Close Encounters is a movie I’m very conflicted on (if you couldn’t tell by the indecisive rating). I do like this movie a lot and think it’s a good movie, but it does have quite a few flaws. It’s actually safe to say that the amount of good things in this movie equal the flaws, but the good aspects of this movie are so fantastic. But I digress. Let me show you both sides. I always prefer getting bad news first, so I’ll save the positives for the end.
This movie has multiple storylines, and I would say it’s the movie’s main problem. The main plot is about Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a married electrician who has a close encounter with a U.F.O. Along with Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), whose son Barry (Cary Guffey) has been abducted, he goes on a journey to figure out exactly what happened to him. Pretty straightforward, right?
However, Spielberg wasn’t satisfied with just getting the everyman’s position on the U.F.O. phenomenon; he wanted to get it from everyone’s point of view. That includes the military, scientists, people in India and Mexico, etc. Now I do think he was right to want to paint the whole picture; after all, a U.F.O. landing on Earth would be a huge deal. Unfortunately, this worldly focus makes the movie feel a lot less personal. Thankfully most of the scenes are the Neary story, but when these other storylines come up, they’re a bit distracting.
Now I will give credit where credit is due. The 1970s “New Hollywood” films were known for their anti-authoritarian streak. However, there’s a scene where military officials are trying to make up an epidemic as a way to prevent common people from investigating Devil’s Tower (the place where the aliens are going to land). That’s probably the most biting and poignant piece of government satire of all the New Hollywood films. In addition, Spielberg has an uncanny ear for suburban living that mirrors Martin Scorsese’s ear for the streets of New York City. He really captures the chaos that goes on behind seemingly perfect suburban home, finding comedy and tragedy within.
Despite this… (read caption below)
Spielberg may not be much of a writer, but he’s a fantastic director in a visual sense. The night scenes have a romantic glow and the wordless awe that is captured has an uplifting feel. The mothership scene is a perfect example of that; it is one of the most breathtaking sequences not just in Spielberg’s career, but in the history of film. Spielberg may have treated the multiple storylines in broad strokes, but every thought and emotion of everybody from moment to moment is seen and felt. Spielberg has said that editing this sequence was the most difficult sequence he and his editor Michael Kahn have ever put together. Of course, the hard work paid off.
It also helps that the mothership has to be one of the most innovative and interesting looking spacecrafts in film. Unfortunately, the aliens that come out of that mothership look like bad imitations from 1950s’s science fiction films. Obviously, much more thought went into the mothership.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is what I would call a flawed masterpiece; scenes don’t add up, issues of plot logic, etc. However, its genuine heartfelt wonder and masterfully designed sequences are more present than the flaws. Despite its science fiction basis, this is probably the most accurate depiction of what an alien visitation would be like; chaos and confusion, but wondrous and thrilling.
Oh yeah and this iconic shot that’s probably on your DVD cover? It lasts maybe five seconds.