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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For my taste, the first hour and a half of this movie is the greatest
stretch of filmmaking ever. Up until Roy and Jillian reach the "dark side
of the moon" on Devil's Tower, this movie is perfect. No, it's beyond
perfect -- it's sublime. It takes me to a level of bliss that no other
movie can do.
Many critics and viewers -- including a number on this site -- don't like this movie at all. Those who do like it almost uniformly like the final sequence, the "alien landing," the best. For me it is the rest of the movie that is the most remarkable. Some of my favorite sequences:
1. The blinding flash of light that ends the opening credits and leads us to a sandstorm in Sonora Desert, Mexico -- Present Day, with various team leaders, Bob Balaban, and Francois Truffaut speaking three languages as they find a whole bunch of old Navy planes lost in the Bermuda Triangle and an old geezer who saw something very strange. "El sol salio a noche. Y me canto," he keeps saying. Translation: "He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him." Then Balaban translates for Truffaut: "Il dit que le soleil etait venue ici hier soir, et qu'il chantait pour lui." Then Balaban disappears in a cloud of dust. The mystery created in that sequence is incredible -- the greatest opening of all time, if you ask me. Trivia note: that sequence was the last Spielberg filmed before the movie's release. The shooting script opens with Indianapolis Flight Control, but Spielberg decided he wanted a new opening and shot this after production had wrapped. Supposedly this sequence was inspired by the Iraqi prologue in the Exorcist.
2. Roy's first encounter with the aliens in his power company truck -- a brilliantly conceived and edited sequence. I love the dolly in to Roy's window as he pants in shock in the shadows, then the comedy of his reaction when the lights in the truck come back on.
3. The "sky speeders" disappearing into the clouds over Muncie, followed by lightning and then the lights of the city coming back on, bit by bit. Spielberg's use of miniatures here is breathtaking -- as it was in 1941 and as it is later in CE3K when the UFO believers gather again to await another encounter and the lights from the government helicopters move toward them across the plains below.
4. The entire sequence of Roy going crazy. This was controversial with critics -- Pauline Kael, who loved the movie generally, hated Roy throwing the bushes into the kitchen -- and Spielberg actually cut the entire digging up the garden sequence from the so-called "Special Edition." To me, though, this is the absolute heart of the movie. Ask people what they remember from CE3K and the first thing they'll say is "mashed potatoes." To my mind, the garden sequence is one of those magical moments that is so funny and so sad it's just perfect. I believe every second of it, every time. The reactions of the kids are perfect -- the oldest son is big enough to be angry, while the middle says, "Dad, when we're finished with this can we throw dirt in my window?" (In the dinner sequence, little Sylvia has arguably the best line in a movie full of them -- "I hate, I hate these potatoes. There's a dead fly in my potatoes." An ad lib, of course.)
In recent years, Spielberg has expressed concern with the fact that Roy leaves his family to pursue the aliens, and has said that if he were to make the movie over again, he would change that part. To my way of thinking, if you take that out, there is no movie. What this movie is really about is Roy's obsession, and that, I think, is why it has such a hold on me personally. This movie is about what it's like for a person whose life has lost its meaning suddenly finding there is a really important purpose, and pursuing that purpose at all costs. Is it right for him to turn his family's life upside down and ultimately leave them behind to do that? No. But his obsession is understandable, I think, and the purpose Roy finds is something a lot of people would like to feel. Also, it's clear that Roy is not acting entirely of his own free will -- he has been "commanded" subliminally to make his way to Devil's Tower.
I am not aware of any other movie -- or book, or any other source, for that matter -- that portrays 70s suburban life so accurately. The street, the house, the cars, the toys, the furniture -- it is like an archeological document. And the way the kids act, and the family conflicts -- to my way of thinking, they are all portrayed with unerring accuracy and realism. Some have contended that Ronnie is unflatteringly portrayed, but to me that's not fair. She can't be blamed for reacting the way she does to Roy -- many people in her shoes would. Garr's performance is brilliant; she and Dreyfuss are magical together. Melinda Dillon, too, is brilliant in her role. In the shooting script, the sexual attraction between Roy and Jillian was more overt, but Spielberg wisely downplays it in the finished film. It's only hinted at, although it is there.
The actual "alien landing" sequence, in my opinion, is a letdown. It's brilliantly photographed and realized, but once Roy and Jillian make it to the dark side of the moon, the primary tension in the story is gone. If I could edit this movie, I'd take a major pair of shears to the final sequence, cut it down to maybe half its current length. I do get choked up when I see Roy in his red suit at the end of the line of astronauts, though, and Jillian wiping tears away as she clicks away with her Kodak.
As with the original Star Wars, my other all-time favorite movie, I have a problem with the way this picture has been hacked and altered from its original release through various special editions. I understand it's possible to watch the original 1977 cut on the DVD, and I'm glad of that. That original version is the best. I first got to know this movie on ABC in the early 1980s, when it was shown with all the original and Special Edition footage edited together. Personally, I don't think the special edition footage adds much (even the Gobi desert sequence, which is an interesting concept that was in the shooting script, stands out because it was obviously shot by a different DP and doesn't have Truffaut in it).
Anyway, I will always cherish this movie. "You tell Crystal Lake we're going to candlepower in ten minutes!" "Zey belong here more zan we." "There's always some joker who thinks he's immune." "You can't fool us by agreeing with us." "What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people?" "Ronnie, everything's fine. All this stuff is coming down."
An amazing film, one of my favorites. I watch this regularly,
especially at times when the reality of life is overwhelming, just to
refocus and regain some sense of perspective.
Everything in this film works toward one end: to transform the adult sense of fear back into the childlike sense of wonder at the world. From the very opening moments of the film, designed to create confusion and startlement, this movie creates a sensation of dread and foreboding. The dissonance of the soundtrack, the juxtaposition of images, they all are working to build into the viewer a feeling that something just isn't right, that something out of the ordinary is taking place, and underscoring this all with a sense that this is something to resist, to pull away from, to not allow it to affect one's "ordinary life."
But as the movie progresses, the tone begins to shift, and the true intent of the film begins to peek through. This isn't about being afraid of the unknown, but rather embracing it. Paying attention to the "subliminal images" in life, allowing them to lead you into something unknown and perhaps dangerous, only then can one be open to wonder and experience the world through the magical eyes of a child.
Dreyfuss' character takes us on this journey, met with resistance all along the way. His wife, his neighbors, his job, his community, all are working against him, and it's only when he's reached his craziest that he truly gives in and begins to stop trying to understand and instead embraces the experiences in store for him. The scientific community is seeking to understand, but without having any personal calling to be involved. Only Barry is truly able to throw himself into the strangeness that is taking place, and his enthusiasm is greeted by both the characters and the audience as somehow alien and threatening.
The ending of this film, when all the fear is finally stripped away and the sense of amazed wonder overtakes everyone on the screen and in the audience, brings about an amazing catharsis. Discarding all the "adult" sensibilities and being able to approach life once again with a sense of innocent amazement for the Strange hidden amongst the Ordinary, one can begin again to approach life from a fresh vantage point.
Powerful, mystifying, and rejuvenating. I highly recommend this film for anyone jaded with life and seeking a sense of renewal.
Steven Spielberg has made huge popcorn blockbusters that gross more
money at the box office (i.e. "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," or
"Jurassic Park") and are more exciting on a visceral level. As he as
aged and matured as a director, he has also made movies that are more
important and will hold a more solid place in the chronicles of film as
an artistic document of history (i.e. "Schindler's List," "Saving
Private Ryan," and "Munich"). For my money, his best film will still
always be "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." This film is
Spielberg's humanistic and heartfelt answer to Kubrick's intellectual
and cerebral look at man's first contact with life from elsewhere in
the universe in his 1968 opus "2001: A Space Odyssey."
"Close Encounters" came early on in Spielberg's career, made in 1977, and has all the hallmarks of his later films played just right before he became so self-referential. Here we have his typical bag of tricks long before they became so typical: familial strife, coming to terms with something bigger than oneself that challenges the male protagonist's view of the world around him, little kids in jeopardy, superb build up of suspense, fantastic visual effects, and a memorable score from John Williams. From the first UFO sightings in Muncie, Indiana to the fantastic finale at Devil's Tower in Wyoming, this is grand entertainment. Lots of films have emulated this movie to varying degrees of success, from Robert Zemeckis' earnest "Contact," to the shameful scam that was M. Night Shymalan's "Signs," and even Spielberg himself recently did the dark natured flip-side to benevolent alien encounters with his remake of "War of the Worlds" (which makes a fantastic double-feature with this). However, nothing compares to this true original. No other film has made me want to believe in aliens more, and I'll never look at a plate of mashed potatoes the same again.
This movie, besides being dreadfully boring, suffers from two bizarre assumptions. One, that advanced beings are less aware of how their actions effect more primitive forms. Two, that their forms of organizing knowledge are identical with our own. The first is also found in THE MOTIONLESS PICTURE, they cannot tell scans from weapons attacks, though we, the primitives can. Here, they burn faces, terrorize a single mom, almost burn her house down and abduct her little boy. We are supposed to believe that they are that advanced and are oblivious to the consequences, moral and scientific, of their behavior. The deduction is unavoidable either they are: 1. malevolent or 2. Retarded. On earth, it is an empirical fact that the higher up the chain of mammal life we go, the greater the awareness of our actions on other creatures, not less. Here, as in the MOTIONLESS PICTURE, they tool about kidnapping children, burning faces, planting the image of the Devil's Tower in monkey boys heads which tortures them and causes them to freak out and go bananas. Does this sound like benevolent aliens to you?
The second one we see in the last half hour of the movie. As in CONTACT, where we hear Ellie tells us that math is the only truly universal language. What is the evidence for that assertion? Kant shows us that the forms of unifying the phenomenal into categories like causation, plurality are simply our ways of making sense of the phenomenal world and have not reality outside of our minds. Why would we assume their minds work like ours? Notice that imitation is not communication. No communication occurs in this movie only we play back and they play back. Nothing more than if we played Little Deuce Coupe to them and they played it back to us. What happened? nothing but mindless mimic behavior. The same with the silly hand gestures, what just took place?
Beyond these subtleties, the movie is one of the most boring pieces of crap you will ever endure. The effects have not aged well; as one great reviewer wrote, they do look like lighted ice cream cones. You will not enjoy watching Roy and his family come apart; or Roy turning the living room into a mud room, literally. It is an ugly, boring film. Seeing the little boy and his mother terrorized and then the little boy abducted, sorry, these actions do not bespeak benign, kind aliens. Forgive me, it came out after STAR WARS and it was so apparent to us, at the time, it was an attempt to cash in on that movie. It is just different enough but you get the point. Ironically, Carpenter did the same thing to Steven with STARMAN right after E.T. The movie is not esoteric it is absurd and incomprehensible deliberately I believe. Q.E.D.
Watch the skies, you may see the stars move. Is it your imagination, or
did it really happen. Answer to that could go both ways. Three UFOs fly
past you while you are on the highway, one bright blue, the other red
and blue, and the third bright orange, followed by a small red orbit
tailgating it. Was this real, or just your imagination: Either it was
real, or you must be seeing things...
Thus is among th many questions asked in the Steven Spielberg UFO classic, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" a film that explores not just the possibility that we are not alone in the universe, but a film that compels us to look inside ourselves and try to find the real meaning in our lives. The story starts when lost pilots planes are being found, except that they have been lost for over thirty years! And in another part of this world, a married man, working for a cable company, experiences a "close encounter" of the first kind - sighting a UFO. Then, he experiences physical experiences regarding a shape and place he has never comprehending before. With a scientific expedition in pursuit, Roy Neary( Richard Dreyfuss) and a fellow "close encountering" Jillian Guiler(Melinda Dillon) try to find out the answer to their questions of why these strange occurrences are happening.
As realistic as it could be, this film transcends the usual alien picture because it portrays the unbelievable as totally realistic and what one wouldn't expect - intelligent life is just that - intelligent, and accepting, of our world and universe. The images in this film light up the screen and make you feel like you are living a dream, with flurry images of light, making one feel warm and gentle. The locations are great too, as they go from Mongolian deserts, to farmlands, to the famous "Devil's Tower" in Wyoming, where the main magic happens.
The characters are what really grab you. Roy Neary, the main focus, is as normal as he can be, what with working for a power company. A perfect fit in the puzzle this movie weaves. Francois Truffaut makes an almost rare appearance in a much bigger role than usual, as an astronaut that is just as fascinated with these happenings as the rest of the civilians. All characters are credible and you just learn to love 'em. The story lines (including family values, what is more important in one's life, and what the ultimate experience in heaven is) are as empathetic as it can get.
John Williams scores a masterpiece with a score that touches all the senses in our subconscious and takes us on a journey with the characters, but on a journey within ourselves, as does the movie, and in the end, you feel refreshed and ready to take on your troubles and strife.
The matter of which version is which is a real conversation piece. As the original theatrical version is VERY rarely seen, one suspects, based on many reviews, that the 1980 re - release is a much better film. But this should not hinder any viewings of this spectacular film.
Spielberg, get back to these kinds of films!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
* 1/2 star out of ****
Keep in mind Steven Spielberg is my all-time favorite director. I love so many of his works, whether it's powerful drama (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Amistad) or fun escapist action films (the Indiana Jones films). But with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I was hugely dismayed by how dull, plodding, predictable, and outright stupid this film was.
The fact is, the film contains so many annoying little flaws that all combine to bring the whole thing down. Probably the most damaging aspect is the predictability of the story. It takes 2 hours for the film to get to where I knew it was headed, and the resolution was most definitely not worth it.
Richard Dreyfuss (who you'll probably confuse with Bob Balaban because of their similar looks), who is a decent actor in his own right, is disappointing as Roy Neary, whose character is so crazy and unlikeable, the experience of watching the film becomes numb. The fact that he decides (spoiler) to leave his family behind to go with the aliens is unbelievable, nowhere near as convincing as Jodie Foster's and Gary Sinise's decisions to explore the stars in their respective sci-fi dramas, Contact and Mission to Mars, two vastly superior films.
Close Encounters also suffers from some rhythmless pacing. Everything moves slowly, and nothing really interesting occurs. Granted, the finale is a visual treat, and the aliens do look realistic, but it's surprisingly dissatisfying. There's nothing here truly worth watching.
The script, written by Spielberg himself, isn't particularly compelling. The dialogue is a little weak, the character development misfires, and attempts to inspire a sense of awe are smothered by some really odd music from John Wiliams (a contrast to the brilliant scores of Alan Silvestri and Ennio Morricone in, once again, Contact and Mission to Mars). Talk about a time when this film could have used one of those two composers or James Horner instead.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hated it when it came out, still feel the same. Pure fantasy, not to be confused with real science fiction. "The Burbs" of UFO movies. Hard to take this one seriously. And with all due apologies to Mr.Spielberg, who has made a number of great movies, but this ain't one of em'. There's nothing compelling, or intriguing about this flick and it's quite silly actually. I doubt that was the intent. Impossible to muster any sympathy for Richard Dreyfuss' character. He appeared to be having a little too much fun with his "obsession." Either that or he was warming up for his part in What About Bob. Melinda Dillon was quite good though in a contrasting role. And (spoiler alert) please people, escaping from the grasp of the military on a top secret installation and actually allowed to get away so they can take a peek at that horrible giant Fisher-Price synthesizer and watch the pretty UFO's dart about all dressed up in their finest Christmas season trim! I don't think so. If you're ever out in Vegas, take a run up to Groom Lake where you will likely be greeted very rudely if you trespass the signs that read "Lethal Force Authorized." That basically means shoot first and ask questions later. Good alternative to Disney for the kiddies. 4/10
Strange things are happening around the world; things that challenge the
imagination and open the mind to possibilities almost beyond imagining.
Things that only director Steven Spielberg can explain, which he does in his
monumental epic of man's encounter with alien life, `Close Encounters of the
Third Kind.' Planes lost in WWII suddenly appear in a Mexican desert; a
long lost ship turns up in the middle of the Gobi Desert; and in Dharmsala,
Northern India, hundreds of people are gathered together, singing--a short
`tune' that consists of a mere five notes, over and over, repeatedly. When
they are asked where they heard this tune, the throng, as one, dramatically
thrust their hands into the air and point to the sky. And, indeed, in the
skies all around the world, strange things are happening.
And even as these events are transpiring, one evening in Muncie, Indiana, the city is suddenly blacked out by an inexplicable power outage. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is at home when it hits, and he is called in by the power company for which he works, then sent out in the darkness to an unfamiliar location. Lost, he sits in his pick-up truck at a railroad crossing, studying a map, when all at once he notices a `disturbance' around him. Mailboxes along the side of the road are clanging open and shut by themselves; then things inside his truck begin to move, subtly at first, then erupting and flying about as if caught up in a tornado--and then just as suddenly his truck is engulfed in a blinding light. He leans out the window for a look, but it's too bright and he has to pull back. Then just as abruptly, it all stops-- the disturbance, the light-- everything. And he looks out the window again; but this time he sees something. And though he doesn't realize it at the time, at that moment, his life changed forever.
In this wonderfully realized, highly imaginative film that is extremely well crafted and presented by Spielberg, he takes you along with Roy in the days that follow that strange occurrence in Muncie. Roy becomes lost in thought, drifting, unable to focus on anything, much to the consternation of his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr). But he can't help himself; something-- an image-- has begun to form in his mind. He has no idea what it is or what it means, but it becomes an obsession, and slowly it begins to take shape: First in a handful of shaving cream, then in a plate of mashed potatoes, which he piles up and begins to sculpt with his fork, while Ronnie and his kids look on in bewilderment. But he can see it in his mind, and it's like a mountain-- a mountain shaped like a `tower.' And Roy isn't the only one. Around the world, others are being drawn to the same image in their minds, and it's a force that compels them, pushing them on to find whatever it is, a power so strong in cannot be denied or refused. They know only one thing: Whatever it is, it's important, and they have no choice but to follow where it may lead. And it becomes a great adventure, one in which they discover what Man has long suspected: We are not alone.
Richard Dreyfuss is perfectly cast as Neary, a regular guy-- he could be your neighbor or the man who comes to install your phone-- and gives a thoroughly convincing, introspective performance while creating a character with whom it is easy to relate and through whom you are able to share this unique adventure. Garr does a good job, as well, as Ronnie, the wife concerned with her husband's sudden and seemingly bizarre behavior, someone with whom you can certainly sympathize. Dillon delivers, too, as the single mother who suddenly finds herself caught up in these inexplicable and extraordinary events, and also turning in a memorable performance is the young Cary Guffey, as Barry, Jillian's son, who makes his own connection with the other-worldly visitors.
The supporting cast includes Francois Truffaut (Lacombe), Bob Balaban (Laughlin) and Lance Henriksen (Robert). An uplifting, positive motion picture, `Close Encounters of the Third Kind' is thoroughly entertaining, as well as thought provoking. Spielberg draws you in as few filmmakers can, with a great story and with characters who are readily accessible and with whom it is easy to identify-- all of which adds up to an absorbing, memorable and enjoyable experience, and a perfect example of the real magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.
When I saw this first in the theatre I was blown away. It affected me
profoundly. I thought the whole concept was fresh and new, the family
strife, the yearning for and then actively seeking a higher concept for
one's life, the mental breakdown of the main character as he tries to
visualize what's inside his head: messages from alien beings.
Richard Dreyfus, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, all perfectly cast. Along with Cary, the child actor who is brilliant.
As a microcosm of life in the seventies, the film is amazingly evocative, the perfect young family suburb, the children, the stay at home wife, the backyard barbecues. The husband who is a dreamer and when he starts to act it out, shatters this perfect home life.
Then the action moves to the mountain where the aliens are preparing to land. This scene got me in the theatre and gets me now. It is highly emotional. The music, the lights, the response of the mother ship. Highly charged cinematic moments.
However, and it is a big one. The transition of Richard Dreyfuss's character is far too sudden, he turns his back on children he obviously adores without any reflection whatsoever. How on earth would they survive in a seventies world without his income? Also Bob Balaban and Richard Dreyfuss are almost twin like in appearance and I kept getting them mixed up.
Francois Truffaut gave a fine performance as did many of the minor players. And the special affects - way before modern CGI - are breathtaking for their time.
Sometimes one is better leaving a movie seen in a theatre on its release exactly there: a one time viewing only. Seeing it for a second time removes the wonder and awe of that first viewing.
I would have given it a 9 the first time, this time a 6 so I calculated a 7 out of 10 to be fair.
This is probably considered "a classic" by now, along with a few other
1970s Steven Spielberg movies. At the time of its release almost 30
years ago, the special-effects in here were astounding to view....and
still hold up! They are still fun to watch.
The scenes in the beginning of this movie and at the end, are indelibly imprinted in my memory cells as well as millions of others. Who can ever forget that opening scene in the farmhouse when the little boy (Gary Guffey) is kidnapped or that ending with the gigantic spacecraft hovering over Devil's Hole in Wyoming, or the sound sequences emitted by the scientists trying to communicate with the aliens? There are many, many memorable scenes in this film - probably its biggest attribute.
To me, the only uncomfortable scene is the yelling match with Richard Dreyfuss and his family. The only message I didn't care for also involved Dreyfuss' character, who is "envied" at the end. Funny, I don't see a man who thoughtlessly leaves his family beyond as someone to be envied. Overall Dreyfuss looked more like a "Doofus" in here.
There are other credibility problems in here, too, but overall it's extremely interesting storytelling, great colors and special-effects and just about everything that director Steve Spielberg is noted for in his successful box-office films which translates to one crucial factor: entertainment.
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