In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.
Two parallel stories are told. In the first, a group of research scientists from a variety of backgrounds are investigating the strange appearance of items in remote locations, primarily desert regions. In continuing their investigation, one of the lead scientists, a Frenchman named Claude Lacombe, incorporates the Kodály method of music education as a means of communication in their work. The response, in turn, at first baffles the researchers, until American cartographer David Laughlin deciphers the meaning of the response. In the second, electric company lineman and family man Roy Neary and single mother Jillian Guiler are among some individuals in Muncie, Indiana who experience some paranormal activity before some flashes of bright lights in the sky, which they believe to be a UFO. Roy becomes obsessed with what he saw, unlike some others, especially in some form of authority, who refuse to acknowledge their belief that it was a UFO in not wanting to appear crazy. That obsession ...Written by
Became one of the first films to have a "Special Edition" director's cut made when Steven Spielberg wanted to improve his original vision. See more »
As Roy is driving into the area to be evacuated and has the map up obscuring his vision, he is met with traffic leaving the area. However, when the camera changes the angle to show Roy's car avoiding the oncoming traffic, there are no other cars on the road ahead... given that the evacuation has been ongoing for at least 12 hours, the cars Roy meets leaving the area should not be the first. However, it's entirely plausible that these are either the latest batch of cars to be leaving the area, or that this road was just opened as an evacuation route. See more »
Is that it? Is that all you're gonna ask me? Well I got a couple of thousand goddamn questions, you know. I want to speak to someone in charge. I want to lodge a complaint. You have no right to make people crazy! You think I investigate every Walter Cronkite story there is? Huh? If this is just nerve gas, how come I know everything in such detail? I've never been here before. How come I know so much? What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people?
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In the 1980s special edition, the new musical edition features the end credits different, then the fades into well after the end credits to the black screen. See more »
Lost in the spectacle and suspense is a necessary character component
After "Jaws" launched him toward eternal fame in 1975, Steven Spielberg's follow-up film would tackle a bigger cultural phenomenon: UFOs. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was only the beginning of the director/producer's love affair with the possibility of life on other planets and the first to capture the magnitude of what first contact would be like with aliens in the era of emerging special effects.
But let's take a look at a film released just before it, in the same year (1977) in fact. A little film called "Star Wars." More than 30 years later it might not be fair to compare to the two, but the truth is that one film was about producing a big-budget cash-eating spectacle while the other was fulfilling the dream of a filmmaker to tell an amazing story in a world never before imagined. "Star Wars" has heart and "Close Encounters" has nothing but our attention.
It's hard to knock a film made before I was born in an era where I can't appreciate it for what it was at the time, but there are a lot of fundamental storytelling principles simply left out of this story that one cannot overlook. Visual effects, cinematography and Spielberg's knack for crafting great cinematic moments aren't enough to cover up barely existent character motivation.
I've read that Spielberg has regrets about the ending of this film, that his main character, Roy (Richard Dreyfuss), wouldn't make the choice he makes in the end. I have to agree -- and it's symptomatic of his entire film. Roy is a normal suburban Indiana family man who we don't know much about. Then his truck stalls and he has a close encounter with some kind of UFO. Suddenly he's a madman, being haunted by images of a mesa, ruining his familial relationships. He's driven as if by some other force to go all the way to Wyoming to figure out what it's all about.
Spielberg has us at that last bit of figuring out what it's all about. Roy, on the other hand, and the mother of a child who was "abducted" (Melinda Dillon) are just inexplicably possessed and driven to madness by a vision of a mesa. Roy going crazy and throwing dirt into his kitchen window or randomly sitting in the tub with the shower on for hours keeps our attention, but there's little sympathy going on because we really have no idea who he is. The ending scene of the film is much the same way. It's this drawn out scene of VFX spectacle and flashing lights and John Williams music but it's only a climax in that awing sense and in finally delivering what the film has been hiding from us the whole time. It is not a climax of great character realization (or at least epiphany that makes sense). It can be completely basic, like Luke Skywalker trusting the force, believing in his destiny and then becoming victorious, but it still has to be there and resonate with us in some way.
I certainly recognize some of the brilliant scene work Spielberg does throughout parts of the beginning and the latter half of the film, but there's a reason this is not a classic for all generations: great movies, especially sci-fi films, tell stories that transcend bad special effects or any other inhibitors and "Close Encounters" is about making a suspenseful film, not telling a deeply human story.
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