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
In a new technique, the special effects were produced in 70mm. A live action shot which would later have a special effect added would also be shot in 70mm. The rest of the film was shot in 35mm. When the 70mm special effects shot was overlaid on the 70mm live action, the overall graininess was the same as normal, non-effect 35mm film, thus matching the rest of the film, even after the completed film was blown up to 70mm prints. This was to avoid the effect Steven Spielberg had noticed in previous effects-laden films, where the viewer instinctively knew when a special effect was coming up, because of the change in the grain of the shot. See more »
During the first scene with the Nearys, Ronnie is sitting in a chair holding items she had removed from the breakfast table. The camera angle changes to Roy asking the boys to choose between goofy golf and Pinocchio. The angle changes back to Ronnie who is still sitting in the chair but is holding Sylvia. See more »
Near the end of the credits it starts to reads as follows: "During the filming of all animal sequences, H.L. EDWARDS, Veterinarian of Gillette, Wyoming, was in attendance at all times to aid the filmmakers and the anesthetist in proper treatment of the animals used, and at no time were the animals harmed or mistreated in any way." See more »
A print of the film screened at the American Cinematheque (Los Angeles) several times features most of the Special Edition's edits, but also includes the Roy's tree-tossing sequence and his climb through the window. What's missing from this version is all of the footage from inside the spaceship. See more »
Mankind encounters numerous UFOS for the first time in this uneven but memorable outing for writer / director Steven Spielberg, who'd become a hot property after the major success of "Jaws". Here, Spielberg personalizes the story by focusing on Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a line worker and basic Everyman character who becomes a man obsessed after his own close encounter. He becomes determined to unravel the mystery of an enigma that persists in his life. In the company of a single mother named Jillian (Melinda Dillon), he travels to Wyoming where a history making event will take place.
At approximately two and a quarter hours, Spielberg could and should have tightened this a bit, and he unfortunately tends to distance us from Roy by making the guy so flaky. When his wife (Teri Garr) takes their four kids and leaves him, he gets over it in record time. His behaviour is, overall, bizarre and destructive. But one thing that the director successfully conveys is a true sense of wonder. The visual effects are truly impressive, and the events are given great scope by having so many people be witness to the extraordinary extraterrestrial activity. John Williams, as usual, does a very nice job with the music, even if his score here isn't as iconic as his best known works. The finale is the absolute best part, as it has a genuine otherworldly quality.
His character may not always be so relatable, but Dreyfuss delivers an effective, deeply committed performance. He's surrounded by very fine actors and familiar faces. Placed front and centre is an investigator played by the well regarded filmmaker Francois Truffaut ("Fahrenheit 451"). Bob Balaban, Roberts Blossom, Lance Henriksen, George DiCenzo, Josef Sommer, Carl Weathers, Bill Thurman, and John Dennis Johnston all turn up as well. Cary Guffey is adorable as Dillons' son, just one of many abductees.
While this won't become one of this viewers' personal favorite Spielberg films, it IS a very impressive achievement in some ways.
Seven out of 10.
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