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
The version of Close Encounters that you've seen on TV or video may not be the best version. For years I had watched a TV version of the film that combined parts of the theatrical cut and the special edition and I felt like it was decent, but somehow it seemed edited by an amateur. I chalked it up to a 70s approach towards special effects movies that lingered too much on visuals without having a plot. Decades later I finally watched the 1977 version on Blu Ray and realized it really was a much better film. Apparently, Mr. Spielberg was pressured to finish the film quickly and he wanted to spend more time on some scenes but it looks like the studio pressure was a gift. The 77 version of the film is more coherent and enjoyable. If you read the reviews that say the Richard Dreyfus character is obnoxious and unlikable, chances are that the reviewer saw the special edition (or a TV version that adds footage from that version into a poorly edited version of the film). Whichever version you watch, the character does have family problems but in the 77 version, you have scenes of Dreyfus on the job, some shorter scenes of him having a meltdown at home, and the pace isn't as slow because of Spielberg (or someone?) reshuffling other scenes to add the pointless Gobi Dessert sequence. Basically, it isn't just the fact that some scenes are a little shorter or longer, its the placement of those scenes. Brian De Palma once got a complaint that the pool hall scene in Carlito's Way was too long. But he said if felt longer because it was missing some shots that would make it more suspenseful. He added those shots, showed it to the studio, and they thought it was a shorter scene. Spielberg is usually great at creating suspense, but sometimes he messes it up. His original cut of Close Encounters got it right. It's the only version that I think really qualifies the film as a classic.
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