Close Encounters of the Third Kind review
If there is one that that has always excited Steven Spielberg, is the possibility of aliens. While I personally don’t share that same passion, I can see how one could do so given how the don’t know about the universe. Sure we’ve developed satellites that can measure the scientific aspects about space and we’ve come up with technology that can take high resolution photo’s of galaxy’s millions of miles away, but as a species, we’ve only begun to tap into the total mystery. I’ll admit that as a kid, I’ve prepared for the possible arrival of aliens and what they could do with our plant, but Spielberg was one of the few people that saw coming to Earth to study us with the same optimistic curiosity.
Now if Duel, The Sugarland Express and Jaws started the development of the “ordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance” trope that Spielberg loves to use, then Close Encounters of the Third Kind is where it feels most prominent as the story’s subject (it’s even quoted towards the end of the movie). What was the true challenge here was that this had to come out after Jaws, which was so big of a movie that it created the “Summer Blockbuster Season” that’s still a big deal for the studios.
The opening scene first eerily sets up our creatures as a bunch of scientists, including French researcher Claude Lacombe (played by François Truffaut) having found several WWII planes in the Sonoran desert and had never aged, as if they were picked up yesterday. We also see a little boy who wanders out of his farmhouse to follow whatever causes his toys to move on their own, forcing his mother Jillian (played by Melinda Dillon) to chase him. We then finally come across our main character Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss).
Roy is a blu collar electrical lineman who goes out to respond to a series of blackouts that happen in his Indiana town. While getting to his next job, an unseen force starts shaking the area and even lifts his truck in the air before bright objects fly away. Roy becomes obsessed with the UFOs that came to him, much to the chagrin of his wife Ronnie (played by Teri Garr). He keeps seeing visions of a mountain and continues to build it from his mashed potatoes to his garbage. Once he figures out where the mountain is, he travels to it, even though the US government has ordered an evacuation, making it hard to get there and seeing what the deal is with the alien.
The best parts of the movie are the first half hour and the final half hour. The buildup and moments that lead to Roy’s encounter are a well-done build a lot of unknown curiosity. Unfortunately, the further investigation that Roy does is not that interesting. I think a lot of it has to do with how much Spielberg puts a lot of focus on the family and their disbelief on the encounter.
I think it also has to do with Roy, who may be a common man, but is nowhere as memorable or interesting as Roy Scheider in Jaws. What’s missing is both a fear to overcome and more developed personality. The film practically makes up for the boring middle part by making the final arrival of the aliens so spectacular and creative, I myself was in awe. It’s almost in silence and captures that joy one would find when aliens do arrive. I ended the movie with a smile on my face, yet had a hard time trying to remember Roy and his own investigations into the creatures.
I’ll give this three and a half musical projectors out of five. You could say that Close Encounters of the Third Kind truly sets the enchanted, whimsical tone that Spielberg tends to use whenever he’s doing a family friendly movie. The final encounter itself is worth experiencing, but it takes a little too long to get there.