Close Encounters of the Third Kind

poster_closeencountersofthethirdkind

I think I did like Close Encounters (it’s hard for me to dislike anything involving alien contact), but it’s not what I expected. It’s slower than I thought it would be, and less actioney. It took me awhile to get through, and it took longer than I thought for the aliens to actually show up. I was a bit impatient, really, it’s more my fault that the film’s. I guess I just expected some more action from Spielberg here, but that’s not really what he’s dishing out. Which is fine, but it was a bit off putting for me and might be for others as well.

In the first stage of the film, the human race is just beginning to become aware that there are life forms beyond Earth. Old planes and ships turning up in the desert catch the interest of Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) and Laughlin (Bob Balaban). There are power outages all over the place. A young boy, Barry (Cary Guffey) is kidnapped from his home. It takes the aliens twice to get him, but get him they do. His mother, Gillian (Melinda Dillon) is searching for him. The mysterious light from the spaceship has left a sunburn on half of her body.

shipinthedesert_closeencountersofthethirdkind

The other major follower of the aliens in the film is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss). He is called out to fix the power and the same sort of things start happen. One of the UFOs flies over, his truck and his equipment starts going crazy and then turns off, he looks out of his window and sees a mysterious light. What I love about this scene is that Spielberg has a car drive up behind to pass Roy, who is stopped trying to find his way. When the spaceship shows up, it looks a lot like the headlights of the car that just passed. It’s easy to assume that Roy is imagining what is happening to him. Though half of his face gets sunburned as well, a tell tale sign of witnessing aliens. Afterwards he is never the same. A bunch of other people have witnessed this too, and they all seem to have the same thing on their minds.

It becomes an obsession with most of them. Gillian pursues this to find her son again, painting the gigantic mountain over and over again. Roy prefers to sculpt it, which comes in handy later. Lacombe and Laughlin are making the rounds, talking to people who have witness the aliens. They seem to have found a way to communicate with them using music. They find that a lot of people have been having visions of the same mountain, and are feverishly reproducing it artistically as Gillian and Roy have been doing. They decide to clear the area by telling everyone there’s a bunch of nerve gas around there, and set up a receiving pad for the aliens complete with a giant board with flashing colorful lights synchronized to music to signal them with. Roy and Gillian meet up there after they discover the mountain they’ve been seeing is actually a real place. All that’s left is for the aliens to show up.

mountainsculpture_closeencountersofthethirdkind

That’s the problem I had with this film. For some reason, I though the aliens would be a lot quicker to reveal themselves than they actually were. It literally took the whole film for them to show up. For most of it, all you really have is crazy stuff happening like the power going out, a bunch of crazy people trying to get to the mountain, a bunch of lights flying around, and me watching it thinking the payoff must be really good. Don’t worry, it is. It just takes a long time to get to it. It’s kind of like Star Trek: The Motion Picture; it’s a very slow build up to a very satisfying ending.

Don’t try to tell me this film was not influenced by 2001 on some level. Spielberg and Kubrick were good friends, plus 2001 is a classic anyway, so it seems reasonable to go with the similarities I saw. They call the receiving pad they set up on the mountain, “the dark side of the moon” and it looks a heck of a lot like the site on the moon colony in 2001 where they discover the monolith. Speaking of the monolith, the fact that the aliens choose a giant slab of rock for their landing place seems to hearken back to the giant slab of rock in the older film. I’m not sure if it was intentional or anything, but they reminded me of 2001 while I was watching it.

spaceship_closeencountersofthethirdkind

The aliens seem to be peaceful, but Roy’s obsession with them was really worrying me. It causes his wife to get panicked, leave, and take their children away with her. While it’s sort of amusing to see Dreyfuss sculpting a mountain out of potatoes and building bigger and bigger ones all over the house, I was more alarmed than amused. I knew that he wasn’t crazy in the traditional sense of the word, but he basically seemed it right then. I never really went to the extent of questioning whether the alien encounters were real or not, but I was almost there when Roy was sitting in the shower fully clothed and building mountains all over the place. It had a very strong effect on him, that’s for sure.

Though it was kind of slow for me, I did enjoy Close Encounters. I really liked how they communicated through music, and the great score by John Williams was a big part of this. Though I still think I prefer Contact over this one for movies about alien contact, this is still good, and the minimal effects for this one hold up a lot better than the primitive CGI used in Contact. It was a slow start, but the aliens finally coming down at the end made it all worth it.

kidnappedbyaliens_closeencountersofthethirdkind“They asked me if I’d seen any strangers in the neighborhood.”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

16 responses to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind

  1. Like you said it isn’t action oriented, but I absolutely love this movie. I admire the approach Spielberg took with the film, particularly with the actual contact with the aliens. Nice review.

    • Yeah it was really refreshing how the government didn’t assume they were a threat or anything. That was lovely, because you usually have to deal with those jerks in movies getting in the way.
      I also had the disadvantage of being really tired when I saw this; so that was definitely part of it. I have a feeling if I watch it again I will appreciate it more. Nevertheless, I was very amazed when the aliens actually showed up. 🙂

  2. There’s a campground near the devil’s tower in wyoming (the mountain in the film) that shows this movie every night (or at least they used to; that may have changed) and it’s a very cool experience. The mountain’s such a big part of the movie, it’s kinda surreal to see it towering above you in the background as you watch the movie

    • That is cool! That mountain’s really impressive anyway, and then aliens show up and it’s even more impressive! That’s so cool.

  3. Bah. You young whippersnappers and your need for “action”. My suggestion is to rewatach it now that you’ve divested yourself of your erroneous misconceptions. 😦

    Close Encoutners is an incredible movie. Still one of the best finales ever, I’m amazed they did all that with practical effects.

    Great, great flick.

    • Yeah definitely. I was just expecting the aliens to show up sooner or something, but next time it will be better I think. And hopefully I’ll be more awake.
      The effects were really impressive! I didn’t even think about it much at the time because they were so convincing!

    • Yeah, I’ve been meaning to watch it for a long time too. I’ve actually seen it before, but I technically couldn’t count it because I was asleep for most of it. This time around, I only remembered like two scenes. So now I’ve seen it.
      And the effects were actually really really good. 🙂

  4. Hi, Hunter:

    To paraphrase Richard Dreyfuss:

    “Yeah, I have one in my living room just like it!”

  5. Great film. I didn’t mind the slow build in this one, because I knew it would be that way, and because the build was so interesting in its own right. As for Roy’s sanity… being right and being sane aren’t the same thing. 😀

    • Yup. He did kind of go off the deep end there, and even though I knew why, it still freaked me out a bit.
      The slow build was exhausting me at the time, but in retrospect it wasn’t that bad. I’m sure I’ll be fine with it next time around. I wasn’t really expecting it though, for some reason.

  6. So happy to see you could squeeze this one into your sci-fi month! I know it can be a very different kind of sci-fi film, but so worth seeing. Such an amazing film.

    • Thanks for giving me some incentive there! 🙂 I couldn’t find Blade Runner (I thought I still owned it but turns out not) so I switched this in. I am glad I saw it, and I’d definitely see it again at some point.

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