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USA 1977
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
135 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Writer-director Steven Spielberg’s highly successful Close Encounters of the Third Kind  which followed in the footsteps of George Lucas's huge hit, Star Wars, must have one of the longest narrative preambles in film history.  For the first hour or so nothing much really happens but the setting up of the events that take place in the remainder of the film.  First we get a sequence of mysterious events in which various artefacts from the past like a squadron of WWII fighter planes are discovered in the Mexican desert and investigated by U.N. scientist, Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut).  Then Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) along with a handful of other people, notably single mother, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), witness the appearance of  unidentified flying objects. The real story begins when no-one believes them and Roy flips out, becoming obsessed with some mound like shape, building a giant model of it in the living room of his house and scaring his wife (Teri Garr) with his crazy behaviour  Somehow he teams up with Jillian whose three year old son Barry (really, they could have come up with a more appealing name) has been snatched by the aliens and who also has visions of the shape, which  turns out to be a real butte (Devil’s Tower) in Wyoming and the site of a secret government facility which has been set up to communicate with the extra-terrestrials.  The latter duly arrive in a giant mothership, amazingly, communicating via music which sounds remarkably like it was written by John Williams. They return all the people missing from those sequences we saw in those opening sequences. Why and what they were doing with them we are not told and for no apparent reason the scientist exchange them for a bunch of red suited “astronauts” in sunglasses who look like avowed cultists getting ready for the Rapture. Equally unexplained, Roy is amongst them and everyone, including Jillian, now reunited with Bazza thinks all this is damn awesome. Cue surging music and end of movie.

Whilst the film’s lengthy ending is admittedly technically impressive something acknowledged by Vilmos Zsigmond‘s Oscar for its cinematography (special photographic effects are by Douglas Trumbull who provided the same for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), and the idea of truly intelligent alien life forms is commendable, Spielberg ladles out his usual brand of heavy-handed youth and family-centric entertainment, his script's superficiality glossed over by high-end production values and superior film-making skills.  As such, it will probably try audiences looking for more nuanced fare.

Richard Dreyfuss, who had starred in Spielberg’s Jaws (1974), is a bland presence who brings little to the role as does Melinda Dillon although François Truffaut is, surprisingly perhaps, an effective point of difference.

FYI: Following the success of the original 1977 release Spielberg shot additional scenes and released a Special Edition version in 1980 with about 15 minutes of original footage deleted and 12 minutes of new scenes (including six minutes inside the ship at the end). Since then, there have been various versions ranging in length from 132 minutes to nearly 2 1/2 hours with Spielberg subsequently regarding the added six minutes inside the ship as a mistake.




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