Film Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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On a relaxing, chilly Thursday, I was able to watch Steven Spielberg’s classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) starring Richard Dreyfuss, Terri Garr, Melinda Dillon and Francois Truffaut. This is considered one of the most iconic movies of all time along with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, my runner-up choice to watch. The movie is about a man named Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss) who is driving their car at night when suddenly a bright light is cast above him and his car and what appears to Roy as a UFO is seen as the source of those lights. The UFO’s lights were so bright that it gave Roy a sunburn on one side of his face. This experience drove Roy to give up everything he had to find out the truth about that bright object and any other details about them.

As the movie progresses, Roy’s curiosity about UFO’s turns into an obsession and his family suffers for it. He is not the only one who believes we are not alone in the universe. Later, Roy becomes friends with a woman named Jillian Guiler (played by Melinda Dillon) who shared his obsession with extraterrestrial life. Together, the two get involved with government scientist Claude Lacombe (played by Francois Truffaut) and the government itself in figuring out whether or not they truly were dealing with aliens.

There were a few aspects about this movie that made me think, “This movie sure looks like it was made in the seventies.” The CGI effects from the UFOs and the weather were not too poorly produced to make you want to look another direction or to take away any suspense, but you can definitely see the difference between present-day CGI technology and what was used 40 years ago. Throughout the movie, Richard Dreyfuss and co. did well to perform with the optimism of people who were eager to meet aliens, although I thought the toddler cast as the son to one of the parents seemed a little too excited to see a giant, bright, loud flying machine right outside their window at night. Despite that small point, the emotions ranging from scared to excited to shocked to upset with almost every character seemed nothing short of genuine and unforced.

This may be one of the most memorable movies of all time, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have negatives. In my opinion, part of what makes a good movie a good movie is one that can mix humor into any genre as long as humor doesn’t overwhelm it to the point where you can’t tell what genre it is anymore. The humor in Close Encounters of the Third Kind certainly didn’t overwhelm, but it underwhelmed. I get it, humor isn’t the number one expectation of the film, but without a balanced amount of it, it gets boring. There were some scenes that made me chuckle lightly, but not enough for my taste. The structure of the storyline followed through initially slow through the first forty minutes or so, but kept pace enough for me to stay interested until the end. The lighting was difficult a few times even with the shades down and lights off (another “It’s a seventies movie!” moment), but it didn’t make for a major distraction. One suspenseful scene involving a mother’s kitchen and the lights emitting from the UFOs at night got my attention as for a moment’s time, it looked like I was watching a horror movie.

The cinematography was a little cliche (I’m assuming they were the norm at the time) with the camera zooming in and out for those shocking moments, but did it’s job to capture the important ones and maintain my interest. One thing I’d like to point out though are the few times where the camera seemed frozen at certain angles and dragged on longer than I thought was needed. During these moments, it was as if Spielberg didn’t say “cut!” fast enough, or the camera guy had hearing issues.

Award winner John Williams composed the soundtrack of Spielberg’s film, winning the Saturn Award for Best Music in 1978. His use of gradually raised volume added drama to a movie that seemed drama-less besides personal matters involving Roy’s family. Of course, Spielberg himself earned the same award in 1978 for best director. Other awards claimed for this movie were the Academy Award for Best Cinematography won by Vilmos Zsigmond in 1978 and the Special Achievement Academy Award won by Frank Warner in the same year as well.

All in all, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a decent movie with a good plot and interesting details. As a 90s guy, I can’t relate to the absorption that the alien phenomenon went through with the people in the 70s, so I’m sure my opinion is much less than those that saw the release of this movie. Not to mention I simply don’t believe in aliens, but that’s just me. Close Encounters wasn’t good enough for me to desire seeing again, but it avoided cringeworthy, distracting moments enough to watch until the end as well as giving moments that sparked curiosity as to how/where the characters were going next. I can understand why Steven Spielberg is well-known for this film. If I were to rate Close Encounters on a scale of one to ten, I would give it a solid seven.

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