Close Encounters of the Third Kind


                         Close Encounters of the Third Kind is an American Masterpiece 


Steven Spielberg's classic (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) was a movie I had not seen in many years before I watched the Director's cut of the film on Blue-ray this week. I was probably about twelve when I first saw this at the movies. I am sure that I missed many things, but it certainly did fill my head with wonder, and probably helped fuel my interest in the phenomenon, as years later, I couldn't find enough books to read on the subject. (Close Encounters) is another one of those movies that transport you back to the time period it is set in. That added a huge amount of nostalgia while viewing it, and surprisingly, it doesn't date it in a bad way. (Jaws) as well as (Star Wars) both have that same effect on me. It's like hearing a great old song that brings you back.

Having seen all three versions of the film, I do believe the Director's cut is the best. It takes out the things added that took away some of the mystery ( going inside the ship at the end is the obvious)  and keeping some more of the Geary family troubles, as Roy seems to be spiraling into mental illness. It is a nice balance of the two other cuts.

For the few not familiar, (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) tells the story of a heightened wave of UFO sightings across the country. The movie focuses on two families in the state of Indiana: single mom Jillian (Melinda Dillon) and her young son Barry (a stunning performance from Carrey Guffey) and Roy Neary ( Richard Dreyfuss) his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) and their three young kids.  The brilliant opening takes place in the Mexican desert, where a group of men working for a secret part of the government in the present day, arrive to find a squadron of World War II planes, in perfect condition, that went missing on a training mission back in the 40's. Why are they here? Where did they go? And who took them? This is also where we meet a French man named Claude Lacombe ( Francois Truffaut) and his interpreter David Laughlin( Bob Balaban) who are investigating this phenomenon. The old Mexican man, who saw the planes appear the night before, Tell the agents that the" sun came out last night, and sang to him."

We then cut to a scene at air traffic control where a group of men huddled around a radar screen as a pilot report strange object that almost hits the plane. The pilot is asked if he wants to report the incident, to which he replies No." This is great fractured pacing that was well before it's time.


Now, a major power outage is sweeping the Midwest, and Roy, who works for the local power plant, is called out to service in an emergency. While stopping along the side of some farm road, Roy encounters something that bathes his utility truck in blinding light and causes all the electrical equipment to go haywire in his vehicle. when he tries to look up, he is blinded and burned on one side of his face. This scene is absolutely brilliantly staged with detail. Notice the crickets stop chirping, the dogs barking all over, and the shaking mailboxes and railroad sign. If you know UFO lore at all, these are all pulled from this, and it is obvious (Spielberg knows it well). After all has gone quiet in the truck, Roy, still in utter shock, musters up the strength to peek out his windshield and see a huge object move further down the road and bath another part in a light.I love the jaws revers shot, when after Roy's radio come back on, he hears all the commotion going on all around and races off down the road. In an overhead shot of the truck as it speeds down the farm road, we see the huge shadow of a ship pass over Roy's truck.  This is just brilliant filmmaking from Spielberg.

We then cut to Jillian's house where she and Barry are asleep. Something strange seems to be happening with the clouds above in the field near her house. Inside, all of Barry's battery operated toys come to life and he ends up going downstairs to investigate the noises. Someone has gone in the fridge and made a mess on the floor, which he discovers when he gets downstairs. Still curious, Barry runs out into the woods, to look further. One the toys make it into Jillian's bedroom, which awakens her and she discovers Barry outside running away from her bedroom window. In a complete panic, she chases him, screaming for him to come back.
She eventually catches up to her child, by the side of the road, where a group of people has gathered, apparently waiting for something. Roy, still in a complete panic, almost runs over the boy, as he stands on a hill, in the middle of the road, watching the skies. Suddenly, from around the bend, a group of some kind if craft starts flying around the corner, followed by several police cars in hot pursuit.
Roy takes off and follows until the ships fly over a high ridge overlooking the city and disappear into the clouds. As soon as they are gone, the power in the city returns. From this point on, Roy is determined to find out what is going on.

In what is now a famous sequence in the film, Barry is kidnapped by the returning visitors at their house, in a brutal invasion, and now Jillian, along with Roy, must find out what is going on.

As the government tries to follow the clues to an apparent meeting that these strangers have set up, Roy and Jillian, and many others, as we learn later, are somehow receiving physic messages compelling them to hear a five-note music sequence and are drawn to a mountain like structure. They have no idea what this all means, and they wonder whether they are going crazy. Ronnie, Roy's wife is convinced of this, and this leads to some intense moments of family turmoil as it fractures them. Meanwhile, Lacombe and  Laughlin, race to find their own answers to what is going on.  Even they start to wonder whether the Government is telling them all of the truth of the visitors.

This is the classic film (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and I think it is one of (Speilberg's) finest. There is something about his movies in the Seventies that have an extra dose of piss and vinegar to them; an added edge,  that he got back again in his masterpiece (Schindler's List). He was young and idealistic, but he didn't trust the Government, and as I had noted earlier, was a huge UfO buff, so he incorporates a lot of the lore and facts from cases that add to the realism of what is presented. It is science fiction, but on some level, (Speilberg) believes it. For you conspiracy buffs out there, if you watch Youtube videos of (Spielberg) being interviewed on the subject, he states he was majorly involved in the topic in the Seventies but grew up later and dismissed it. He also became rich, powerful and showed his movies to Presidents. My guess is, the early Seventies younger (Speilberg) would have trouble with this and find his change of heart suspect.

The cast is all top notch, and I think in some ways this is (Dreyfuss's) finest performance, as he struggles to understand what the hell is going on. (Dillion) is fabulous as the mom who wants answers to be sure, but really, just wants her boy back. I don't think you can praise the master ( John Willimas) enough on what his scores have done to take most of (Spielberg's) movies to a new level, and countless others. It is crucial. I also love that (Spielberg) fills ever night starfield with hints of what is going on. You should always be paying attention to the sky (Watch The Skies) every time there is a long shot of it. It is alive. This is a brilliantly crafted story, expertly told and executed by one of our finest filmmakers of all time.
It is filled with hope and skepticism, humor and danger,
but mostly with wonder, as we try and figure out our place in the universe, with one small step forward.
(Close Encounter of the Third Kind) is an American Classic that you should see. I love this film.

Watch the trailer: