Celebrating 40 Years of Close Encounters

I’m going to come out and say it but I haven’t actually “liked” a Steven Spielberg movie since the original Jurassic Park; back when he had a sense of wonder, before he got obsessed with depressing war films and essentially stopped making event pictures. I also think he should be the first choice to replace Colin Trevorrow on Star Wars: Episode 9 but that’s a conversation for another day.

Close Encounters is a movie I appreciate more with every viewing; when I was a kid I never really got it because it is by no means a children’s movie. Despite it being about mankind essentially making first contact with aliens it’s also really about the breakdown of a marriage. Richard Dreyfuss has rarely been better as Roy Neary; a man who was already detached from his family before he even came across anything extra-terrestrial.

I only noticed on this viewing how during the scene when he is in his truck and the alien craft appears above him; I saw on his dashboard various Post-it notes reminding him to pick up marriage photographs and various other notes. The fact that he has all these notes and has to be reminded of so many family things shows he was never really interested in them. His kids are loud and annoying and desperately trying to get his attention throughout but he never really takes an interest with them. Even when he loses his job he doesn’t seem particularly concerned.

I also picked up how the aliens are essentially communicating with him telepathically, controlling him to find Devil’s Tower. Yes, he is slowly losing his marbles but a lot of it is due to the mind control and he’ll never really find peace until he goes on this journey. I’ve always wondered just how friendly these aliens are; the fact that they will mess with your mind essentially tearing you away from your family and life without any thought to the consequences may make them kinda dicks.

Although Roy is the protagonist he is by no means a hero and despite his obvious mental anguish he still abandons his life to go to the unknown. When he gets on the ship at the end you’re left wondering what he’s let himself in for and it remains one of the most ambiguous endings for a Spielberg movie. Is it a happy ending that Roy finally finds what ever it is he’s been searching for? I guess you just have to be the judge.

John Williams’ score is as sublime as ever and hearkens back to the golden age when movies had memorable theme tunes rather than the tuneless noise so many are today.

The special effects are still mostly impressive and once again there are little details we missed before, like how on one of the ships you can see the wheel running inside demonstrating the mechanics of the craft and how it works… or maybe it was an effect we weren’t supposed to see. It’s also been nicely remastered so we hear dialogue that we may have missed previously. The final 20 minutes are some of the best committed to celluloid and is really what you go to the movies for; it’s moving, exciting and still jaw dropping to behold, especially when the mother ship appears.

The acting is practically flawless and I’ve always loved Francois Truffaut’s mysterious (but clearly not evil) Claude Lacombe who (like Roy) has no real idea what’s going on but is excited by this prospect of first contact.

You almost feel bad for Roy’s family but clearly his wife never really understood him and personally I think he’s better off without her.

After 40 years Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one of my absolute favourite Steven Spielberg movies and I wish he would get back to making films like this again.