“Have you recently had a close encounter?” –David Laughlin
When I sat down to write the review to Close Encounters of the Third Kind my biggest concern was how to reconcile how I felt about the first half of the movie, which was a little luke warm, to the how I felt about the last half of the movie, which was amazing.
The movie establishes at the start that scientist are tracking extra terrestrial activity in some very unusual events then transitioning to the midwest in a small Indiana town knocking out all power and visiting several people along the way all the while the group of scientists track all their movement. Basically the aliens plant the idea for several individuals to meet up at the famous devils tower national monument that synonyms with the film (you know that big flat top geographic formation that looks like a mountain with its top cut off). When they get there though they find that the government has claimed the area as a danger zone and evacuating the area accrediting it to some accident with a train crash. The main character played by Richard Dreyfuss and the a mother played by Melinda Dillon, who he sort of connects with on the initial night and who’s son is abducted by the aliens make it past all the government obstructions to get to the site of the films climatic and needed conclusion. Now that’s the basic gist of the film, people encounter aliens then they get drawn to a place for meeting, what doesn’t work for me is how that first part is constructed.
Dreyfuss as the title role goes from father of two and husband to Teri Garr, trusted worker at a power company to a man utterly incapable of thinking of anything else but the alien encounter on that fateful night and the Devils tower. This is where I sort of got hung up, he seems to go so crazy so fast with a wife who almost immediately doesn’t believe him or just wants to cover it up. I don’t know what it was but this whole dynamic of someone having incredible experience and then no one believes him lest of all spouse just was frustrating to watch, especially with the later scene where Dreyfuss tears up the garden, the neighbors goose fence, all to recreate the mountain in his living room. I mean he just seems like a crazy person and not really relateabley crazy either, when Garr takes the children to stay with her sister you sort of buy that more than anything. My issue lies in that it feels like the film ineffectively forces characters into weird spots all in the sake of propelling the plot in a certain direction, I’m not saying that direction is wrong it just doesn’t work for me in how its done.
On the other hand when the movie hits its inevitable conclusion, when everyone sort of makes it the site where the aliens will drop down, its incredibly watchable and worth siting around for. Maybe it’s the use of the backdrop in this cleared out site with science equipment at the base of an unusual geographic feature or maybe its the design of the crafts themselves but visually it works so well. You get the feeling of scale and awe that I find hard to match with other contemporary films today. The special effects of the ships just flying around in the night sky look real slick and feel like actual objects and not just an effect. It’s magical in a way in that a Micheal Bay’s special effects can feel hallow at times and I cannot articulate why. There’s no violence or quick jerky shots just amazing open and vast shots that speak for themselves of massive and small crafts hovering above man below. You also get the whole communication with the aliens through music which everyone is probably familiar with, also real cool.
So when I think about what I appreciate about the films as a whole its hard for me not to just try to ignore the whole first half and embrace what’s truly great and commendable about the film. On the other hand it should be noted that I saw the original version that was available on netflix streaming. From what I’ve read there’s another version out there called the Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition which addresses more of the motivations behind Dreyfuss obsessions as well as adding scenes inside the alien craft and overall improving the film by removing scenes that didn’t work. It’s probably a much tighter and well put together film, its a shame I wasn’t able to get a hold of that copy. Either way ending on I high note, the film should be sought out and watched and if possible find the Special Edition version.
rating: 3 out of 4 stars