"Stars Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" were
both released in 1977, and were enormously successful films,
both critically and commercially. This began a new era
in Hollywood, in which special effects became much more
important as a lure to bring customers to the theater.
The plot has aliens visiting the Earth with a fleet of
enormous, glowing spaceships. Scientists learn how to
communicate with the aliens through musical and mathematical
codes. The U.S. Government, of course, launches a massive
conspiracy, inventing a deadly nerve gas leak to force citizens
away from the site of the alien visits.
Richard Dreyfuss is well cast as an average man who sees
the flying saucers one evening, and soon loses his job, his
sanity, and his wife (Teri Garr). Melinda Dillon is a
mother of a young boy (played by wide-eyed and mute Cary Guffey)
who is abducted by the aliens. Dreyfuss and Dillon are
compelled to visit Devil's Peak, not knowing why, where
they become part of the alien's landing ceremony.
Steven Spielberg wrote and directed "Close Encounters".
As with his later film "E.T.", the aliens are benevolent,
and the special effects are used to create a mood of
childlike wonder. This mood is ultimately manipulative,
however, and the jaded viewer may not be especially
impressed with hairless, big-eyed, unisex aliens and
glowing spaceships. Ethical considerations, such as
the rights of aliens to kidnap whomever they wish for
close inspection, are not addressed.
Tellingly, "Close Encounters" won the Academy Award for Best
Cinematography, but was not nominated for Best Picture
or Screenplay. While it is a very good film, it is not
outstanding. The story succeeds as a drama, but there is
more form than content.
There are two major versions of "Close Encounters",
with perhaps fifteen minutes of differing footage.
After the film's release and great success, Spielberg
reassembled most of the cast and filmed new scenes
including the interior of the alien spaceship. Some
other scenes in the original version were cut or
replaced. I have not seen this latter version.
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller