After an encounter with UFOs, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen.
Year 2, Film #7
THE REVIEW: I was expecting Close Encounters of the Third Kind to be more apocalyptic than it turned out to be because that would have made for a week’s worth of the world coming to an end. Alas, it merely falls in the science fiction genre with many parallels to director Steven Spielberg’s other works, most notably, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for obvious reasons. But while I noticed Spielberg’s mark and the film was very entertaining, the film is deadly slow at parts resulting in loss of attention.
Close Encounters features yet more aliens visiting Earth, this time for a very mysterious and quite vague reason. Nonetheless, it provides the necessary foundations for the real focus of the film: the human response. And there’s a wide range of responses coming from Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) who after coming in contact goes insane trying to find the aliens again, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon1) who is desperate to get her son back, and M. Lacombe (François Truffaut) who is a scientist, anxious to discover and make contact with these foreign beings. From skeptics – like Roy’s wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) – to the believers – pretty much everybody else – what this film does best is show human nature. Early on in the film, right after Roy sees the spaceship for the first time, his kids ask him if what’s happening is real to which his wife replies, “Of course not.” Roy is appalled by this and doesn’t see why he should have to lie about what he knows he saw. For the skeptics we see the very real concern of change. They don’t believe aliens exist in the first place, but let’s say they did, the skeptics would then question whether or not the change is inherently good (this is bringing back my ethics class last semester). On the other side are the believers who, whether through faith or experience, trust/know something else is out there. They’re curious and ambitious, eager to see what else is out there. Close Encounters does a terrific job at showing these traits which helps us to connect with and root for the characters in the film.
The pacing however, can be downright boring. Here the great character development comes at the expense of the timing and structure of scenes. Close Encounters isn’t super long – it clocks in at only 138 minutes – but it feels much longer than that. Especially the first act where everyone and everything is introduced. Part of the reason is probably because everything is done one after the other rather than mixed together. First we have Lacombe and the scientists, then comes Jillian and her son, and then Roy and his family. All these stories are introduced separately, and while the content is good, spending ten minutes on something but not coming back to it for another half hour decreases the impact. Scenes don’t have the same momentum because they’re so far apart so early on that you can’t remember things instantly. Plus, presenting a whole lot of one thing up front can also make you feel overwhelmed. The pacing and structure does improve towards the end (although that could just be due to the amount of stories/characters dwindling) but the damage is already done.
You don’t have to be a movie buff to see Spielberg’s mark all across the film. Although it’s one of his earliest films, you can see parts of Jaws (which also starred Richard Dreyfuss) in Close Encounters as well as some of the films he did after like Raiders of the Lost Ark. It has a very old-timey feel to it; a quintessential 70s film. Star Wars was also released in 1977 and turned out to be the bigger success. After seeing Spielberg’s entry I can say Star Wars is the better bet, but Close Encounters shouldn’t be discounted altogether; there is some great stuff here.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5
Melinda Dillion plays the mother in A Christmas Story. If you recall when I watched that film again last winter, I enjoyed it more than I remembered and Dillion’s performance was actually one of the better ones. In Close Encounters she has one of the worst performances. Case in point: her son’s abduction scene. I laughed at how she reacted when her son was dragged out the cat flap. A mother would sound that horrified, but she wouldn’t act so passively. ↩