Spielberg at his best. Hands down one of his finest films to come from the 70s and even after all these years Close Encounters of the Third Kind is emotional, impactful and endearing in a weird sci-fi way.
After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen.
While I can’t imagine that synopsis does much justice to explain the story, it’s a summary of the situation across multiple characters inside the story. What’s remarkable about this film is how Spielberg manages to weave in and out various storylines and cleverly intersects them onto one point. It’s neat to see in motion and it’s the sort of storytelling that is a rarity these days in films. When Spielberg was on back in the day, he could do things like that very well. The fact that he made something as goofy as UFOs into a serious film that was driven by good character development and storytelling is in itself remarkable and a credit to Spielberg’s ability to tell a good story. The combination of that, good dialogue, direction, acting and special effects makes for an outstanding film.
Without further delay, let’s get right to it.
Mysterious planes show up in the desert of Mexico. The planes, which are investigated by American and French government officials, are planes that went missing mysteriously off the coast of Florida in 1945. Still working and still in nearly perfect shape, including still having gas and full battery charge, they are the beginning of an extraterrestrial mystery for the officials, as well as the catalyst for the next series of events that will take them to India and back to the United States. Buckle in, folks, it’s going to be a nice unraveling session.
While the mystery of planes and such are going on, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her son Barry (Cary Guffey), an American family, begin to experience weird phenomena, with mainly Barry being the affected party. Creatures come to visit their home in the middle of the woods during the night, which leads Barry out to the woods, chasing the aliens, with Jillian following closely behind. At some point I was half expecting this to be the beginning of The Howling, which starred E.T.’s mom, Dee Wallace, another Spielberg onscreen mom, because of all the woods, but I released that was three years away. Still, it would have been a nice crossover. Anyway, kidding aside.
At the same time Jillian and Barry are interacting with aliens, an electric technician is called out to help bring a grid back online that has left an entire city in the dark (literally). Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is sent out in the middle of nowhere to find the issue and soon finds himself lost and then briefly, at least mentally, abducted by aliens. The experience leaves him lost, sunburned and obsessing over a place he has never been. It also leads him to a series of UFO experiences, ones he is chasing in his truck, with Jillian and Barry. The trio find themselves lost and out of place in their lives thanks to the encounters and try to go back to live their normal lives.
The first act is amazingly balanced for a multi-story script. Spielberg handled it with care and brought the goods that were less sci-fi and more human and grounded. I think that this first act sets the tone of what you’re going to get the rest of the way. The concept of aliens on film is a bit goofy, as we haven’t gotten Ridley Scott’s Alien at this point, but Spielberg clearly wants to focus on how the alien encounters affect the lives of his characters, which he pulls off brilliantly, rather than focus on the aliens and their intentions. Again, this sets the tone for the rest of the film.
The second act spends its time in two places.
First, it goes back to the government officials trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Led by Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) and David Laughlin (Bob Balaban), the duo help to solve the problem of how and why the aliens are trying to communicate. Claude figures out that the aliens are communicating through a simple song, while David figures out that the song helps lead the officials to specific coordinates on a globe, which puts them right in Colorado. The officials spend the rest of their time trying to decide how to handle the situation.
The second part of act two concentrates on how Jillian and Roy are being affected by their experience. Jillian’s son is eventually abducted by the aliens, which spirals her life out of control, while Roy’s family is outright rejecting and ignoring his claims that he had an experience. Specifically, Roy’s wife is being unsupportive or unwilling to help him out, though him building a giant mud replica of a location he has never been in the middle of his living room probably isn’t helping his case to win over her support. Eventually, Roy is left alone, as is Jillian, but they end up finding each other in hopes of finally locating this mysterious place that aliens are drawing them into. The end of the second act has the pair locating the structure they needed and previewing potential problems, military related, they’re going to run into to get there.
The second act is beautiful, intense and thrilling. You feel for both Roy and Jillian, as they clearly are stuck with finding the place that calls to them. Their disconnection from their family is the same, regardless of how they lose them, and you see and really get a sense of internal struggle from their characters, which are brilliantly written and acted. The obsessiveness from Roy especially is thick and you can understand why he needs to know, as well as understand why his wife/children left him. It’s sad, but it fits within the context of the entire story and its proper progression with the characters Spielberg put together.
While I won’t go into the third act, I will say that it peaks when it needs to and the entire film finishes with a world of wonder and excitement. I’m sad we never get to see what eventually happens to Roy or his family, but I’m personally satisfied enough to know that Roy is finally relieved of his mental burden given to him. How the ending occurs and what happens with the aliens/officials is visually breathtaking, though I’m not going to reveal them because some people have never seen this film. Rest assured that Spielberg really brings all these setups together into one remarkable and amazing ending.
Overall, the film is a masterpiece. There’s nothing more to be said.
Speaking of masterpiece, Sony’s folks did a phenomenal job on the 4K upgrade. The picture is stunning to watch and the clean up job they put together to make this UHD worth your time is unrivaled. You may find a bit of imperfection here and there, mainly in the dated special effects, but that won’t ruin your appreciation for the upgrade. If you own a 4K player and you enjoy watching beautiful colors, intricate details and a masterpiece on a modern medium, then you need to get this for your movie collection. It’s worth the extra time and money, and it’s properly done for a 40th celebration.
In terms of features, here’s what you are looking at:
– All three versions of the film: 1977 Theatrical Version, 1980 Special Edition & 1997 Director’s Cut
– ALL-NEW: “Three Kinds of Close Encounters” Featurette
New interview with Director Steven Spielberg on the legacy of the film, as well as new interviews with directors J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) about the impact of Close Encounters.
– ALL-NEW: “Steven’s Home Movies & Outtakes”
– Rare never-before-seen home movies & gags from the set of Close Encounters.
– Close Encounters of the Third Kind Making-of Documentary
– “Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters” Featurette
– Deleted Scenes
– 1977 Featurette “Watch the Skies”
– Storyboard to Scene Comparisons
Extensive Photo Gallery
“A View From Above”
The new stuff is as worthwhile as the multiple versions of the film included with this release. The interviews with multiple directors is relevant. It’s always fun to hear Villeneuve and Abrams talk about their influences, though I would imagine Abrams has been influenced by Spielberg the most. Feel free to watch Super 8 for details.
The outtakes and home movies are nice, as is the rest of the list of features you have encountered before in previous releases. All-in-all, darn good stuff in one release.