Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Rated: PG
Runtime: 2 Hours and 17 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A

We look to the heavens and wonder whether or not we are alone. We have done this since the beginning of time. Before we knew where we ranked in the grand scheme of the cosmos, before we even knew if the world was round, we wondered. Of course, I think that we did. I don't know for sure. All I can account for are the days from 1978 on, but I am sure that Man has always wondered about whether there are people on any other planets and whether they ever wonder the same thing.

Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is a movie that is concerned with just such lofty questions. It wonders if there are aliens out there and even goes so far as to envision what a meeting between ourselves and such beings would look like.

The film centers on an average man named Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss). Roy is a troubleshooter for an Electric Company. He is married to a woman who is frequently exasperated by his eccentricities and his concern with such things as making his children see "Pinocchio" rather than having to endure goofy golf with them. He is the free-spirited head of a rather chaotic family.

One night, while out looking for the source of a power outage, Roy encounters something he cannot explain and it gets under his skin. He begins to see a shape in the front of his mind, floating there like the afterimage of a flashbulb burst. He begins to make sculptures of this shape in his shaving creme and in his mashed potatoes. He becomes obsessed with his experience so much that he begins losing touch with his family and friends. He loses his job.
He loses his wife. And, according to the neighbors, he loses his mind.

At the same time as Roy undergoes his new obsession, the government begins to notice odd occurrences throughout the globe. Planes and ships that have disappeared decades ago suddenly are found. Strange lights are seen in the night sky. A group of people in India are humming a tune that came to them from the heavens. All these occurrences seem to indicate that there is something else in the universe, and that it is eager to make contact.

There is also a young woman in Indiana, whose son sees the lights and starts to play a new tune on his zyllophone. The little boy, and her as well, become obsessed with their experience. Until, one day, the little boy vanishes before her very eyes.

The one thing I most admire about this film is the strong theme of obsession that runs through its characters. They are people who have had an experience that others have not, that others will not even believe in, and, like Costner's character in "Field of Dreams", they pursue these experiences even though they know that everyone will think them crazy. The strength of these characters and their convictions is what carries this movie above and beyond other "extraterrestrial experience" movies such as "Contact".

Another thing that distinguishes this film from ones like "Contact" and "Stargate" is the strength of that first meeting. This is not the only movie to envision a meeting between humans and extraterrestrials, but it IS the only one to inspire such a sense of wonder and awe, and to envision the meeting in such a realistic fashion. The meeting of races in other sci-fi movies often comes as a bit of a letdown after the buildup it has been given. This one does not. If anything, it dwarfes anything that came before or after it. The spaceships of the otherworldly people in "Close Encounters" have the look of being made. They are spectacular, yes, and they are out of this world, but they still have the look of being constructed. That is a nice touch. In too many movies the spaceships have the look of being constructed on a computer, or look far too fluid or bizarre to be made by any hands. The aliens seem as eager to know about us as we do to know about them. That's another thing I liked.

If we can look up to the stars and wonder about what else may inhabit them, why wouldn't they do the same?

This movie is one of the few with the imagination to ask that question.

NOTE: If possible, watch the Collector's Edition, not the Special Edition. The Collector's Edition is the one that came out originally in 1977 and has a little more of the human angle in it than the Special Edition. Not only that, but the Special Edition shows us the interior of the Mothership which, to me, was a disappointment. I prefer the original version, which leaves the interior of the Mothership entirely up to my imagination, which can envision something far more magnificent than any Hollywood production designer can give me.