Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978) / Sci Fi-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for some language
Running Time: 135 min. (original), 132 min. (special edition), 137 min. (collector's edition DVD)
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Cary Guffey, Bob Balaban, J. Patrick McNamara, Warren Kemmerling, Carl Weathers (cameo)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg
Review published October 3, 2005
Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Duel) is the sole credit as screenwriter, although other uncredited screenwriters have been said to have helped. Regardless of who gets the credit for the words, this is Spielberg's film all of the way, and even if there weren't one word of dialogue in the film, it would still be a cinematic spectacle worth every penny of the price of admission. The special effects are gorgeous, the music beautiful, the acting is passionate, and the direction absolutely inspired. Despite the presence of some trademark cutesy Spielberg-isms, this remains thoughtful and captivating fare for young and old alike.
Richard Dreyfuss (American Graffiti, Stakeout) stars as Muncie, Indiana repairman Roy Neary, one of many people in the world to have experienced a close encounter with a UFO. The others that have experienced the phenomenon are also exhibiting the same odd behavior -- burnt skin and an obsession with a certain mountainous shape that they see in nearly everything. What does it all mean? They all have an insatiable desire to find out, as these people find an overwhelming need to converge to one particular area, where the US military also plans to set up for what they feel may be a close encounter of the third kind -- contact with extraterrestrial life.
Although most of the accolade have gone to the technical brilliance of the film, ultimately the film works because of the strength of the characters and their desire to solve mysteries in their own behavior. Dreyfuss performance as a man plagued with newfound quirks provides the necessary backbone to make this very fanciful premise soar, and equally up to task is Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein, Tootsie) as Neary's long-suffering wife that is hoping for her husband's normalcy to return. Even the child actors are very believable, exhibiting a natural curiosity to the events that make perfect sense within the context of the story. This would be the first of many films for Spielberg that utilized child actors as main performers, but future efforts just never seem to capture the spirit of how children truly behave as well as this effort.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a classic science fiction epic that proved to the world that Jaws was no fluke. if anything, it was an ambitious effort that could have easily backfired if it were in anyone else's hands, but as crafted by one of the great populist directors in the history of cinema, it remains a thought-provoking, challenging, and vastly entertaining film for sci-fi junkies, and even for those that normally eschew UFO films. The humanity of the story might take a backseat to the technical aspects, but this is as fine a lyrical take on the beauty of space and its endless possibilities as there has been since Kubrick's 2001.
©2005 Vince Leo