Around a quarter century ago, a nerdy little kid fresh off the success of some shark movie decided he wanted to turn his focus to little green men. And somehow he turned out one of those rare films that imprints itself into the cultural psyche so far as to be able to be referenced by just about anyone (whether they’ve seen it or not).
But just in case you really are from another planet and have no clue just what the hell I’m talking about, the year was 1977, the director was Steven Spielberg, and the movie was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Per the film, there are three kinds of alien contact, two of which nobody really cares about. The third kind is the close, personal relationship forged between man and alien when a person gets abducted… and, well, that’s the focus of most of this film.
Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) starts out as an angry father in a job he doesn’t seem to care for all that much, all of which is changed when some friendly aliens give him a sunburn and give his town a lightshow that puts concert pyrotechnics to shame. This experience makes Roy a little off-kilter; he begins sculpting shapes he’s never seen, having the feeling that he should be going somewhere soon.
In the meantime Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) is going about the globe picking up planes and ships that disappeared a half century ago, and he finds them in the middle of the desert, to boot. And with mysterious fly-bys happening to modern day aircraft around the world… well we don’t need rocket scientists to figure out what’s going on.
Close Encounters is really such a simple movie that it doesn’t warrant a helluva lot of discussion. Were it not able to hit our cultural pressure points so well, it probably would have faded off the of cinematic map — but Spielberg is nothing if not adept at punching our buttons and making us puppets in his hands, and Close Encounters is no exception. While, storywise and on filmmaking levels, Close Encounters might not be the greatest film ever, I’ll be damned if when you’re watching the aliens communicate through music, you don’t feel like it is.
Review by James Brundage © 2001 filmcritic.com