Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): My First Contact with Steven Spielberg’s Sci-fi Classic

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Last year on Scene Before, in honor of the fifth anniversary, I promised everyone that I would spend months focusing on several themed review periods. This has lead to series including “Mortal Kombat: Finish the Reviews,” where I reviewed the 1995 “Mortal Kombat” film and its sequel, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.” I also did “Revenge of the Nerds Month,” where I reviewed all the movies in its respective franchise. Starting with “Revenge of the Nerds,” to “Nerds in Paradise,” followed by “The Next Generation,” and finally, “Nerds in Love.” I capped this charade off with “The Matrix Reviewed,” where I talked about “The Matrix,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” and “The Matrix Revolutions.” That was last year.

This year however, I have yet to review any older movies, or do any particular theme. Well, that changes. On November 11th, Steven Spielberg will release his latest film, the highly anticipated loosely based on true events tale, “The Fabelmans.” In honor of his latest film and his significant career, I figured it would be time to do a “Steven Spielberg Month.” For this review, we will be starting with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It was my first time watching the film, and here are my initial thoughts.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, and François Truffaut in a film about Roy Neary, an electric lineman who encounters a UFO. This incident enhances his curiosity as to the events this may lead to, which causes him to go cross-country to find out more.

For those who beg to ask, I am basing my review on the theatrical version of the film, which is the only cut I have seen. This review is based on my first contact, my initial close encounter, with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I am sort of surprised it took me 22 years to watch this film, as I am a bit of a science fiction nut. In fact, just this year, the moviegoing masses received the latest film from Jordan Peele, “Nope,” which speaking of Spielberg, I compared to “Jaws” based on my experience with both films. “Nope” is not as good as “Jaws,” but content-wise, the two feel similar. If I watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” before seeing “Nope,” which I did not, I probably would have used that film as a device to compare to as well. After all, both films prominently feature aliens and if you read my review for “Nope,” I referenced that film “as the closest I think a director has come in some time to providing a Spielberg-like experience without the use of the actual Steven Spielberg.”

When it comes to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” I was kind of expecting some variation of “Jaws” but with aliens, as if an alien were to be a primal focus of the screen time. After all, again, Steven Spielberg directed both films. What I got out of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” felt deeper, it felt more character-driven. This is not a diss on “Jaws” because that is a great film and the characters have likable personalities. But at the end of the day, when it comes to “Jaws,” I am mostly there to watch the shark do shark things while the humans deal with it. Obviously they have admirable backstories, but it goes to show how much I rooted for and related to the main character of Roy Neary. I am not an electric lineman, nor I do live in the midwest. That said, I found the character’s motivations aligning with mine and I felt for him throughout various occasions of the film, even if he is designed to look crazy.

After all, if I tweeted to the entire world, picture included or not, that I saw a UFO, it would generate a ton of reactions, at least one of which would involve someone calling me insane. I have watched stories where people faced alien life, the supernatural, or other similar concepts where the movie’s supporting cast to some degree might grow suspicious of the main character and think they are cuckoo. Only thing is, I know that as a third party observer, they are not. If anything this leads to this film’s biggest strength. Even though I am rooting for Roy Neary, there are one or two moments in this movie where he can come off as crazy. But much like a mad scientist potentially discovering the latest integration that could potentially be used for time travel, this craziness could also be marked as obsessiveness, which is why I find Roy Neary likable. He may come off as weird, but he is passionate about accomplishing his goal. I want the latter to be true for just about any protagonist.

For good reason, this movie is about Roy Neary, but one of my favorite aspects of how this story is told is how they use a three year old boy as a curiosity mine. This is a perfect utilization. Children, perhaps stereotypically, are more curious than adults. Therefore it makes sense to have as much of a focus on three year old Barry as much as a grown adult like Roy. While “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is more of a science fiction tale than a horror flick, Barry’s perspective brought hints of the latter genre to the table. There is a particular moment midway through the film that had me caught me slightly off guard not because of what I saw, but because of what I could not see. Film is a visual medium. Therefore, it is often expected for sight to be the most important and heightened sense within each edition of said medium. In today’s cinematic landscape where VFX-heavy films dominate, it is nice to see a film with an occasional sense of minimalism.

At the same time though, this should not take away from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as a visual spectacle. Partially because the film looks beautiful, even if there is another 1977 science fiction film that somehow surpasses it, specifically “Star Wars.” I watched this film on 4K Blu-ray, so therefore I also got to see the HDR transfer. Even though there are several scenes that take place at night, this film is not short on vibrant, visible color. The mothership in particular is one of the more awe-inspiring crafts in the entire science fiction genre. The variety of lit colors on the ship emit a poppy vibe even though it looks like the last thing you will ever see.

I should not be surprised that film looks as good as it does. The standard for shooting movies at this time was 35mm film, which has occasionally been used today for productions like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “The Northman.” Although I was delighted to know that this movie’s visual effects sequences were shot using 70mm film. The cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond is clear and wide enough to pick up all the fine details. “Close Encounters” has a specialty where it is one the more rugged-looking sci-fi movies, but that makes it all the more beautiful. The movie relies on practical effects instead of computers, which is a smart choice. Forty-five years later, the movie’s appearance has aged like a fine wine.

I do not know when I plan on watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” again. It is not a bad film by any means, but I did not find it as memorable as other films in the sci-fi genre. At the same time though, this film feels like an achievement for the genre in the same way that “Star Wars” was in the same year. Technically speaking, it is breathtaking. Characteristically speaking, I admired just about everyone on screen. I would say if you have never seen the film, give it a watch sometime.

In the end, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a solid movie that feels like a semi-realistic interpretation of what could happen if mankind ever encountered alien life. Some of us would be curious. Some of us would run. Some of us would want to get authorities involved. It all sounds legit. Kind of like the shark in “Jaws,” I came to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to see how it uses aliens in its story. Although I stayed to see human characters like Roy deal with an unfamiliar situation. The stay was certainly worth it. I am going to give “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” a 7/10.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is now available in formats including VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. You can also rent or buy the film through Video On Demand or on various streaming services.

Thanks for reading this review! If you like this review, why not check out some of my other ones? Like my review for the most expensive Czech film of all time, “Medieval!” Also, be sure to check out my review for the brand new comedy, “Clerks III!”

My next review for the ongoing Steven Spielberg Month, which shall be posted on Friday, October 14th, is going to be for “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” I have not watched this film in many years, so I feel like I am going in with a fresh perspective. I hope I am not disappointed. Also, stay tuned for my reviews for “The Post” and the 2021 remake of “West Side Story!” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?” What did you think about it? Or, since it is related, did you see “Nope?” Tell me your thoughts! Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s