Now Streaming: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) - Reviewed

There are some films that form the creative fabric of what defines our collective love of going to the movies. Some are black and white classics, others are legendary foreign features, while others dwell in the realm of childhood dreams and sometimes even nightmares. Steven Spielberg's most ambitious, and arguably one of his most personal efforts, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a masterwork that belongs in the latter. A science fiction epic that explores themes of family, obsession, spirituality, and most importantly the power of acceptance, Close Encounters is a science fiction epic that powerfully display Spielberg’s unparalleled command. 

Coming off the success of Jaws, Spielberg was given a massive amount of creative control over the film. After rejecting initial drafts of the script by Paul Schrader and John Hill, Spielberg’s own version of the story focuses on everyday people whose lives are forever changed by the intrusion of extraterrestrial life. Foretelling Spielberg's blue collar point of view in his 2005 War of the Worlds, the action focuses on the everyman and their reaction to being inducted into a surreal quest for knowledge. Spielberg also chose to break with convention with respect to the aliens. While the narrative is filled with suspense and the terror of losing one's family to obsession, the visitors themselves are emissaries of peace, a shrewd choice given the place the world was at in 1977. 

The narrative focuses on several different characters from various walks of life that are being drawn to Devils Tower in Wyoming by a mysterious, otherworldly force. Richard Dreyfuss stars a Roy Neary, an electrician who falls under the alien's spell. Dreyfuss campaigned hard to get the role and his performance is not only outstanding, it never overshadows the rest of the ensemble. Roy is the center of the cosmic web, a mundane man who experiences something exceptional. It is his commitment to understand, and the simultaneous erosion of his family that is the central theme of Close Encounters. It is our curiosity, the need to understand the unknown, that gives us purpose, but it is our devotion to the pursuit that undoes us. Dreyfuss is supported by screen legend Melinda Dillon in an Oscar nominated role as a mother searching for her abducted son. It's a beautiful and understated performance that compliments Dreyfuss with maternal strength and human understanding. Rounding out the cast are Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, and French New Wave icon Francois Truffaut as a French UFO expert.

Close Encounters was nominated for eight Academy Awards, but only won for Vilmos Zisgmond's unforgettable cinematography. There are images within Close Enounters that have been etched into the American subconscious: Looming Alien ships over Devils Tower and a heart stopping scene in which a child opens the front door to hellish orange lights signaling the arrival of potential invaders. John Williams' unforgettable score is a larger than life presentation of Spielberg's foray into the wonder of discovery. Frank Warner's sound design was given a special award at the Oscars while Douglas Trumbull's now legendary visual effects were lauded for their innovation at the time. 

The ground breaking technical achievements mirror the film's themes about the next steps in human history. Spielberg's epic suggests that our eventual contact with other otherworldly species will occur naturally at a time when humanity is ready. The stresses that this plausibility causes are a reflection of the personal struggles of characters that are instantly relatable and unflinchingly human in their motivations. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one of the greatest American films ever made and possibly one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Available now for digital streaming, this is required viewing for any film lover. If you're interested in revisiting a film that defined your childhood or if you're coming to one of Spielberg's finest for the first time, this is one of the greats and an absolutely outstanding example of top tier film making.

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-Kyle Jonathan