Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
50th Academy Awards 1978
Nominated for 8 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Art Direction (Joe Alves, Dan Lomino, Phil Abramson), Directing (Steven Spielberg), Film Editing (Michael Kahn), Music-Original (John Williams), Sound (Robert Knudson, Robert J. Glass, Don MacDougall, Gene S. Cantamessa), Visual Effects (Roy Arbogast, Douglas Trumbull, Matthew Yuricich, Gregory Jein, Richard Yuricich).
Won Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond).
Watched October 22, 2012.
[This review contains spoilers.]
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, like Star Wars, is another sci-fi film released in 1977 that was nominated and won awards for its achievements. It was also the second-highest grossing film of the year and held records for a good while. This is, of course, thanks to Steven Spielberg, his incredible understanding of the craft, and his abilities as a story teller. I, for one, will forever be a fan of Spielberg, not necessarily for his out-of-this-world artistic abilities, but for his all encompassing domination of filmmaking as a whole. Although certain aspects of Close Encounters are dated, the majority of it withstands the test of time far more than its counterpart, Star Wars.
If you have guessed correctly, like I did, Close Encounters is a film about aliens. Similarly to other such films where extra terrestrial life visits Earth, you don’t actually see the aliens themselves until the end of the film, although you see a good amount of their ships. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is your average blue collar worker with a wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) and three children. When there is a huge power outage one night, he is called into the field, but once he has a unique encounter with one of the ships, he turns off his radio and decides to chase down the aliens. He is completely obsessed, even once they have gone, preoccupied with a pyramid shape that he can’t place. A woman he met the same night, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) is just as preoccupied, but when her son Barry (Cary Guffey) is taken, her terror leads her to chase down her visions of the mountain. Roy’s obsession eventually makes him so crazy that his wife leaves with the children.
Meanwhile, a group of scientists have been tracking and communicating with the aliens and have discovered that the lifeforms have been sending them direct coordinates to Devils Tower in Wyoming. They immediately evacuate the area, and it is the television coverage of the panic that clues Roy and Jillian in on what their visions have been of. They both rush to the area, of course meeting up and driving recklessly into the military protected national park.
Unlike many alien movies of our day, Steven Spielberg’s aliens are friendly and curious. Although they have taken many people over the years, as well as accepted voluntary travelers, they seem like they too are merely scientists wishing to understand, explore, and experience. This also differs from the films in the 70s and before. The typical storyline is, of course, that their world is dying, they are feeding, or they simply want to terrorize the planet. Spielberg’s creation, although also suspenseful, is much different with much better special effects, which are perhaps two of its best traits.
As far as performances and characters, I thought everyone was phenomenal. Dreyfuss is very convincing–his crazy is very realistic and because we know his experience was legitimate it is probably less weird to the audience than his wife, although at the climax of his meltdown it is easy to understand and sympathize with Ronnie. She begins as very loving and supportive, although clearly worried. At first I was surprised that she might actually be so loving that she completely upholds her “in sickness and in health” vows without question, but she eventually cracks and opts to protect her children by removing them from the situation.
I would definitely recommend this film. It is more lighthearted than recently viewed films, but certainly has more depth than Star Wars. Even if you have seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind before, it would definitely be a good choice for this Halloween evening!