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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Review | Jamie Daily

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
50th Academy Awards 1978
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 8 awards, of which it won 1.
Nominated for Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Art Direction (Joe Alves, Dan LominoPhil Abramson), Directing (Steven Spielberg), Film Editing (Michael Kahn), Music-Original (John Williams), Sound (Robert Knudson, Robert J. Glass, Don MacDougallGene 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!

Sources: Classic MoviesZap 2 ItIMDBRotten TomatoesHorror NewsNY Times

Star Wars (1977) Review | Jamie Daily

Star Wars (1977)
50th Academy Awards 1978
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 11 awards, of which it won 7.
Nominated for Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness), Directing (George Lucas), Best Picture (Gary Kurtz), and Writing-Original (George Lucas).
Won Art Direction (John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian), Costume Design (John Mollo), Film Editing (Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas, Richard Chew), Music-Original Score (John Williams), Sound (Don MacDougall, Ray West, Bob Minkler, Derek Ball), Visual Effects (John Stears, John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune, Robert Blalack), and a Special Achievement Award (to Benjamin Burtt, Jr. for the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices featured in the film).
Watched October 5, 2012.

 

The second science fiction film to be nominated for an Academy Award, the cult classic, the household names, and the instant launch into stardom all began at one unbelievable place on the set of a film with a tiny budget comprised of a crew who didn’t believe in the project. Star Wars came into our lives at the precise moment that our culture was able see its greatness and make it such a huge success. 
The original owners of the movie studios were all retiring and selling them to inexperienced corporations. At a time when our American heroes and leaders were a part of the Watergate scandal or engaged in the Vietnam War, George Lucas was exploring mythology and religion, trying to piece them together into a simple coming of age story where good and evil are clearly defined. Only because of the technology of the time, the simple story turned into a monumental, nearly impossible task. 

 

The science fiction culture, as well as the other genres of the time, were preoccupied with death and destruction, taking lead from the world that surrounded it. In the end, it took a very special man at 20th Century Fox, Alan Ladd, Jr., who believed in the man but not in the project, to get Lucas his 8.25 million dollar budget and launch the film. Lucas, an independent filmmaker who had recently stepped away from experimental films and was still determined to stay out of Hollywood, wanted to do everything his way without the studio’s suffocating tampering he had experienced in his other projects. He took six months to cast the film and did his best to choose no-names for the three key characters. While he was still elbow deep in preproduction, his big hit American Graffiti was finally released and the studio gained a little confidence in him.

 

The story line is simple. A young farm boy named Luke who longs for adventure outside of his home crosses paths with two wanted droids that lead him to the doorstep of Obi-Wan Kenobi, an old Jedi Master. The Jedi are apart of a religion almost forgotten to the past. One of the droids contains important information for the rebellion against the evil Empire, and seeing that they are the only hope, Luke and Obi-Wan enlist the help of the smuggler Han Solo to fly them to the rebel base. It doesn’t take long before they are caught up in something much bigger than they had anticipated–rescuing a princess and piloting X-Wing fighters among them. As the story progresses, Luke slowly begins to discover his skills with The Force, and ultimately uses them to deal the Empire a crushing blow.

Initially, Lucas refused to consider Harrison Ford for the role of Han Solo because he had worked with him before (remember his goal of casting no-names), but recognizing his talent, Lucas asked Ford to help him in casting by reading with the auditions. Eventually, inevitably, Ford’s connection to the character and spot-on interpretation of his mannerisms won him the role, and he was joined by recent TV phenomenon Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker (originally named Luke Skykiller), and the not so common damsel in distress Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

The shooting of the film was plagued with misfortunes, mostly with unpredictable desert weather, malfunctioning robots, and differing styles between director and cinematographer. No one on set really understood Lucas’ vision or the story and therefore there was not a lot of belief in its success. The studio was constantly breathing down his neck, and when the shoot went over schedule by three weeks, there was the threat of pulling the plug. 

Meanwhile, the special effects department had been working for a year, spent half their budget, and had only filmed four shots, none of which Lucas liked. His stress level reached an all time high and he had to go the hospital with complaints of chest pains. Immediately, he stepped in and took control of the special effects department, setting deadlines and making regular trips to visit, insisting that they do a year’s worth of work in six months. Their hippy mentality finally got into gear, and although Lucas was never truly satisfied with the results, the immense progress they made completely changed the department and the art of filmmaking from then on out. 

It wasn’t until Lucas made some drastic changes and brought in some brilliant artisans that his film finally began to come together as he wanted it. His initial editor completely lost his vision and he brought in two men for whom winning an Oscar was the last thing on their minds, Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew. He was also lucky enough to enlist the help of composer John Williams, who already had an Oscar under his belt and was well known for his work on Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws.’

But before the music was complete, Lucas showed one of his first cuts to a group of friends, almost all of whom gave him fairly negative reviews. Only Steven Spielberg recognized it for the genius that it was. To Lucas’ astonishment, the studio loved it, and several of them actually left in tears, knowing they would always remember the day they had witnessed such a film. 

When the film was released on May 25, 1977, it was pandemonium. Only around 40 theaters had agreed to show the film and in its first weekend it made over 35 million dollars, breaking all sorts of records, and not just for science fiction films. It became one of Fox’s highest grossing films at the time, and the real kicker is that they had no interest in merchandising when they created Lucas’ contract, which means that he was set up to make an incredible amount of money from the inevitable cult following that began even before the film was released.  This was thanks in part to the marketing department and their use of the famed Comic Con convention in San Diego and their release of a novel just six months prior to the film’s release. 

The film itself was a great feat for the time of its release. The acting is not the best, and the special effects certainly aren’t up to today’s standards, but its incredible and genius utilization of story, characterization, and imagination, are what help it stand the test of time. George Lucas’ vision was much too grand for the time in which he was born, but it is because of this that he pushed the boundaries of cinema and created the first ever science fiction blockbuster, thus changing the whole idea of film.

If you have somehow never seen Star Wars (you know who you are), drop what you are doing right now and please enjoy this incredible film that changed the tides of filmmaking for the better.

 

Sources: The RushMovies and MayhemRotten TomatoesIMDB, A look inside of the Star Wars Trilogy (A New Hope / The Empire Strikes Back / Return of the Jedi) (Widescreen Edition with Bonus Disc) DVD

The Turning Point (1977) Review | Jamie Daily

The Turning Point (1977)
50th Academy Awards 1978
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 11 awards.
Nominated for Supporting Actor (Mikhail Baryshnikov), Best Actress (Anne Bancroft), Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actress (Leslie Browne), Art Direction (Albert BrennerMarvin March), Cinematography (Robert Surtees), Directing (Herbert Ross), Film Editing (William Reynolds), Best Picture (Herbert Ross, Arthur Laurents), Sound (Theodore Soderberg, Paul Wells, Douglas O. Williams, Jerry Jost), and Writing–Original (Arthur Laurents).
Watched September 28, 2012.

 

The Turning Point would today be considered a Lifetime movie, Oscars-style.  To have been nominated for eleven Oscars and win none of them has only happened twice in the Academy’s history.  To be honest, a few of the nominations seemed a bit excessive–namely the supporting cast.  The film was apparently a big hit when it came out, and should certainly be on the favorite list of today’s dancers, but it is another prime example of a film not standing the test of time.

 

Despite its flaws, this film is very relatable.  For anyone who once had a dream, and ended up taking a different path, or outgrew it, the story line will strike a chord with you.  It is about a woman named Deedee (Shirley MacLaine) who gave up the opportunity of being a prima ballerina to get married and have a family.  One day when her old company comes into town, her oldest daughter is invited to join.  Deedee accompanies Emilia (Leslie Browne) to New York, just for the summer, and immediately feels out of place.  It is not her time anymore, and it seems the light is dimming on her old friend and rival, Emma (Anne Bancroft), who might just be nearing her last dance.

 

To see the ins and outs of a dance company is something we are familiar with in films these days, but to see such exquisite dancing, we are not as accustomed.  Granted, as the Step Up films certainly highlight their genres very well, The Turning Point does the same with ballet.  Its consistency with the story is a bit lacking, but unlike many critics I enjoyed this.  I found it more realistic and consistent than, say, a musical.  The characters themselves are in fact dancers, and when they practice and perform the dance consumes them, but in their outside lives they are not as likely to break into song and dance.

 

Considering the fact that neither MacLaine or Bancroft were dancers, they did a very good job assimilating themselves into their environment.  Their relationship is strained, almost fake, because of long-harbored resentment toward each other.  They both long after the life the other person has and are filled with regrets.  The film is preoccupied by the life decision between career and family, which doesn’t give the actors too much range to work with.  The climactic confrontation between the two main characters inevitably comes, and after a lot of harsh words and a drink thrown in MacLaine’s face (which was unplanned and thus her reaction is of genuine surprise), turns into a full-out cat fight that was quite hilarious.

 

Overall, unless you are a lover of dance or a fan of Lifetime movies, I would not recommend this movie for you.  However, if you have any appreciation for ballet, I suspect this is already one of your favourite films!

Source: The Best Picture ProjectMubiIMDBRotten TomatoesYou Dance Funny, So Does MeMinute a Day About MoviesAll MovieEmanuel Levy