Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
With Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg took a fully realistic approach to a by all accounts fantastical phenomenon: What if aliens are actually visiting earth as we speak? And what if regular people have close encounters with them? Apart from being a clever story, the first of only three of his films that Spielberg wrote himself (the others being Poltergeist and A.I.), it’s the inquisitiveness and childlike determination in search of answers which makes this such an enthralling, timeless experience. Sets and visual effects are always locked in time, but all other elements in this film are universal and timeless – none more so than the subject of music and its crucial importance for the film’s explicit story and metaphorical strength. In Close Encounters, music is broken down into theory and given the role as mediator; it’s evocative thanks to its mathematical precision more than its «soul», to put it grandiloquently. Music is the missing link, the hero character, which is otherwise absent in the film. The same can be said of villains. This is no simple story of good and bad, right and wrong – a fact that makes Spielberg’s achievement so much more impressive. Because the film is never lacking in intensity or suspense, despite being patient all the way from the build-up through to the spectacular finale. As with E.T. five years later, Close Encounters represents Spielberg at his most optimistic on behalf of humanity. The film is a celebration of our need for exploration and our sense of wonder. And it’s also a testament to a great director at the height of his powers. The film catches him right at the time when he has earned himself big budgets, but before he has had the time to reflect on his own stature. And that’s often perfect timing for a magnum opus – which Close Encounters of the Third Kind undoubtedly is for Spielberg.
* This review is based on the Director's
Cut edition, released in 1998 *
* This review is based on the Director's Cut edition, released in 1998 *