Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban
Released: 1977 / Genre: Science-Fiction / Country: USA / IMDB
Buy on DVD & Blu-ray:
Amazon.co.uk: DVD | Blu-ray
Amazon.com: DVD | Blu-ray

One of Hollywood’s most renowned and celebrated sons Steven Spielberg brings the world one of the best sci-fi films of the 1970s. Richard Dreyfuss is Roy Neary, a disillusioned suburbanite whose struggle to maintain the American Dream is thrown into disarray when he, like many others, is drawn to the mysterious goings-on of a possible visitation by aliens. Strange radar communications are occurring, planes and boats that disappeared decades ago are being found, lights are appearing in the sky, and the government seems hell-bent on covering up whatever is causing the disturbances. But, Neary is determined to find out just what is happening. Is he going mad or is he about to have a Close Encounter of the Third Kind?

If this isn’t Spielberg’s best film, then it most certainly is his second greatest achievement behind Jaws. It could be looked at as a level of cinematic accomplishment that Spielberg could never re-imagine, an easy comparable for his critics to endlessly debate with their most hated of his movies like Schindler’s List.

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If what tainted his film about the holocaust was his Manichean view of the world, at least in part, then this certainly doesn’t hinder CE3K. For me, it’s an example of a kid’s movie made entirely for adults. It recreates that sense of wonder, that fearful, guarded interest into the unknown, that only really works if one still believes that the unknown (the bogeyman, the werewolf, extraterrestrials, Father Christmas) still exists. Spielberg places the audience within the world of the few remaining dreamers – those that still cling to the idea: we’re not alone.

You can see that Spielberg is embodied in Richard Dreyfuss’ character, much like he was Elliot in E.T. There is the disenchantment with the American Dream – a feeling that his children just want to rebel and his wife is only interested in a tidy kitchen – a sort of apprehensive precursor to eighties yuppies and materialism. It’s as if the important things in life don’t matter (much like the thought-process of a child), the only thing that needs worrying about is the monster that hides under your bed. The dreamers dare question that not everything is set in stone and their reality has not been made for them.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is simply one of the best science-fiction movies ever made. If it doesn’t settle the argument that Spielberg is one of Hollywood’s true greats, nothing will.

Review by Daniel Stephens

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. amy Reply

    LOL I like what you said “t’s an example of a kid’s movie made entirely for adults”. I remember I was a kid and saw that scene when they finally make contact and you get all the pretty lights. That was my “first meeting with the dinos” xD

    I mean, I’m not crazy about Jaws. I’m more a person of “ooh, the unknown”, and I also wasn’t big on Alien because Alien scared the crap out of me when I was little, and still have that psychosis I guess. LOL But Close Encounters made me feel giddy.

    Sometimes I think that if I ever have a kid, I’d make him/her watch movies on DVD/Blu instead of taking them to watch new films at the theater. Make them grow up with older movies hahaha.

  2. Jaccstev Reply

    One of the few alien films where the aliens come to say “hi” without wanting to blow us up or the military trying to blow them up.

  3. Dan Stephens Reply

    Amy – I like the idea about getting kids to watch older films. Well, at least those great 80s kids films!

  4. amy Reply

    My kid’s watchlist will include:
    – The Goonies
    – Labyrinth
    – The Neverending Story

    for sure. LOL

  5. Will Reply

    Great review of an equally great film. I’m undecided if I think it’s Spielberg’s best film, but regardless it is awesome.

    I also like the idea of showing kids older films, and I can attest that it works. I grew up watching lots of older stuff as well as the current-gen, and I grew up with an appreciation of it all.

  6. Dan Reply

    @Will: Cheers. For me it is Spielberg’s best although I haven’t always thought that. Growing up it was Jaws but as I’ve got older I’ve come to love the childlike innocence of the film that is seen more obviously in ET, embodied here in Dreyfuss’ adult. It’s a love of imagination and that’s why I hold Close Encounters so dear.

  7. Raghav Reply

    Saw it for the first time last night and loved it. Watching it I found it hard to put it as a children’s film in any way. For me, with it’s characterisation and decharacterization of the main character, it came across totally as a film for adults. Brilliant film making!

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