60/60 Review #2: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

Another review, another 2 days to watch the movie. Maybe I shouldn't try watching them at 8 PM, as I keep passing out by 9. Luckily, I lasted longer for this one. By the time I gave up and turned it off, I only had about 30-45 minutes left... and for a 2 hour and 15 minute movie, that's not too bad. As it is, I wasn't super thrilled going into the movie. Sure, it's classic Spielberg... but I'd recently been hearing a lot about how boring this movie is. And after what I went through last week (and, Lord help me, what I have to go through next week), I wasn't super thrilled for it.

For those of you who don't know, the movie follows a couple different people. The main character is Roy (Richard Dreyfuss), who is... I'm not too sure. An electrician or something. He has a "close encounter" with some UFOs, and all he gets out of it is a bad sunburn and a loss of his job... for some reason. It also follows Jillian (Melinda Dillon), whose toddler son Barry has some kind of connection with the aliens. Then there are a bunch of government people who are trying to make contact with the aliens. And all of them are connected by a giant landmass that they can't quite figure out what it is. Oh, and a song that gets stuck in their heads.

This is a very bizarre movie, to say the least. There isn't much of a plot as much as it is over 2 hours of people running around confused and upset. Richard Dreyfuss was good casting, though I could just picture Spielberg telling him "Quirkier! Be quirkier! You aren't nearly quirky enough!" Though despite the lack of any real plot, after the horribly boring first 30 minutes (or so) before we really get any kind of structured narrative flow, it's entertaining enough.

The special effects are pretty cool, especially the UFOs themselves. And although the cloud formation bits looked fake, it still looked really cool for some reason. Overall, visually, the movie both holds up and feels dated simultaneously. It's very strange. I think it's because the effects themselves are really good, but you can always tell there's a green screen, so it takes away from it.

The last act is something out of Fantasia... it's very bizarre. I'm sure if they remade this movie, it'd be changed into a rap battle showdown or something. As for the aliens, the tall alien looks freaky, and the tiny ones look like the tree sprites from Princess Mononoke. The very end of the movie, however, is slightly confusing. Was the government working with the aliens, or were they just sending people to go experience them? And what the hell was with the hand movements? I know they showed them throughout the film, but were they supposed to symbolize the musical notes so they could communicate with the aliens without music? That's the best I could come up with.

I guess in the end, I suppose I enjoyed it, but it didn't blow me away. The effects were pretty good for their time. There could have been a clearer story, and the movie probably could have been a lot shorter. Richard Dreyfuss was good. But if I had to choose one Spielberg alien movie, I'd definitely go E.T. So yeah, I guess that's about it for this one. On the upside, I now understand the keyboard joke from Monsters vs. Aliens.

Stop Saying OK! OK.


  1. Where to begin...

    There is indeed a plot, and the plot is that when people have a close encounter, they often can't seem to move on with their lives. Whether they are scientists researching it, or regular schmoes who tripped over it, it has affected their lives in a way that there's no going back.

    I didn't get "quirky" from Dreyfuss' performance. I got obsessed. For "quirky" Spielberg characters see Walken in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

    By the by, you might want to check out some of the behind the scenes on the dvd, as I don't think there's as much green screen going on as you'd expect. I believe a lot of what you're seeing is matte work...rather different technique that isn't used much anymore.

    As for the end, the government had a handful of candidates step forward that the aliens might choose from...hopeful that whoever was selected would be able to report back to them. The people you saw come off the mothership were abductees that the aliens had decided to bring back home.

    The hand movements were in fact "sign language" for the five notes...and the five notes was something the scientists must be something important in the alien language. Sort of a "We come in peace". So being able to play the aliens their own message, and likewise sign it would assure a peaceful encounter, and close the window for potential misunderstandings.

    Sorry to hear you didn't fall hard for this one as its actually one of my favorite Spielberg films - right up there with Raiders and Private Ryan.

    As I said, if you still have that dvd, give the features a watch. You wouldn't believe the stellar directing that Spielberg managed on this sophmore effort.

  2. That sounds less of a plot and more of a theme, really.

    I really like Catch Me If You Can, and I can see "obsessed" with Dreyfuss. But I still say there was a lot of quirk.

    I didn't have the DVD. I Instant Streamed it.

    As for the candidates thing, that's pretty much what I thought. And I knew what was going on with the people coming off the mothership. That one was easy to figure out.

    For the sign language, OK, so I did get that one. That's exactly what I thought was going on.

    Like I said, I didn't hate the movie. I just thought it was alright, and I probably wouldn't go out of my way to watch it again. But if it came on TV and there was nothing else on, I might stop and take a gander.

    Finally, of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, Raiders comes in second for me. I've always been a Last Crusade kinda guy. And, as you can tell from my list, I've yet to see Saving Private Ryan.

  3. The plot is aliens are out there. Scientists want to make contact and people who have had close encounters want more - all played out by leaning on LaCombe, Roy, and Jillian.

    Dreyfuss is a quirky guy by nature. Takes a certain degree of skill to show him sculpting the mountain out of mashed potatoes without making him seem completely nuts.

    Did you instant stream it to your TV? Something tells me that this is the sort of film that needs to be watched "big" (Sidenote: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is like that when you get to that entry). Part of me wants to burn you a copy of the special features disc.

    I also wonder which cut they streamed you, since the longer version of the film seems to drag a bit in places.

    What I've always loved about this film is how it's less about them, and more about us. To the aliens, we're probably no more significant than ants on a sidewalk. But for us, the aliens might as well be gods...and once one of us has a brush with a god, it changes us so completely that we can't seem to go on with the ant-like life we were living before.

    That, and the way that the evidence the aliens leave behind is even more fascinating than the aliens themselves (a la MONSTERS). Moments like the abandonned freighter in the desert, the aboriginies chanting and then pointing to the sky in unison, the fleet of WWII airplanes.

    It's more impressionist and less pulp.

    BTW - If you thought this film was abstract, buckle up for 2001.

    Good on ya for watching this - and again, for going through with this series.

  4. Again, "aliens are out there" is more of a theme than plot. A plot is a sequence of events that tells a story... and there is a plot to the movie--my point is that there just wasn't much of one. As you've implied twice now, the movie is more about its themes than its story. Your second sentence there is more in line with the plot.

    Yeah, I streamed it to my TV, and I have a pretty good TV. The version I got was the one from that poster--the 30th anniversary ultimate edition. It was 2 hours and 15 minutes long, according to Netflix... but looking on imdb, the other 2 versions only seem to be 2-3 minutes difference.

    I'm not exactly looking forward to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I've not heard many good things about it... mostly how slow, boring, confusing, and bizarre it is.

    And if this was your reaction to me thinking a movie was OK, I can't wait to see what you say when I flat-out hate one of these classics. :P

  5. Heh, I just love talking about this movie, so whether you loved it or hated it, I'd still be responding this much.

    Fair enough - this movie is by and large a character piece wrapped around a theme. But I'm cool with that.

    That poster actually doesn't help me much, since that dvd came with all three edits of the film. For my money, the original cut of the film is best - the other two just add in tangents which are interesting but ultimately make the whole thing drag.

    We're getting ahead of ourselves, but try to watch 2001 like a piece of installation art. I might very well watch it that week as well so I can refresh my memory.

  6. We're not getting *too* far ahead of ourselves. I'm doing 2001 next week.

  7. Wow - epic conversation post-review! CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is a difficult wtahc the first time but I think the more you watch it, the better it gets. I reckon it will stick with you - visual-focus points: the potato mash, the lights in the sky - the complete awe upon seeing something literally out-of-this-world. Its not my favourite spielberg, but it sure is good - if only for the incredible soundtrack: John Williams shows that with five-single notes, he can build one of his most memorbable themes! An incredible film.

  8. Interesting take on a classic, though I'm not sure I follow and or agree with much of your review. There seems to be some confusion (included also in the other comments) regarding plot. Also called storyline, Plot is the plan, the scheme, or elements that move the story along. Thing of plot as major movements in the story - like the initial 'close encounter' then every major event that leads us to the conclusion of the story which is the big finale where man and alien finally share a common language and the minor subplots or resolved are brought together in a meaningful way. Plot.

    @The Mad Hatter - good points about the behind the scenes extras for this movie. Also of note is your detail about the 'sign language'.

    I think it is a lot harder to look back at a seminal, epic film from today's hundred million dollar films and be able to fully appreciate the accomplishment of films thirty, forty and fifty years ago. Today they seem dated and irrelevant but at the time (like Jaws) they set the standard for success and epic storytelling that remains to this day.

    I think I caught your blog from LAMb or some other such place. Added you to my feed reader. Will drop back sometime. Feel free to come by and see me at Above the Line.

  9. Thanks Rory! Glad to have new readers and commentators!

    I do know the definition of plot, though, as I am an English teacher and novelist :) . And I never said there wasn't one. My point was that it isn't a plot-driven movie.

    Anywho, I hope to see you around. Keep reading and commenting!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.