WOW! Last week I watched some pretty incredible movies so I had to think a lot about what this week’s Film of the Week would be before deciding on Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The other four films I watched last week are listed below and I highly recommend each one:
- The Gift
- My Cousin Vinny
- Her (read my review here)
- Dog Day Afternoon – features a brilliant performance from a young Al Pacino
Roy, a father and blue-collar worker in a small Indiana town, is among the lucky few who were able to glimpse a couple of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) one night. Although the bright lights of a UFO have burnt a portion of his face, most people don’t believe him and think he’s gone crazy after becoming hellbent on determining the reason behind the extraterrestrials’ visit.
Modern day filmmakers could learn a thing or two from Spielberg’s masterful storytelling seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Rather than providing segments of exposition, which is much too common in movies today, viewers are given as much information, which is quite minimal, about the alien visitors as the film’s leading characters. Apart from Roy, we primarily explore the events unfolding in the small Indiana town through the lens of a Barry, a young boy, and Jillian, his mother, who both have had an encounters. Because knowledge of the aliens is restricted the film completely engages viewers with these characters’ search for answers. As UFOs flip, hover and beam lights across neighbourhoods we are left as mystified and curious as the town’s residents.
Another thing to note about Close Encounters are its first two acts which are truly some of the most mystifying and immersive coming out of the science fiction genre. The UFOs, which are mainly an offscreen presence, cause power surges in houses below, ignite tractor beams which levitate cars, and intentionally select a handful of people to know of their existence. Just as the leading characters whose knowledge is extremely limited to the unfolding events, we are left questioning the extraterrestrial visit. Are they hostile? Do they come in peace? What do they want from the few who were chosen? Given that we don’t even see them outside of their UFOs, what do they even look like?
Dialogue is quite minimal in the film’s first 1 hour and visuals are used as a tool of storytelling. Consequently there are several moments throughout the runtime that are just viewer and character which makes you feel as if you are standing in the world with them. Practical effects, which still hold up 40 years later, make the raucous the alien’s cause extremely believable and hence quite engaging for viewers. Spielberg’s direction features quite a few long takes – meaning no cuts – that, at the beginning of the scene, sees the camera slowly find its way to subjects. The camera resides in the middle of conversations, placed in positions at a roundtable where a chair may be for example, and because of this you feel as if you are right there with the characters rather than simply watching them.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is vintage Spielberg —
which is arguably the best Spielberg all Spielberg is good. John Williams’ score, of course, is absolutely beautiful and elevates this already incredible science fiction tale to new heights. In the third act, the aliens take a bit of hiatus resulting in some of the slowest moments, which are still phenomenal but not as compelling as the first half of the film. The last 20 minutes are absolutely memorizing moments in cinema, and as Williams’ score swells, conclude one of sci-fi’s best projects.
I tried my very best to make this a strong recommendation without revealing too much as Close Encounters is best viewed going in completely blind. The film, from start to finish, is quite ambiguous but makes every passing second increasingly enticing.
Recommended Viewing: with your family if you’re ever looking for something to watch. Chances are if you are a film buff or Spielberg fan, this is already on your watchlist and possibly one of your favorites ever. If you are a lover of ambiguous stories that’ll make you think way after the credits roll, this 1977 classic is the film for you.
Want to check out my list two Films of the Week were? Click here!