Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
(Criterion Laser Disc Collection)
How far would you go to satisfy an indescribable obsession ... that could take you to the stars and beyond?
"If everything's ready here on the Dark Side of the Moon... play the five tones."
The more I think about Close Encounters of the Third Kind the more it feels like Spielberg's response to meditative sci-fi classics that explored the idea of humanity beyond our comprehension in the universe, like Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' and Tarkovsky's 'Solaris'.
On first glance, Close Encounters feels like a much more grounded film based on the common idea of extra-terrestrial events that are shown. But at the same time, I kept thinking about what themes this movie was going for. 2001 is very much about the expansion of human intelligence and knowledge, while 'Solaris' from what I remember focuses on love and memory. Meantime, Close Encounters comes into that equation by focusing on human obsession, and communications with not only alien life but with people from different nations around the world.
- Another aspect that grounds Close Encounters, is that it revolves around the speculation of UFO culture here on Earth, rather than futuristic space travel
- With rewatching this I kept thinking how the family sequences reminded me of the look of 'Poltergeist', but Tobe Hooper Directed that one .... right ; )
- Probably the most divisive aspect of the story, is what to think of the actions of our lead character Roy played by Richard Dreyfuss. As a father of three young kids, I totally get the frustrations we see him having. But the idea of abandoning the commitment to your family in order to satisfy an obsession, can make him a difficult character to pull for
- Another fascinating aspect is that we don't fully know what he is looking to get out of this obsession. Does he truly want to live among and learn about these aliens? Or is it merely the fact that he wants to follow through with how they selected him, by implanting him with this desire and visions
- The special effects throughout make it very easy to buy into the idea of these UFOs that seem threatening at first, like when they surround that country home and attract the young boy to them
- This mystery is further enhanced by all the strange occurrences being seen all around the world, from missing planes and a huge boat appearing in the middle of the desert. To people in India having apparently already experienced, and foreshadowing the musical aspect of the end of the film
- Speaking of the music, John Williams as always did an incredible job creating this sense of mystery and awe through the score in the buildup to and during the final close encounter
- I really enjoyed the idea of the vision and creativity of an artist that Roy and the others that were chosen have and struggle with. They know what they are creating needs to be a big hill, but they also realize there something not exactly right about it. It is not until Roy accidentally knocks the top off, that he realizes that it should have a flat top like Devils Tower. Also, that ah-ha moment of seeing that vision come to life when he sees Devils Tower on the TV is brilliant
- Spielberg loves including the idea that the Government can not be trusted, which he said in interviews goes back to how the country was feeling after the Watergate Scandal
- With how iconic the finale is, I don't recall ever having any uncertainty about the alien's intentions. And I think knowing throughout that they are peaceful does take away from the suspense of the film
- While slowly paced, the majestic sense of wonder the peaceful ending has is a cinematic marvel, with the humans and aliens communicating to each other through these base couple tones and colors. This is like a simple greeting that anyone would have at first, before exploring the range of everything else you would desire to say
- I saw the Director's cut of the film, but the special edition is interesting since you get an inside look at the mothership, which was a scene Spielberg did not want to shoot. It pretty much looks like what you would imagine it being like, based on what you have seen of the outside of the ship
- The aliens being these funny looking little guys with big heads, makes you appreciate the more ambiguous way later films like 'Contact' handled this aspect
- Watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind also reminded me of how Denis Villeneuve's film 'Arrival' reimagined this story, which changes things up by including an emphasis on the aspect of time
This Spielberg film feels like an interesting middle ground between a blockbuster sci-fi visual spectacle, and a more thought-provoking arthouse film. I enjoy lots of aspects about it including the beautiful special effects, and experiencing the struggle that Roy goes through. But it being more quiet and meditative at the end, does make it less satisfying action-wise compared to Spielberg's other great films. And next time I am in the mood for an artsy sci-fi film I would rather return to 'Solaris' and then '2001'. I would be curious to hear someone's thoughts about how Close Encounters provides answers at the end, who was frustrated by 2001's ambiguous ending.
Thanks for reading.
Happy movie watching ... Skål!