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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Human Rating: 4 / 5 Alien Rating: Government Cover Up

This must mean something...

Close EncountersThis film is basically a latter day suburban version of the Christian Second Coming. Steven Spielberg's wish-fulfilment, if you like. In it, several suburbanites (Richard Dreyfuss, playing suburban Everyman, among them) are basically given instructions to be at a certain place at a certain time where benign aliens in UFOs will pick them up and take them away to a wondrous world.

Released in the same year as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), Close Encounters made a killing at the box office. Obviously there were a lot of people living in suburbia who longed to be taken away to more interesting places! The film, except maybe for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), is probably one of Spielberg's most personal - and one of his best - films. Its special effects (which later became a hallmark in other Spielberg epics such as Poltergeist (1982) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)), although not as many and as spectacular as those in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), was just as revolutionary. Whereas Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) gave the world space ships that looked as if they might actually work, Close Encounters gave us flying saucers that didn't look like those flying hubcaps featured in 1950s B-grade movies. The saucers in Close Encounters are bright lights - flashing and impressive, setting a tone for other 1980s movies that followed.

Close EncountersBut this is more than an effects movie: the characters are believable and likable and not overshadowed by the special effects team headed by Richard Edlund - a rare occurrence! A human story - despite the aliens emerging godlike from their majestic UFOs at the end of the movie.

In 1980 Steven Spielberg reedited his original Close Encounters dropping several smaller scenes and adding other sequences. The differences between the various versions are too numerous to go into in full detail - especially considering that for network screenings of the movie all existing footage was used!

In the end the film is tighter in the midsection, but longer towards the end. In fact the final scenes reveal a lot more of the interior alien mothership and while those scenes are spectacular (the new effects were designed by the underground artist Ron Cobb - but no credit is given) they are redundant to a degree and tends to drag.

Close EncountersWhile this is the film that Spielberg originally wanted to release, the net sum of Close Encounters remain the same: this film is no huge departure from the previous version and remains, even 21 years later, a definite sci-fi classic. Not even Spielberg makes them as they used to...

Review by James O'Ehley from The Sci-Fi Movie Page.

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