A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

July 17, 2011

Close Encounter of the Third Kind

As I said to Amanda after watching this movie for our project, this ranks high amongst my favorite movies of all time. It’s intelligent, intriguing and spectacular. I couldn’t possibly have seen this when it premiered in 1977, but I definitely saw it for the first time on the theater, so it must have been for some kind of re-release. Whatever the case, I was instantly captured by this wonderfully constructed tale of first contact with benevolent aliens.

What’s truly astonishing about this movie is that it has no bad guys. There are government operatives and army officers who think they know best how to handle first contact, but they’re never depicted as evil people, just people doing their job. And their job is to initiate first contact with a race that has been buzzing around abducting people for at least the last forty years.

This movie is so expertly and perfectly put together. It has aspects of adventure and action, but it’s mostly a movie about discovery. It’s about realizing that we’re part of a larger universe and how people handle this. It follows several different people influenced by the aliens as things slowly escalate until they reach the powerful, beautiful conclusion.

The chief characters are a young mother and her son in Muncie Indiana, a utility repair man with a knack for getting lost, and a French UFO expert who travels the world trying to understand the strange phenomena that are happening with increasing frequency as the aliens reach out to the planet’s populace.

Melinda Dillon, the mother from A Christmas Story, was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Jillian Guiler, whose son is taken by the aliens in one of the few scary scenes that would have left five-year-old me with nightmares if I had seen this in 1977. (Thus my certainty that I didn’t see this until at least the eighties.) She’s fiercely protective of her son, but at the same time she’s somewhat curious about the UFOs. After one encounter with the flying objects (before her son Barry is abducted) she meets Roy Neary, who is a utility repairman out trying to figure out what is causing a mysterious blackout that has covered the entire town. Roy is chasing after a UFO that flew over his truck when he almost hits Barry, who is standing in the road seemingly waiting for the aliens. Both Roy and Jillian are infected by the encounter with an obsession. They have visions of a shape – a kind of mountain. They have a tune stuck in their heads. They don’t know what these things mean, but they are slowly being driven mad by these implanted images and ideas. (Particularly Roy who started out somewhat disconnected from his wife and children but as the movie progresses drifts farther and farther away from them.)

From the other side of things we have Francois Truffaut (yes THAT Francois Truffaut) as the French scientific expert on the phenomena of UFOs Claude Lacombe. He has been summoned by the US government to make sense of things like long lost WWII fighter planes showing up in Mexico or a missing cargo ship deposited in the desert in Africa. He and his somewhat bewildered interpreter have complete access to the whole puzzle and know exactly what is going on. Aliens have made contact with humankind and are inviting them to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

It astonishes me how little this movie has aged. The shining, tumbling, soaring spaceships are as mysterious and as beautiful now as they were thirty years ago. The special effects are totally convincing with narry a matte line to be seen. The aliens themselves still look fairly convincing (because they were filmed slightly out of focus and heavily backlit. Even the cars and wardrobes of the human characters don’t seem particularly out of date when compared with other films of that era. (Such as yesterday’s movie, Superman, which came out a year later.)

Add to all this John Williams’ absolutely perfect score. The entire notion of communicating with aliens through music is wonderful, and Williams fleshes that concept out beautifully. As this movie builds toward the encounter from which it gets its title the score also slowly builds to a dizzying crescendo that sweeps the viewer away and makes me long to encounter these brightly lit musical aliens and explore the universe with them.

I’m debating now if I should get E.T. for the project. It was a movie that touched me deeply in 1982 (I saw it eight times in the theater and I was the same age as Elliott in the movie) but the last time I tried to watch it I realized just how dated that movie has become.

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July 17, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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