Classic Intel: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - DVD Review

'beautiful, aspirational, mesmeric and occasionally orchestral science fiction'

It's tempting, perhaps even dangerously so nowadays, with our Nolans and Jacksons, Bigelows and Camerons, to forget about a gentleman called Steven Spielberg. It's perhaps because some of his recent marks haven't quite hit the target. The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was divisive at best, War Of The Worlds enjoyable but hardly groundbreaking, The Terminal fun but schmaltzy. It's a shame that it's easier to forget than to remember. Spielberg is and always has been the master of grandiose cinematic language - intelligent blockbusters with a self-aware streak of inventive narrative intelligence - which compel, delight and entertain audiences in equal measure.

A beautiful, aspirational, mesmeric and occasionally orchestral science fiction story, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is no different. A world away from the macho action fun of War Of The Worlds or Minority Report, this is arthouse sci-fi for the masses, a close-knit 'what if' scenario that takes alien abduction away from the explosions and parlour tricks and roots it in the human mind.

The brilliant choice of mind for Spielberg's air-cushioned cruise through alien first contact is Richard Dreyfuss' electrical worker Roy Neary in a standout performance that roots the film in the everyman, whilst suggesting that the everyman might very well be on to something. Dreyfuss is perfectly cast, leaping from manic-obsessive nut case to quietly intense psycho-analyst, he provides a large part of what is so compelling about the central narrative: is Neary on a voyage of discovery or a journey into madness? As such there are echoes here of Conrad's Heart Of Darkness; Neary has something to search for, he knows bits of information about what that something is, he must travel through apparently threatening terrain to get to it, he has no idea what he will find come the end.

Once he reaches that end though, Spielberg treats us to a glorious musical finale that could perhaps be accused of wandering in to self-indulgence but is never anything less than preposterously beautiful. Dreyfuss and co-star Melinda Dillon keep us in the moment with acting never anything less than realistic amazement and tangible nervousness. Forget the atypical small aliens that remind us this is the 1970s, they're inconsequential, what should really be important at this point is Neary's vindication and Spielberg glories in it.

Above the end though, Spielberg's own glory is his start. Close Encounters' opening thirty minutes, I would argue, rival anything in cinema for their forthright display of slow character building and dramatic event management. From the little touches that hint at the paranormal to the world class scene with Neary in his truck, alone by a railway line, Spielberg carefully prepares us for what is to come with both vigour and patience, care and craft, resulting in a completely hooked audience when Neary's journey really starts. It reads like a 'how to' book of writing a gripping beginning to a fascinating tale.

Perhaps Close Encounters is too abstract for the masses but this is science fiction as it was intended; ambitious and soaring, aiming for new heights. While Spielberg moves onwards, trying to craft new films to define new generations of cinema, his mastery of the art form in the past and importance in shaping the brilliant pretenders today, shouldn't be allowed to slip forgotten into the night.

Look further...

'Close Encounters works because it embraces all that science fiction films can without ever stepping out of bounds in favor of cheap thrills' - A Life In Equinox (Ryan Helms), 10/10


  1. I love this movie. And without any guilt I enjoy much of the work of Stephen Spielberg. It's become a bit too popular among movie bloggers to throw subtle jabs with his recent high budget sci-fi films, but Spielberg has proven as much as anyone he can handle powerful Dramas just as well (Color Purple, Schindler's List, Amistad).

    Not to mention I think all these blockbuster directors: Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, etc. should be required to take one day out and pay homage to Spielberg for his work on Jaws. Without it, they might not exist.

  2. This movie is the single most awesome alien thing ever (says me). Richard Dreyfuss is amazing, etc, etc.

    In conclusion, go Spielberg.

  3. Univarn - Some good points there. I don't think Spielberg's 'new' sc-fi is actually all that bad. I liked Minority Report and I really enjoyed War Of The Worlds as a big dumb blockbuster but you're right: it has become too common place to knock him which I suppose is part of my point.

    Jaws will also be appearing here soon. I haven't seen it since I was pretty small and I'm eager to watch it again and see if it keeps all the tension I remember it having. Looking forward to it.

    Simon - I agree. And even though I have some early misgivings about Tintin, I really cannont wait to see it.