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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

by on 2013/01/13

close_encounters_of_the_third_kind_1977“How come I know so much? What the hell is going on around here?”

* * * *

I have a long history with legendary UFO film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As I type right now, I can glance over and see the wrecked copy of my Close Encounters Galactic Games puzzle book that my mother bought for me in the late 70s. I fished it out of a closet storage box yesterday in honour of GeekvsGoth.com’s journey beyond the moon.

If you were to open the bent and battered Galactic puzzle book, you’d see my childish scrawl in the UFOTHORITY crossword and my little sister’s attempt to blind a picture of the adorable tow-headed Barry (Cary Guffey) with blue crayon.

As the book promised, it was “light years of fun!”

I remember being very impressed with the book’s black-and-white-photo of little Barry staring up in mild wonderment at otherworldly alien lights while a scraggly-haired Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story) , plays it hysterical and weeping, as Barry’s mom Jillian.

Parents, as I thought then, always over-react.

Now that I’m a responsible and only occasionally overwrought adult myself, I felt the need to introduce this sci-fi classic to my favourite teenager Miss_Tree.

“This,” I said, brandishing a copy of the Steven Spielberg film above my head, “is a part of my childhood.”

I challenged her to tell me truthfully if the film held up, these many years later.

The 137-minute director’s cut, we agreed, did indeed hold up.

What I admire most about this artful study of encounters with UFOs and visitors from other world is the remarkable restraint exercised by Spielberg. There’s a very slow reveal here. First, there’s only lights. Lights in a single mom’s house. Lights along the roadway.

Subtle cues and clues. Not enough to validate UFO witnesses Richard Dreyfuss (Red) and Melinda Dillon’s histrionic claims of alien lifeforms invading Earth. Dreyfuss is a family man and lineman (for the county) who pursues alien ships after seeing them on his repair trip (ride) down the main (electrical) line. The only evidence of his close encounter is that half of his face is burned by the ship lights.

But that’s not enough for his family, and shrill wife Teri Garr (Ghost World), to be fully convinced that Daddy hasn’t gone completely insane.

When he’s driven to sculpt his mashed potatoes at the dinner table and later uproot his front year in an attempt to recreate the alien landing spot, his family flees for a motel. That’s a slice of reality right there. I’m sympathetic with all the doubters portrayed in this film – I have often felt a little impatient with those who have shared their own close encounters with me.

There’s some great performances in this movie from Dreyfuss, Garr and a young Bob Balaban (also of Ghost World), as the curly-haired translator/scientist.

There’s also some interesting commentary on the human condition here too. There’s the military elitism and a government bent on cover up and conspiracy. There’s the Tower of Babel of languages, cultural misunderstanding and stutter-stop process of scientific discovery as the world struggles to understand. And then there’s the innocent openness and acceptance of a child, and the universal power of music.

Beauty, truth and big-headed aliens. It is all there in this great Galactic puzzle that is Close Encounters.

* * * *

137 minutes (director’s cut)

Rated PG

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