Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, Melinda Dillon, Cary Guffey and François Truffaut.
Not only is Close Encounters a beautifully made film, it also represents another key stage in the evolution of the blockbuster. In a sense, it’s hard to imagine such a character heavy, low-on-action film being considered a ‘blockbuster’ in 2015. Perhaps that’s an indictment on the impatience of the modern ‘event’ movie. Of course, we live in different times. More money is thrown at films than it was in 1977. But it feels like for every Chris Nolan or Duncan Jones, we have 10 Michael Bay’s lining up.
Written and directed by Steven Spielberg, ‘Encounters’ feels like a very personal film from Spielberg. Yet, that is one of his many unique talents. Spielberg has always had the ability to operate intimately on a large canvas. A bit like a rock star who can make a 75,000 capacity stadium feel like a personal, private gig for each listener.
Just like he did in Jaws, Spielberg puts us in the shoes of the Everyman. Also, like Jaws, he casts Richard Dreyfuss. Instead of playing the excitable scientist, Dreyfuss takes the Roy Schieder role of the family man caught-up in an all-consuming obsession, triggered by a close encounter with a phenomena that he can’t explain, but one that he knows in his heart and mind “means something”.
Spielberg once again captures the buzz and clutter of mid American family life. In that sense, the style is like a sugar-coated version of the kitchen-sink realism of Ken Loach. 38yrs on, it’s appeal is added to by a sense of nostalgia ingrained in the DNA of the film. After giving us the view of Dreyfuss and his family at home – a sequence that is there to ground us and enable us to feel identity with the characters – Spielberg then starts to build the intrigue and suspense.
Impressively, Close Encounters manages the dual trick of mixing small, intimate family locations, with vast exotic sweeping shots comprising of thousands of extras. It adds scale to depth, but without ever pushing hard in either direction. This leaves a very natural flow to the scenes, even though they are often jumping perspectives all over the globe. Spielberg also shows his ability to direct children, in the way he captures a beautiful sense of wonder from 3-yr-old Cary Guffey (Barry), surely the cutest kid ever put on screen.
From John Williams’ simple, iconic tones, to Spielberg’s homely sense of wonder, this is a landmark piece of movie making. By modern standards, there’s no set-pieces to ‘wow’ you away, but this isn’t a film that’s trying to show off. This is a film that invites you to open your mind and come on a journey. That’s what all the best films should do. 5/5