After being beaten over the head by a long Hollywood summer, revisiting Close Encounters of the Third Kind during a week-long theatrical run is a perfect way to reconnect with one of Steven Spielberg’s popcorn classics. Filled with harrowing sequences that hold up surprisingly well and Spielberg’s patented optimism, Close Encounters remains a great watch sure to inspire more than a tinge of nostalgia – and hopefully push a clunker or two from your memory banks. Here are six reasons to ditch your original movie plans this weekend and have a close encounter with a 70s sci-fi (near) masterpiece.
The special effects are actually…special.
Similar to finding the right ratio of science and fiction, Close Encounters is a masterwork of the role of special effects. Throughout, Spielberg uses the state-of-the-art effects to fulfill his vision instead of making them the main course, a lesson that the best action directors have learned by heart since the onset of the event film era. Even though the aliens look a bit like shaved humans swaddled in plastic wrap, the visual effects seamlessly fill in the edges of the story and blend with the dazzling cinematography, creating a tremendous visual experience that remains intact 40 years later. The scheme can even get you thinking that street lights look like flying saucers against the night sky, mimicking Richard Dreyfuss’ descent into uncontrollable UFO fever.
It’s way funnier than you remember.
If it’s been a while since you’ve popped Close Encounters into your Blu-ray or DVD player, you may only recall the flashing lights and the funny little men pouring out of the spaceship, yet much of the movie actually plays like a comedy. Take Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary, whose kids are hilariously bashing him into madness even before he has his main breakdown. Even the government coverup is filled with timely gags about Piggly Wigglies and crisis-profiteers, including an entrepreneur who steps up to sell gas masks the moment the government announces a toxic leak. Bob Balaban’s hilariously droll scientist-turned-translator also has moments that could be slipped into a Wes Anderson movie, and we even catch glimpses of frightened extras heading for the bathroom long before the blood-sucking lawyer does it in Jurassic Park. Once the fireworks arrive after a series of funny scenes that develop the characters into actual humans, it can be easy to forget that you’re watching a sci-fi flick.
Spielberg wasn’t sure John Williams had another good score in him after Jaws and Star Wars.
We may know John Williams as the musician behind countless classic film scores and one of the greatest film composers of all-time. Yet Spielberg admits that he was worried about Williams peaking after hearing the Star Wars score – before Williams wrote the scores for Empire, Indiana Jones, E.T., Jurassic Park, Superman, Harry Potter and even Stepmom. Close Encounters is one of Williams’ least known scores, although it perfectly highlights the mood of the film with splashes of suspense and uplift that he would later slip into his other famous collaborations with Spielberg.
It’s a terrific time capsule for a different political universe.
In the short film that plays before the 40th anniversary edition, Spielberg confesses that the movie was written in the shadow of the Watergate tidal wave. While Tricky Dick was hiding his dirty laundry, Spielberg was imagining what else the government could be hiding – like aliens awkwardly flirting with the locals of small Indiana towns. In many ways, Close Encounters is an optimistic response to the darkness of Watergate, showcasing a well-meaning government that hides the facts more out of tradition than malice. As Neary and Melinda (Jillian Guiler), head deeper into the heart of the conspiracy, we’re seeing a more innocent time in which even the coverups don’t feel Orwellian.
The movie wasn’t even written with sci-fi in mind.
Close Encounters is constructed around the skeptic, digging into mysterious circumstances with believable characters who are just as befuddled as the audience. That tone comes straight from Spielberg, who claims he didn’t even imagine the film as science-fiction at all, which is probably why it works so well in the genre. Long before we get to any of the cool gadgets and effects, we’re grounded with disbelieving scientists and air traffic controllers rendered awestruck by what they’re witnessing first-hand. With Kubrick’s 2001 doubtlessly still lingering in Spielberg’s memory as he wrote the screenplay, Close Encounters is a prototypical example of how much authentic-feeling science can enhance the fiction.
It cemented Spielberg’s undeniable talent.
You could say that 1977 was a good year for Spielberg, as he not only delivered his second acclaimed blockbuster in three years but swindled George Lucas out of about $40 million in Star Wars profits. While Jaws certainly helped to write the rules for event films in 1975, Close Encounters proved that Spielberg was anything but a flash in the pan and could provide thrills that went far beyond the shores of Amity Island. Even with an undercooked romantic plot that is a touch painful, Close Encounters of the Third Kind has all goofy fun, unrestrainable optimism and technical precision that would turn Spielberg into an icon. And it’s a whole lot better than Goofy Golf.