Richard Dreyfuss
Francois Truffaut
Teri Garr
Melinda Dillon
Bob Balaban
Cary Guffey
Lance Henriksen
Shawn Bishop

Steven Spielberg




Time: 135 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: Science Fiction/Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Nominated for Art Direction, Sound, Director, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Score and Supporting Actress.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is one of those movies I wish I saw for the first time in the theater. Released on the tale of STAR WARS, 1977 was definitely the year that science fiction films reached a whole different level. As much as I love STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is without question the better film. Not as flashy, but more intelligent, thought-provoking and intriguing. In some ways, this film is even scarier than JAWS, Spielberg's first film. There you know it's a shark. A mean SOB, but something tangible. This film is one of the first to seriously tackle the idea of alien visitors without making them into a joke or an evil enemy. However, though they are ultimately non-threatening, you don't know that in the beginning. When under control, Spielberg is a master at screen tension. Left unchecked, you get over-the-top garbage like the LOST WORLD. No matter where I come into this film, I have to watch it to the end. Some people may consider it slow, but it's a beautiful unravelling of one of our times biggest mysteries – whether we're alone in the universe.

The film opens with the sudden appearance of a group of WWII fighter planes and their pilots in a remote area of the southwestern desert. No one can explain what happened to these men, but they've been missing for decades and don't appear to have aged at all. Their confusion is palpable, having apparently been returned to a world 30 years in the future. Not even the scientists on site can explain the phenomenon. Strange sightings of unidentified flying objects begin appearing, leaving all who see them with otherwordly feelings they can't explain. Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary, a normal family man, who becomes obsessed with the image of a mountain, after a "close encounter" on a remote road during a black out. He can't explain why half of his face is sunburned or what happened to his truck, but he has to find out what caused it. His family thinks he's crazy, but he knows he's not the only one who saw the flashes of light careening at high speeds across the sky. Of course, the local government tries to brush it off as electrical storms, but he knows there's something out there trying to contact him.

Claude Lacombe: "Mr. Neary, what do you want?"
Roy Neary: "I just want to know that it's really happening."

His obsession with this image gets epic in proportion when he begins to sculpt a man-size mountain of dirt and shrubs in his living room. Unable to take his insanity, his family moves out. He finds comfort and friendship from Jillian, a woman he met along the road. In a truly terrifying scene, her home is attacked by bright lights that will not go away until they get what they came for – her son. She has nowhere else to turn. She, like Roy, has been obsessed with the mountain and knows that's where she'll find her child. Unfortunately, reaching this location in time, is easier said than done. The government has evacuated the area, under false pretenses, to keep civilians away from the site. However, Roy and Jillian are convinced there's a reason they received this "message." The scientists have no idea whether contact will be made or if it will be friendly. They are not prepared to share this discovery with the world.

The final third of the film, where the aliens make contact, is breathtaking to behold. The special effects are awesome and still stand up today. The simple five-note tune that everyone knows, becomes something grander and more profound. We can only hope that any initial meetings with extraterrestrials goes this well, but knowing the government it's highly unlikely. Though the scientists have been planning for this meeting, even they are beyond speechless. Roy is so excited, like a child on Christmas morning, that he just laughs with joy. When singled out by the creatures, asked if he would like to join them, he doesn't hesitate for one moment. This is the adventure he's been waiting for his whole life. I wouldn't have gotten on the spaceship, but hey, that's just me.

If you've never seen this film, you are definitely missing one of the best sci-fi flicks ever made. From the acting to the music to the special effects, this is entertainment of a class one rarely gets to enjoy. Dreyfuss gives a strikingly powerful performance that shows why he's one of the best actors of his generation. One of life's greatest unanswered mysteries explained by one of cinema's greatest directors. What more could you ask for? However, make sure you watch the widescreen version. Otherwise, you'll literally miss half the visuals and that's truly what makes this movie so powerful.

home | reviews | actors | actresses | film heaven | all reviews