Welcome back to my adventure through the filmography of one of the most iconic filmmaker’s of all time, Steven Spielberg. We’re skipping ahead a little here; The Sugarland Express and Jaws were his next films, but not only is Close Encounters of the Third Kind getting a brand new Blu-Ray release, it’s also kicking off the BFI’s Spielberg season this weekend, so the other two reviews will come in due course but for now, let’s take a look at one of the most revered Sci-Fi films of all time.
Close Encounters was a passion project for Spielberg; it’s based on his 1965 film Firelight (Most of which is now sadly lost), and stars Richard Dreyfuss as an electrician who plays witness to UFOs flying through the sky and becomes obsessed with discovering what they are and why they’re here, driven to near insanity. Some of the most iconic imagery of his career came from this film, including the shots of Barry opening the door to red mist, the flying saucer descending on top of the mountain and the aliens themselves stepping out of the ship. Somehow I’d never gotten round to this one before, even though I’ve owned the 30th anniversary boxset on Blu-Ray for quite some time now. Three different versions are available on the disc, but I opted for the 1977 original, and whilst I’m not blown away, I’m certainly impressed.
As is evident with every Spielberg film up until this point, he really loves what he’s doing; of course, this film holds a lot more sentimental value to him so it makes sense that it would be so lovingly crafted, but every frame of this film is perfectly constructed. Every bit of lighting, every line of dialogue, every track of the score etc. This entire film is rich with ingenuity and passion. It’s almost awe inspiring, definitely ranking among the most breathtaking of his filmography. The film is far from a horror, yet at times you could easily believe it was, like the scene where Barry gets abducted and all the windows and shutters start opening, and they can’t escape the aliens’ presence. It’s incredibly tense, and quite threatening when you consider we have no idea what these aliens want. The performances are excellent too; we know Spielberg loves his “every man” heroes and Richard Dreyfuss is fantastic at it. Their work together isn’t quite as good as it is in Jaws (Close Encounters itself isn’t as good as Jaws), but it’s a combo that works. His paranoia and obsession is so convincing. When you think about it, his exposure to UFOs happens very quickly, there’s barely any time to gather what happened or give him some proper development, yet straight off the bat we know exactly what’s going on with him, and he carries the entire film.
Still, this film isn’t without issues. The main one is it’s pace; of the four films so far, Jaws is the only one that doesn’t suffer with being slow. The film does hit serious lulls that aren’t too damaging, however you really do feel time go by. On top of that, there really is only one interesting character in the film, and that’s Roy. I suppose you could argue for Jillian, but even then, she’s kind of boring. This wouldn’t be such a problem if there weren’t scenes dedicated to other characters like the government official types who are boring as all hell. And whilst this isn’t really an issue, your experience with the film can vary based on what your expectations are. If you’re expecting this film to be heavy on extra terrestrials, you may be quite bored; this is a film about aliens, but it’s not really about THE aliens. Their presence is chilling and exciting and always felt, but this is very much a character driven film. Luckily I didn’t really know what to expect going in so I wasn’t affected, but I could see how somebody expecting a lot of outer space goodness would be seriously disappointed.
It has its flaws but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives in this Sci-Fi classic. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is an experience, and one that I imagine is even better on the big screen so make sure you go check it out the BFI Southbank for a truly spectacular time. Join us soon for reviews of The Sugarland Express and Jaws, then we can get 1941 out of the way (Really not looking forward to that one) and finally get to Indiana Jones. Stay tuned, folks.