What a treat it was to see “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” back up where it belongs, on a big screen in the darkened, hallowed hall of a movie theater. The movie is in wide release in theaters right now in honor of its fortieth anniversary. And as an added bonus you get a cool behind the scenes mini-documentary featuring J.J. Abrams, Denis Villeneuve, and clips from Steven Spielberg’s Super 8mm home movies he shot while on the set in 1977.
It is impossible to overstate the impact this film had on myself (and a lot of other people) when it was first released back in November 1977. Although that year is now remembered for “Star Wars” and the way it changed movies forever (in both good and bad ways), “Close Encounters” is something else entirely. Steven Spielberg’s UFO classic is the last gasp of 70’s epic style filmmaking combined with the newly emerging special effects industry. It is method acting and mise en scène auteur directing blended with the fantastic. As in Spielberg’s other trademark masterpiece “E.T.”, his ability to present a vivid and realistic suburban world with strong characters makes the horror and wonder all that more suspenseful and emotionally resonant.
It is also impossible to overstate just how insanely brilliantly the movie is directed. Spielberg pushes the narrative with careful staging and framing, always using the camera to tell his story in a clear, effective visual manner. This is a film that can be (and often is) used to teach and study directing.
And speaking of visuals and insane brilliance, Douglas Trumbull’s special effects are as beautiful and staggering to behold as ever. It is quite a sight, even by today’s jaded standards, to see the alien spacecraft float and zip by, seamlessly interacting with the real world of 1977. Anchored by John William’s masterful score (seriously he composed this score and “Star Wars” in the same year—that is ridiculous talent), all of this builds to a final thirty minutes of transcendental cinema that is as impactful, relevant, and moving as ever.
Bottom line: A brilliantly directed masterpiece that plays as strong ever and one of my top ten films of all time.