Close Encounters of the Third Kind

AFI Rank: #64
Year Released: 1977
Director: Steven Spielberg
Actors: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon

It's easy to take this movie for granted, now that so much of it is embedded in the public consciousness. But maybe that's why Close Encounters of the Third Kind earned its #64 spot on the AFI top 100 ranking. It's a mystery story infused with real life with shades of quite plausible science fiction. And, that all being said, human relationships are the focus here.

Dreyfuss is a normal man living a normal life. Alien spaceships, visually beautiful, begin visiting far-flung locations on Earth. They are revered by some, while others are threatened, and yet others refuse to accept it's happening. It's not that there are Good Guys or Bad Guys. It is more how all of us react to a knowledge which is new and strange. Do we hide from it? Embrace it? If you're a mother, do you let your child get drawn off by these unknown creatures? The movie does a great job of showing all sides, how the aliens *might* be friendly - or they *might* be a threat. How can one know? The government is trying to get a handle on things without causing a panic. Is that a proper response? Anyone who's seen the TV series 24 knows how tricky that type of decision can be.

Garr plays Dreyfuss's wife, who while skeptical, does also try her best to understand him. She goes with him to the press conference. But to her it's as if he claims to have seen the loch ness monster. He's already lost his job over this. How about her kids? How much can she let her husband's "bizarre behavior" affect them? When he flings a heavy plant through a window and at her head, and starts ranting while stealing fencing from his neighbors, many would say she's quite right in taking her kids to safety.

Then there's Dillon, who plays the mom of a young boy who is taken away. She is determined to get her child back. So while Garr runs away with her kids to protect them, Dillon teams up with Dreyfuss to get hers back. When Dreyfuss is falling back on the mountain, it's Dillon who kicks him into gear. I did find it a bit iffy that a short while later Dreyfuss gives her a fairly warm kiss on the mouth. How quickly he forgets his wife. And kids. And it's also a bit strange that Dillon, knowing her son is probably with the aliens, doesn't want to go too. If I was a mom and my kid was in there, I'd be heading down to get on board right alongside Dreyfuss.

It's amusing that some of the alien music ends up sounding Jaws-y.

The government does send two females in their nearly all-white-male submission to the aliens. And the movie features the two women in the cast showing two different points of view - the one who shies away from the aliens for her kids and the one who goes towards the aliens for her kid. But really, 99% of the movie is about men. The two women never talk to each other and barely see each other as they pass in one scene. Dreyfuss has one woman to take care of his kids, another woman to empathize with his dreams, and it doesn't seem like he gives his family even a passing glance before he hops the next spaceship out of there. He created those three kids - but he was apparently "meant for so much more". They annoy him with their talk of fractions and mini-golf.

And one has to say, if the aliens can figure out our long/lat system and have advanced physics, surely they could learn English in a week or two of monitoring our TV signals and simply talk with us. Not nearly as much fun as teaching us slowpokes an entirely new musical language.

So yes, as much as this positions itself as the intellectual counterpart to Star Wars, it's still not as tightly written as many other movies out there. That's all right. It's more an artistic romantic vision than an intellectual examination. This is a man's fantasy about escape. He has women to care for the various aspects of his life, he has the freedom to escape, and he goes. He throws caution to the wind and hops on that space-schooner into the unknown. It gets kudos for its portrayal of that simple desire to head off towards the horizon, and its presentation of aliens as a pleasant rather than dangerous force.

Well recommended.

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