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Close Encounters of the Third Kind Movie Review

neary spielberg story aliens

1977 – Steven Spielberg –

Director Steven Spielberg's first blockbuster tale of aliens from another world (the second, of course, was 1982's E. T.) takes a familiar science fiction premise in new directions by suggesting that, if extraterrestrial beings do visit, their intentions might not be hostile—an idea generally absent from previous science fiction movies (with the possible exception of Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still). Released the same year as close friend George Lucas's Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind tells the story of several people who become psychically aware that Earth is about to have visitors from outer space and who set out on a quest to meet the aliens when they arrive. Principally it is the story of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), whose obsession with the aliens drives him away from his family but whose special insight and connection to the extraterrestrial visitors ultimately leads to their inviting him inside the ship to join them on a cosmic journey.

Close Encounters is in many ways a story about dreaming. Roy Neary seems to long for something beyond his ordinary life. When he first has a strange experience with an alien presence while sitting in his truck at the railroad tracks, he awakens to the possibility of something special happening to him. Though he loves his family, his noisy children and unsympathetic wife (Teri Garr) soon lose touch with him, and in fact they may be part of the ordinary, unsatisfying life he hopes to transcend. A recurring musical motif heard throughout is a familiar refrain from “When You Wish upon a Star,” underscoring the fairy-tale-like nature of the story and emphasizing the theme of following one's dreams. Spielberg, who at times can be fairly accused of favoring visual and emotional flair over strong character development, wisely delays revealing the aliens until the end of the movie, thus sustaining suspense and a sense of wonder throughout the film. Visual effects are used sparingly until the finale, where the appearance of the alien mother ship ushers in an effective climax to the excitement that has been building through the course of the story.

Paul Schrader submitted the first script for the movie, which was discarded by Spielberg. The film was envisioned starring Jack Nicholson in the Neary role. Locations included the Mojave Desert and the 1,200-foot Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming. In a nod toward one of his director heroes, Spielberg cast French filmmaker François Truffaut in a key role as the scientist Lacombe. The laserdisc version includes scenes edited out and interviews with Spielberg, special effects wizard Douglass Trumbull, and composer John Williams, as well as 1,000 production photos. In the “special edition” version released in 1981, Spielberg takes the viewer inside the spaceship with Neary.

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), François Truffaut (Claude Lacombe), Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary), Melinda Dillon (Jillian Guiler), Bob Balaban (David Laughlin), J. Patrick McNamara (Project Leader), Warren J. Kemmerling (Wild Bill), Roberts Blossom (Farmer), Philip Dodds (Jean Claude), Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler), Shawn Bishop (Neary Child), Adrienne Campbell (Neary Child), Justin Dreyfuss (Neary Child), Lance Henriksen (Robert), Merrill Connally (Team Leader) Screenwriter: Steven Spielberg Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond Composer: John Williams Producer: Clark L. Paylow, Julia Phillips, and Michael Phillips for Columbia MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 132 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1977: Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond), Sound Effects Editing; Nominations: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Director (Steven Spielberg), Film Editing, Sound, Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Original Score (John Williams); National Board of Review Awards 1977: 10 Best Films of the Year Budget $21M Box Office: $166M (domestic gross).

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