Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 22: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

22. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Science Fiction, Drama, 137 minutes
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon and Teri Garr

Close Encounters works so well because of the way Spielberg slowly increases the suspense. This is not a movie that relies on special effects; it succeeds because of a strong script and good acting. Although we learn of the alien presence at the start of the movie, most of the story consists of people's reactions to those early events.

Why is Roy (Dreyfuss) behaving oddly and causing his wife and children to freak out? Chicken wire and mud in the living room is not normally a recipe for a good marriage, but it soon becomes clear why Roy thinks it's necessary. The idea is pretty simple, with an image being placed in the minds of selected people. Jillian (Dillon) has reasons of her own to pursue something and teams up quite believably with Roy. I like that there's no forced romance between the two and that they are merely acting on instinct.

One refreshing thing about the movie is that the aliens aren't portrayed as invaders. There's no hostility in their actions, they just want to know and understand us. What a contrast to most science fiction movies up until that point.

Spielberg keeps you interested for over two hours as two people journey across the country. That's quite an achievement. Notice too that the conclusion resists the temptation to show us too much about the aliens. Close Encounters is great cinema and has wide appeal to audiences of all ages.

If you like Close Encounters of the Third Kind:

Spielberg is very good at making movies which rely more on the journey than the destination. Think of Indiana Jones, Jaws, or Saving Private Ryan. His appeal lies in the details and the motivations of his characters.

If you enjoyed the science fiction aspect of the story, consider The Abyss from James Cameron. Like Close Encounters, it's the very presence of the aliens that matters rather than their appearance or their actions.

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