Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977/1980)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977/1980)

“All I want to know is what’s going on!”

An electric lineman (Richard Dreyfuss) finds his life and marriage turned upside down when he sees a UFO and becomes literally obsessed with learning more.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aliens
  • Family Problems
  • Francois Truffault Films [actor]
  • “No One Believes Me!”
  • Richard Dreyfuss Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Steven Spielberg Films
  • Teri Garr Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “While George Lucas was off making a film about intergalactic warfare, Steven Spielberg was making this film about peace and friendship (through the communication of words, music, and feelings) between alien races.” He notes it’s “a film by a dreamer for dreamers (the true SF fan),” about a man “who spots a UFO during a blackout” and “soon afterward… finds that there have been other UFO sightings and activity” — and “naturally, the government is covering it all up.” When he “starts having sensations that he’s being drawn to a huge rock formation (Devil’s Tower) in Wyoming:”

… he leaves behind his wife and kids and goes there with “a single mother (Melinda Dillon), whose little boy was abducted by a UFO (in a classic sequence).”

Once there, he finds that “amid great secrecy, French scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) and many U.S. government officials and astronauts have gathered for the first meeting with the alien visitors.”

Peary — who nominates this as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in his Alternate Oscars — argues that “Spielberg has made a marvelous picture, an enthralling, myth-making work full of suspense, mystery, and a sense of awe and wonder about space travel and alien life.” He points out that “the special effects by Douglas Trumbull are breathtaking — when the mother ship makes its first appearance, your jaw may drop open.”

He concedes that “the story has gaps in it and some of the bits with Roy [Dreyfuss] and his family are awkward:”

However, he asserts that “the film is so ambitious, imaginative, and visually impressive that one can overlook its few flaws.”

I think I’m mostly in agreement. While the screenplay is littered with issues — see CinemaSins’ “Everything Wrong with ‘Close Encounters'” video for no less than 127 “sins”, including how terribly Dreyfuss’s character acts (especially towards his family) for most of the film — it’s too visually impressive not to take notice of (and must have been triply so back in the late 1970s, before CGI).

So much has been said and written about this Oscar-nominated blockbuster — made just after Spielberg finished up work on Jaws (1975) — that I humbly implore readers to search all that out if they’d like to learn more; meanwhile, it should definitely (as Peary says) “be seen on a large screen” if possible. Of special note are all scenes between Oscar-nominated Melinda Dillon and Cary Guffey as her enchanted young son (the abduction sequence is filmed like a horror flick scene):

… and everything related to the spectacularly filmed spaceship landing.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Douglas Trumbull’s special effects

  • Vilmos Zsigmond’s award-winning cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its cultural significance in cinematic history, and impressive special effects.


  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977/1980)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    To my mind Spielberg’s greatest film and definitely a must for all FFS. I saw this when it first opened in cinemas back in ’77 age 10, collected the gum cards and stickers. My first memory of being aware of Dolby Stereo; I recall noticing that the sound was coming from behind me and was very loud!

    A real sense of awe and wonder permeates this film and the performances are top notch. Dreyfus plays a complex role, a man compelled to purse this obsession despite meaning it costs him his family and we come to realise that it’s a benevolent subconscious voice from the alien intelligence and he has no choice. We feel sympathy for him and he remains likeable throughout as a result.

    One of the all-time great science fiction films and one that has aged very well.

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