Review: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-4

Spielberg lets me down, again!

Written By: Hal Barwood, Jerry Belson, John Hills, Matthew Robbins & Steven Spielberg
Directed By: Steven Spielberg

Maybe I’m asking too much when I ask for a complete movie. I don’t think I am, but the critical reception to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind leads me to wonder if I am asking for too much. Is it enough for a film to have a great beginning and ending with a middle section that is complete rubbish? Can that constitute a great film, or should a film be great in its entirety to actually be, ya know, great? This is what I was thinking the moment I finished Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and it’s a feeling that has yet to go away. I read the thoughts of people who herald Close Encounters Of The Third Kind as an all time classic, but I don’t see it. I see a movie with a good beginning and ending that gave me no reason to care during an entire hour of the film, and that is not great.

We know that there are UFO’s, we saw them at the same time that Richard Dreyfuss did. This knowledge presents a couple of problems. First, any sections dealing with the “it’s not real, UFO’s don’t exist” subplot is boring and serves no point. We know they exist, we know they are real, we have seen them. If the idea of them not existing had been presented as a minor stumbling block then it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it becomes a big hurdle for Dreyfuss to get over. He begins to doubt himself, but there is no doubt, therefore in every scene that deals with people telling him they aren’t real or Dreyfuss doubting himself I was uninterested and tuned out. This leads into the other big problem, the idea of a mystery in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The entire middle portion functions under the idea that there is some mystery to be uncovered, but there isn’t a mystery at all. We know the answer to the mystery, there are UFO’s and Dreyfuss will find them, there’s nothing mysterious about that. This creates a situation where the entire middle section of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is unwatchable, it’s not compelling and I found myself fighting the urge to hit the fast forward button every second of the middle hour.

There’s also quite a bit of faulty logic in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, the type I can’t overlook. Dreyfuss is fired because he said he saw a UFO, okay, that makes no sense and seems tacked on. Here’s an idea, we’re going to cordon off this super secret area because we are the government and we know there are aliens, and we don’t want anyone discovering it. But, you know what else we will do, we won’t post guards at any of the roadbblocks so that Ma and Pa in their station wagon can just drive right in. Also, no guards near the fenced off mountain structure, they aren’t needed. We’ll also take off in our helicopter, near the super secret area, without taking a head count of the trespassing civilians on board. The final kicker, while we are being visited by the aliens, we’ll just allow a trespassing civilian to roam around, no questions asked, oh wait, we’ll allow two trespassing civilians to wander around no questions asked, double the idiocy.

There are other things, such as the movie building up Dreyfuss’ family and then ditching them out of the blue and having him fall for fellow psycho chick, but that’s handled on a level so atrocious I don’t want to talk about it that much. For as downright terrible as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind was in places, it was also great in some areas. The beginning twenty minutes were terrific stuff, paced brilliantly and full of primo tension and suspense. After the first twenty minutes I thought I was in for a great ride, oh, how wrong I was.

The last thirty minutes were excellent, but mainly from a feeling standpoint. Story wise they weren’t all that great, because I didn’t care much for any of the stories that were being paid off. But, the model work was fantastic, the idea of communicating with music was excellent and the vibe the arrival of the aliens gives off is tremendous. I loved the final thirty minutes for the aliens alone, the way they were handled was something special.

As I said in the beginning, oh a pun, a good beginning and a great ending can’t make up for a horrendous middle section. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind isn’t a mediocre movie, it is a bad movie with about forty five minutes of greatness contained within. But man, there’s an hour stretch in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind where it’s so bad you want to cry. It’s not a great movie, it’s certainly not the classic many have made it out to be, but mainly Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is yet another disappointing film from Steven Spielberg.

Rating:

**

Cheers,
Bill

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