“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977)

As part of the same Spielberg series in which I saw Jaws, I finally also saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unike Jaws, it prefigures a lot of the touchy-feely stuff that Spielberg did later, most notably E.T. (of which I’m not a fan.)

Richard Dreyfuss is one of many civilians who see a UFO one night. They’re brought together by the govenment, and questioned, but mostly dismissed and ridiculed. Teri Garr is Dreyfuss’ wife, and when he begins to behave strangely (painting and sculpting things over and over based on images in his mind) she grabs the kids and leaves. He befriends the mother of the little boy from the ads, who has disappeared after a subsequent UFO sighting. The government begins tracking down leads, as does a French scientist played by Francois Truffaut, who should not have quit his day job as a director for acting. Dreyfuss and the mother try to figure out what’s going on, and eventually stumble into the finale.

Unlike Jaws, this is more interesting as a relic of film history and pop culture than as an enduring film, I think. It’s well made, the music is good (the film was edited to go with the music, not the reverse, as is usual), and it’s engaging. I can see the large shadow it cast both in alien and government conspiracy tales, like the X-Files. In the end, I found Dreyfuss a little forced in his kookiness, and the ending made my teeth ache a little, even if it avoided the gag-inducing treacle of E.T.

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