Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)

My response to most of Mr. Spielberg’s films has been that of mild indifference. He has not been a filmmaker I have ever thought ill of, and even in his most offensive efforts (The Color Purple, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), I wasn’t particularly nitpicking about the craft on display. But his best work (Jaws, Catch Me If You Can, and Minority Report) has never aroused me to commend the craft on display either. He exists as a director of whom I am surprisingly familiar with, but at the same time, resist. I don’t harbor the same resentment that some have over the man, such as Jean-Luc Godard’s criticism that Mr. Spielberg is responsible for “the lack of artistic merit in mainstream cinema” – meanwhile, I understand the attacks made against him. Effectively, my stance on Spielberg, the filmmaker, is the same as my stance on his films – mild indifference.

So it should be of no surprise that I wasn’t particularly moved by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a film that I admittedly, had high hopes for. Leafing through the Spielberg cannon, I felt that Close Encounters was my most glaring of omissions and sought to remedy the situation.

I found the film’s opening act, where alien life is brought to the world, to be rather effective – you gather that aliens are not merely touching upon the United States, but all across the world. Obviously, Spielberg zeros in on how the potential of alien life affects select individuals, but that initial introduction has a global aspect to it that I wished Spielberg would pursue. The sense that none of the characters know what is going on is riveting as well, as the world that Spielberg initially frames is one that is grounded in a sense of reality.

Unfortunately, once that initial encounter happens, I grew increasingly distant from the film and its characters. The problems stem from what I look for and appreciate in cinema, and what Mr. Spielberg provides. He isn’t a bad filmmaker by any stretch of the imagination – he is, for all intensive purposes, an imaginative person who manages to convincingly realize his visions. But there’s an emotional component that he adds to his films that I always feel comes across as forced. The emotional component feels less like something organic, and more like padding to progress the narrative. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it’s Richard Dreyfuss who accepts the position of taking the audience from point A to point B, and in doing so, he attempts to provide a completely dimensional character. But the writing is so uneven, that his portrayal results in a totally unconvincing character that removes you from the film entirely. Upon the film’s conclusion, in a scene of such lush visual design and imagination, we’re left with a disappointing image of seeing Dreyfuss conclude his narrative arch and obsession – yet the other dimensions to the story, such as what happens to his family and his role as a father, is conspicuously absent. This exemplifies the tragic flaw in pretty much all of Spielberg’s films – the need to sweep emotional details under the rug in exchange for a visually appealing, happy ending.

Rating: 5/10