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Close Encounters of the Third Kind 40th Anniversary Release (PG)

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon

Release Date: September 1, 2017

Runtime: 2 hr. 17 mins.

Genre: SciFi/Fantasy, Program

After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen.

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In late 1977, everyone seemed to believe this. Although UFOs have been a popular subject for speculation, rumination, and investigation for more than 50 years, at no time was the phenomenon more popular than during the 1970s. Along with the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Abominable Snowman, UFOs were no longer the province of "fringe" elements, but had moved into the mainstream. There were plenty of skeptics, but many people, including those who had never purported to see anything out-of-the-ordinary, wanted to believe. Maybe it had something to do with the world order being so bleak (racial tension, Vietnam, the Cold War), but more and more men and women looked to the stars to find hope.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a great movie, but it also benefited from peerless timing. Released on the heels of Star Wars, it was able to absorb the pro-Science Fiction atmosphere that had arisen as a result of George Lucas' unexpected blockbuster. Suddenly, everyone was into stories about space and aliens. And, while Close Encounters is a much different film than Star Wars, it played to the same audience. First, we were given the opportunity to see what it was like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Then, we were allowed to see what it was like here on Earth when visitors come calling.

Close Encounters represented an opportunity for director Steven Spielberg to tell a story he had been wanting to tell for years - what might happen if benevolent aliens made contact with human beings. Spielberg had been working on the story since before he began filming Jaws and, even after Close Encounters was "in the can" in late 1977, the director wasn't done with it. Consequently, the version that was rushed into theaters in November 1977 did not represent Spielberg's final vision. Armed with $2 million, the director went back behind the camera to shoot additional scenes, then returned to the editing room. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition was released in 1980. It represented a re-working of the 1977 edition (which Spielberg referred to as a "work-in-progress"), with about 15 minutes of original footage deleted, and another 12 minutes of new scenes (including six minutes inside the ship at the end) added. Since then, there have been at least four other versions, all incorporating various combinations of the deleted scenes, and ranging in length from 132 minutes to nearly 2 1/2 hours. From a thematic and content perspective, they are all similar. The differences are minor, with no particular version standing out as obviously better than any of the others. For the record, this review is based on the latest "Collector's Edition" of the film, which is available on DVD. That motion picture cut is heavily based on the 1977 version, with a few of the 1980 scenes included. The selling gimmick of the Special Edition - the six minute epilogue with Richard Dreyfuss in the alien craft - is included as a deleted scene, but is not a part of the actual movie. (Spielberg is on record as calling that sequence a mistake - he now argues that the inside of the ship should never have been shown.)

Alien visitations to Earth are a staple of science fiction. Some of the best (The Day the Earth Stood Still) and worst (Plan Nine from Outer Space) genre entries have used that subject matter as a launching pad. One of the things that differentiates Close Encounters from its seemingly countless predecessors is that the aliens are friendly, curious, and even playful. Mr. Spock aside, this is not a common characterization of space-faring races. More often than not, aliens in motion pictures are shown attacking Earth, not observing and trying to make peaceful contact. Films like Close Encounters, E.T., and Contact are exceptions to the rule.

What would first contact really be like? That's the scenario Spielberg imagined with the aid of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, one of the world's foremost "serious" UFO experts. The military is involved, but they aren't running the show; instead, scientists are in charge. The encounter is a wonderful, magical meeting of cultures - humans putting their efforts not into weapons and fighting, but into the simplest and most important of life's basics: communication. Through colors, music, and hand gestures, we forge an understanding with an alien species. Given a choice between this and Independence Day, not only is Close Encounters more plausible, but infinitely preferable.

The plot is simple and straightforward, unburdened by pointless twists and turns. Close Encounters focuses on three characters and the different paths that bring them together at Devil's Tower, Wyoming, for the climax. First, there's Roy Neary (Dreyfuss), an everyday kind-of-guy with three kids and a materialistic wife (Teri Garr) who's hyper-concerned about what the neighbors will think. For his part, Roy's still a kid at heart, loving goofy golf and going to the movies to see Pinocchio. Roy works for the power company, and, one night, during an area-wide blackout, he has a close encounter with an alien spaceship that leaves half of his face sunburned and his psyche shaken. Suddenly, Roy's family becomes secondary to his obsession about aliens. He has unexplained visions of a mountain, and is compelled to make models of it out of whatever materials are available.

The second character is Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), a mother who has lost her young son, Barry (Cary Guffey), to the aliens. One night, they arrive at Jillian's house and take Barry away. Now, like Roy, she is obsessed by the image of the mountain, except, instead of making sculptures, she draws, aware that there is some connection between her artwork and the opportunity to be re-united with her son. She meets Roy at the time of the first alien appearance and ends up joining with him for a road trip after his wife and family have left him.

Finally, there's U.N. scientist Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut), the man in charge of a mostly-American team investigating unexplained phenomena around the globe and preparing a huge staging area for Earth's first contact with visitors from the stars. Lacombe is focused and humorless, but not unkind. When he recognizes that Jillian and Roy have been "invited" by the aliens to be at Devil's Tower, he does what little he can (without being overt) to assist them. In the end, however, Lacombe is more concerned with the aliens than he is with the humans.

Part of the genius of Close Encounters is that we don't know until the end that the aliens are not hostile. Some of their early appearances in the film (when they shake Roy's power truck and visit Jillian's home to abduct Barry) are unsettling. Think of the furnace-like red light that envelopes Jillian's house as the alien craft approaches. Red is traditionally not a comforting color, and, in this case, it's downright frightening. (This is perhaps the only scene in the fil


After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen.