Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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After several decades of performing rectal probes on countless drunken hillbillies and vagrants, a race of tiny, bug-eyed space aliens have, apparently, decided that they have learned enough about humanity to attempt to communicate with one of Earth's governments. First, however, they need to terrorize the uneducated denizens of one more rural community. In furtherance of this plan, the space monsters fly an armada of their shiny vessels around a small town, bewildering and frightening its simple inhabitants, several of whom, including Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), subsequently become fixated on painting or sculpting images of a mountain none of them have previously seen. Meanwhile, Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut), a French scientist, helps the US military figure out that the space aliens will be landing near the Devil's Tower in Wyoming, which just happens to be the mountain with which Roy and those like him are obsessed.

Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a fun, well made, but horribly overrated film.

In fact, there is not that much I can say about the movie. The acting is generally competent, and often good, but is never brilliant. The production values are always high, but the film's sets, costumes, and images are never inspired by any noticeable aesthetic sensitivity. The script is decently written, but never poetic, clever, or insightful. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is, simply, a well made but forgettable film.

Nevertheless, even though I was never particularly moved by the crises of the movie's characters or by the developments of its story, I did enjoy watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg does tell an entertaining tale that is capable of holding the viewer's interest throughout its duration. I will even go so far as to say that the director is at his best when he is making simple adventure films like this, Jaws, and the Indiana Jones movies. The grating sentimentality and tendency to preach to which he succumbs in his "more serious" films are far less noticeable in these earlier adventures, which, as a consequence, have far fewer flaws than do those later profound works of art.

Unfortunately, while it may not be as irritating as much of what the director would later produce, the movie still does have its weaknesses. For one thing, as is almost always the case with Spielberg's films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is simultaneously flashy and pedestrian. The special effects are genuinely impressive and well utilized, but they are not particularly inventive. His space monsters, for instance, are merely the pale naked children with big bald heads, big black eyes, and little lipless mouths described by countless wild-eyed abductees. Perhaps I am being unnecessarily contrary, but I would actually have appreciated something different, something a little creative. Be this as it may, whatever the shortcomings of the film's special effects, they are its most memorable component and are accomplished technically.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind may not be much more than a fun adventure, but it is an enjoyable film that is worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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