Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (2017 Release)
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
I last reviewed this film in 2002.
There's something comforting and old-fashioned about seeing this movie again, even though my viewing was via the 2017 release as seen on a large theater screen accompanied by earthshaking Dolby sound and motorized recliner seats.
The “sense of wonder” is still there. The images are grand. The John Williams music soars as we witness the effects an alien visitation has on us mere humans.
I wouldn't change anything about this film. But why did I say "old-fashioned"?
I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. The views of suburbia are almost too realistic with the new houses, adjoining yards, nosy neighbors, and all-around “whiteness.” At one point in his career Spielberg was actually praised for his portrayal of middle-class life with all its clutter, messiness, and just plain “ordinariness.” Now it's hard to tell whether he was just being commercially-minded and realistic -- or perhaps he was being critical of how he himself was raised.
The movie’s “government can't be trusted” theme reflects an era when Watergate and Nixon's perfidy dominated our culture. Even back then I thought the portrayal of government in this movie was heavy-handed and unfair. Spielberg was not alone in such cinematic governmental negativity. We see today how mistrust of government has taken hold of politics and voting. One result is a steady march backwards in protecting human rights, at least here in the U.S.
Spielberg couldn't have anticipated such an outcome, but the fact remains that many Americans, raised in an era of anti-government media propaganda, now view government as the “enemy” -- even as they reach out for help when disaster strikes.
Another thing I noticed about the film is that the people in authority are almost all white males. Watch the spectacular Mother Ship landing sequence at the end and count the number of female engineers and bureaucrats you see. I counted one. Maybe there were more, but you get the idea. I remember thinking even back then that was odd since the tech and information management communities I worked in seemed to have no shortage of women in management positions. The overall “whiteness” and masculinity of this film when viewed from today's perspective is striking.
That said, I was awestruck again last night as I watched, listened to, and felt this movie again. Like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey it holds up extremely well. The care and attention given to every aspect of the film are amazing. I'm old enough to remember when space stations, robots, and artificial intelligence were science fiction. Close Encounters explores the possibility that there are benign civilizations out there that possess technology much more advanced than ours. Many films have explored this theme but none evoke the grandeur, emotion and almost spiritual sense of wonder the way Close Encounters does.
We still watch “old fashioned” films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz, and It's a Wonderful Life. We still are touched. If Close Encounters is in this category, Spielberg should feel extremely proud.
Review copyright © 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald