Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

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In many ways Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) is the quintessential Steven Spielberg film. It dares to dream that there is magic in the suburbs. It codifies Eastern cultures as jingoist canon fodder for the white male heroes. It shows a family in marital disharmony as a result of pursuing some lifelong dream. All of Steven Spielberg’s hangups and preoccupations comprise the plot and visuals of his tale of friendly aliens come to earth.

Spielberg, a powerful stylist, has honed all of his expertise as a purveyor of special effects laden adventures to tell an intimate tale of first contact. The locations may be global, but the emotive center of the film is the journey of Richard Dreyfuss from antagonistic father and selfish husband to obsessive UFO enthusiast. Dreyfuss is the audience proxy and the stand-in for Spielberg himself. Daddy issues aside, Dreyfuss’ pursuit of a higher power in the form of E.T.s is representative of Spielberg’s pursuit of cinematic perfection. The aliens, in turn, are cinema in their bright light space ships and synthy sounds.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind finds Spielberg mining his juvenalia, polishing it, and wrangling the auteurist blessings of the French New Wave by way of Fran├žois Truffaut’s involvement. However, formally speaking, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind has more in common with the classicism of David Lean than the modernist of Truffaut. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind follows the formula of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) by taking a pragmatic approach to cinematographic art.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is escapist cinema as only Steven Spielberg can make it which is why the film has endured for almost half a century. The need to believe in life beyond the stars still exists and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind affirms that need and placates it.