Directed by Steven Spielberg
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2007
I don’t recall exactly when I first watched it, but I’m pretty sure it was during my teenage years. I’m guessing I watched it by no later than 2005.
What It’s About:
When alien spaceships visit Earth, the government tries to cover it up. However, some of the people who have had “close encounters” with the spaceships become obsessed with their experience, and are determined to learn more.
My experience with the film:
[In case you missed my previous post, I’m planning for my future posts, including this one, to be more journal-ish in nature, describing my own personal history with the film. To learn more about the film itself, please see the resources that I’ve linked below.]
As I mentioned above, I’m not entirely sure when I first watched this film, though I’m pretty sure I was in my teens. Growing up, I was one of those nerdy kids who loved going to the library (so much so that I volunteered there for a few summers in my early teen years.) I was lucky enough that my closest library was within walking distance from my house, and me and my family would often take walks there, rather than drive, when the weather permitted it. As I got older, I was allowed to walk there by myself, often accompanied by my younger sister, or sometimes my oldest sister’s kids (who are relatively close to me in age). That particular library branch (the Orchard Park branch) was a relatively small one, being one large(ish) room inside a multi-purpose recreation center. (It eventually closed, though it does still get a one-sentence mention in the Wikipedia page for the Wichita Public Library system). All of this is to say that since it was a rather small library, it had a rather limited selection (compared to larger branches, anyway). Of all of its sections, my favorite one to peruse was always the movie section, despite being a voracious reader (a trait that I grew out of, I’m afraid).
Now, with all this being said, I have to admit that I’m not 100% positive that when I first watched this film that I checked it out from this library. While Orchard Park was the library that we went to the most often growing up, we would visit the much larger downtown Central branch from time to time (usually on special-ish occasions). It’s possible that whenever I first viewed Close Encounters, I obtained the copy from the Central branch, rather than Orchard Park. However, I definitely remember that Orchard Park had a copy, and that I saw it several times while browsing their film collection, so even if I didn’t check it out from Orchard Park (though I’m inclined to think that I did), regularly seeing it there in their collection did inevitably lead to me being curious enough to check it out.
I suppose it’s also worth noting that I’ve been a fan of science-fiction for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching Star Trek (largely because the adults in my family watched it), my favorite “kids shows” were typically the ones with sci-fi elements (Spider-Man, Power Rangers, Beast Wars, Reboot, etc.), and I couldn’t get enough of the book series Animorphs. This section has already been way more long-winded than I intended, so I won’t even get into how strangely formative the movie “Mission to Mars” was in absolutely intensifying my love of sci-fi movies. (Yes, I know it got terrible reviews—I saw it when I was 12, it blew my mind, and I still absolutely love it.) Instead, I’ll probably save that discussion for my eventual 2001: A Space Odyssey entry.
But all of this is to say that, yeah, if I frequently came across a movie at the library that had aliens in it, I was definitely going to check it out at some point. And at some point, indeed I did. … And I remember being rather underwhelmed. I found it weird, boring, and confusing. While I’ve loved movies for about as long as I can remember, it took me a long time to grow out of my “typical Hollywood movie” phase—I preferred to have everything spelled out for me (especially elements like the plot, the conflict, the characters, and the ending), so Close Encounters was a bit too abstract and ambiguous for my tastes at the time. I wrote it off as a weird movie, and didn’t revisit it for quite some time.
And that “quite some time” wasn’t until early this year. It had been on my “need-to-revisit” list for years. The thing that finally pushed it over the edge was when I selected it to compete in the “Best Sci-Fi Film of All Time” tournament on the Facebook page that I run, “Movie Match-ups.” (Which is yet another thing that I’ll have to explain in a future post, as this one is getting way too long.) So I got around to finally rewatching it in January, and then also watched it again just last month (November), since it was selected for my “Blindspot” movie club (which I’ve discussed here.)
This second (and third) time around, I enjoyed it quite a bit more. I particularly resonated with the obsessive quest for truth that is exhibited by Richard Dreyfuss’ character. I also appreciated that his character’s experience can serve as a metaphor for mental illness, and how it can disrupt the lives of those who experience it, and their loved ones. Additionally, John Williams’ music is superb (those five notes have been stuck in my head for the last couple weeks.) The special effects and overall visuals are also spectacular, but they don’t quite reach the same tier as visual masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner (in my opinion).
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/close-encounters-of-the-third-kind
To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:
- There are plenty of behind-the-scenes features available on the Blu-ray. I own this edition, but I’m assuming that they are available on other editions as well.
- Many of those same special features are also available on Movies Anywhere.
- If you don’t want to watch all of the Blu-ray special features, this video briefly rounds up many of the interesting facts that they convey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r14AxxN1cLc
- This article also mentions several of the same interesting facts about the making of the movie: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/63198/15-things-you-may-not-know-about-close-encounters-third-kind
- The official NFR essay about the film: https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/close_encounters.pdf
- The original 1977 New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/1977/11/17/archives/an-encounter-thats-out-of-this-world-stage-squat-abuses.html
- The original 1977 Hollywood Reporter review: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/close-encounters-third-kind-1977-review-947485
- An analysis of the themes in the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mHgpGzCsw8
- The original theatrical trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7beAgvMMxc
- The Wikipedia page for the film: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close_Encounters_of_the_Third_Kind
For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory.