How does Close Encounters of the Third Kind stand for you?

Meh? Good? Great? Spielberg's Greatest?

I can give you some of my feelings on it
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Now the Gizmondo article discusses how Spielberg both wrote and directed this film and how its emotionally level throughout.

In a way, its a Columbo episode. There is never a "Oh, the aliens *are* real" moment. We know that from the start, liking knowing Robert Culp did it.
As I grow this thread, I think my premise is that Close Encounters is a "Capstone" movie. Its a crowing achievement, but of a pop cultural and science fiction movement, not necessarily for Spielberg personally. For him, its a solid brick in the arch.
The capstone is often held out as 'the crowning achievement', but its also a culmination. An ending. A finish.

The Apollo program is spoken of as the capstone achievement. The race to the moon was over.
My appraisal of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as the culmination of things is set in understanding the movie "at that point in time", the 1970s.

You can interpret the film without that context. You can decide for yourself how much that context matters.

YMMV
Begin with the Saucer Panic post WWII into the 1950s. Saucer sightings spiked in '47, and again in '52 (the year the US Air Force created the term "Unidentified Flying Object" or U.F.O. probably so they wouldn't have to talk about flying saucers.)
People like 22 year old John Mittl of Kutztown PA (known for its summer festival) took pictures of a flying saucer in '52 over his Berks County farm which ran in the local paper.
We'll come back to John Mittl, but the movies took on Flying Saucers.

Notice what you get:
Women stealing monstrous looking invaders.
Notice the light coming down from the saucers

Like an HG Wells death ray
Light from a Saucer is *death*

We'll come back to that too.
Things from Out There were things to be afraid of, to take up arms against. They would conquer us, or take away something vital from us.

Look at all those death rays!

Where is our military?
Can't we defend ourselves?
Look to the skies!
They're already here!
Most science fiction movies were relatively inexpensive fare. "Real" actors and directors used them as stepping stones for bigger things.

There were some big budget Science Fiction films, like 1953's War of the Worlds

Look, big funnels of Martian death ray, comin' at ya!
But there were some different tones too. The original The Day the Earth Stood Still has an ambassador of a stellar United Nations equivalent.

Notice the ambassador *looks* human.
He doesn't look 'other'.

He's not here to conquer, but he's not exactly here in peace either.
Then comes the 1960s "The Decade When Everything Changed".

Flying Saucer movies have mostly run their course. Civil Rights and the War in Vietnam and Missiles in Cuba and the Counter Culture and the Space Race to the Moon and more.
Flying Saucers have lost their menace by this time. The Swiss Family Robinson takes one into space for campy adventures. The Star Ship Enterprise is a flying saucer with a jet pack attached.

We once feared the Saucers, now we've tamed that fear.
Speaking of #StarTrek , we get some "Far more advanced than us" encounters of the third kind there too.

They too at least put on a human costume to look like 'one of us'. To soothe our fears.

Our *communion* with them is usually brief.

Its usually a "You are not ready yet"
In one Star Trek episode its the Enterprise itself that is basically the Flying Saucer. We also meet Gary 7, something that again seems human, who is here to guide humanity somehow. For some reason, we're told to trust him.

Also, a Terry Garr connection.
Returning to John Mittl, he later became interested in the occult, publishing a paper on Astral Projection in 1960.

We begin this connection of UFOs and something not alien as much as occult, or religious.

(Source: thesaucersthattimeforgot.blogspot.com)
John Mittl's ideas that UFOs and Aliens are not invaders, but explorers or something occult are brought out in 1966 with a few panels of "Our Space Age", a daily written by Otto Binder.
The 1960s was also the time when claims of Alien Abductions started to take off. Stories like Betty and Barney Hill's would become a made for TV movie in 1975 starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.
By the 1970s, these stories were in the pop culture.

Enter: The Greys and Missing Time and more.

Notice the shaft of light again.
Now its not a death ray, but its still threatening.
In 1972, J Allen Hynek publishes The UFO Experience. Right on the cover you can see the various types of "Close Encounters"
In 1968, Erich von Daniken published Chariot of the Gods

Ancient aliens came down for the benefit of mankind, giving them technology, and being revered.

A movie version was made in English as "In Search of Ancient Astronauts in 1973, narrated by Rod Serling.
On top of that, came the 1970s fascination with the Bermuda Triangle. Berlitz published his book in 1974.

Stories like Flight 19 came into prominence.
If ever a culture was prepped for a movie, the 1970s audience was prepped for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Close Encounters is released for Holiday 1977, about six months after another little science fiction movie, Star Wars. Right from the opening, we get Flight 19 being found deposited by the aliens as an invitation.

Right from the gitgo, we know the aliens are real.
And what do we get for our 135 minute runtime?

Three stories really.
The first is a band of scientists (notably *not* the military in charge) working to establish contact. We get the notes, the hand symbols, the nod to internationalism, and no guns.
the second is the parental nightmare of abduction. We don't care if the aliens are nice, as parents, we're freaking out like that windup monkey with the symbols.

The 1970s was a time of 'latchkey kids', often home unsupervised. This had to hit home.
The third is our Midwestern blue collar pickup truck driving guy who has an otherwordly experience.

Roy will lose everything in this world, driven without ever giving consent, to learn the answers about another world.
The first story with is about seeing the invitation and choosing to accept it peacefully. There are snippets of other stories in here, but they are cut short. Lots of people are trying to get to the mountain, but are being stopped at various stages. Why?
Even when the group of contactees is pretty small, its escorted out. The last three are gassed on the mountain. Are the scientists or the military in charge here? Why so many roadblocks? They understood these people were invited, so why shut every single door?
The second story concludes with Jillian, Barry's mom, choosing to stay at one point, having gotten Barry back. Its a choice we can understand.
Roy however, makes the opposite choice. The journey has cost him his job, his house, his family -- and now he is leaving even a chance at recovering any of that.

However, I think we can look at this as turning away from the mundane to something bigger or a religious awakening.
In Close Encounters of the Third Kind those beams of lights are not Martian Death Rays or abducting cows and people, but something else.

Roy is literally on the road for a spiritual awakening, and he is never the same afterward.
Close Encounters came a few months after Star Wars in 1977. However, Close Encounters is like a ballad to Star Wars being old time Rock and Roll.

Look at the movie posters. Close Encounters makes me sleepy. Star Wars is exciting.
They each got some play, like trading cards from Wonder Bread. But any kid could pretend to fly the Falcon or duck around a corridor from stormtroopers - what are you going to pretend with Close Encounters?
Close Encounters got what was for the time pretty good press, like a dedicated Warren magazine. Yet Star Wars would just overwhelm it.

Also, where else could you go? Close Encounters is a pretty closed movie, compared to the open world building of Star Wars.
There are amazing moments, such as the 'Grey' communicating solemnly with hand signals. There is no menace here. There is not an invasion, or threatening. Its just communication. That's a pretty good message, but its adult message. Kids want the Death Star to go Boom!
The mothership model is in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (at the Dulles location, I believe). The music, the lights..how serene this must be in the theater.
I like Close Encounters, but its a quiet movie with no where to go. Its about an ideas, like peacefully bridging divides, or a science fiction look at spiritual journeys.

What do you think?
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