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  • Gareth Crook

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - 6/10

I’ve never seen this before. How have I not seen this before? It came out the year I was born and I guess I just slipped through the net. I’m pleased to be filling this cinematic hole though. It starts in the desert with swirling sands and swirling strings accompanying a load of blokes that have found something. That something being a fleet of near new looking planes that went missing 30 years ago, now all neatly parked minus pilots out in a sandstorm. It’s the sort of Bermuda Triangle stuff that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and I’m in. A mere 5 minutes and I’m totally sold. So these planes are are on the ground, but there’s stuff in the sky, we’re just not sure what yet. UFO sightings were still a big thing when I was a kid, the stories always originating in America of course and often from some backwater town, like here, in Muncie Indiana. Where toys and TVs turn on in the middle of the night and young kids chase strange visitors into the darkness as all the lights go out. Enter Roy (Richard Dreyfus) a lineman (you can sing the song if you like, I did), brought in to get the electric grid back after the blackout. Instead he has a, yep Close Encounter. Lights in the sky, power cuts, everything going loco. It’s classic cinema. All caught in camera, meticulous attention in building a scene, crafting the tension. It’d be easy to dismiss this as hokey and tropey, but it still packs a punch over 40 years on. Maybe it doesn’t have the edge the way it might’ve in the 70s, but there’s still a gripping sci-fi mystery here. Largely because it doesn’t concern itself with flashy effects (aside the flashing lights), it focuses on the story. To start with at least. So we’ve missing planes turning up, UFOs in Indiana and a missing Russian frigate (that’s a big boat) dumped in the Gobi Dessert. I like the mystery stuff, but it starts to play second fiddle to Roy’s increasing craziness after his sighting and the stresses it puts on his young family. It’s really quite disturbing, with a lot of screaming and children crying. Dreyfus does crazy well and small town America loves to gawk. His craziness leads him to Devils Tower, Wyoming. A natural landmark out in the dessert that looks like the perfect landing spot for a spaceship. A fact not lost on the boffins in the sub plot that found the planes and the frigate, along with a catchy tune with some coordinates hidden in it, handy. The boffins find Roy snooping around and quiz him about his encounter. It’s Roy who wants answers though. The answers get delayed by some Moonraker style stuff on the mountain, but it’s clear that the boffins aren’t as clever as they thought and… well I get a little board. It loses some of its energy in the reveal. Although it looks and sounds beautiful throughout and I’ll admit the finale is sci-fi gold. It just throws all the suspense away for a sentimental ending. It’s Spielberg at the helm, I shouldn’t be surprised but this lays it on thick, even for him. A lot of promise, ending with a bit of disappointment, but it’s not bad. I just wish I’d seen it as a kid. I might’ve enjoyed it more.


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