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Josh Enjoys Seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind Back on the Big Screen!

September 13th, 2017
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About a week after seeing the new 3D release of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, I got to see one of the 40th anniversary screenings of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I can’t believe this film is forty years old!!!  Close Encounters is one of my very favorite Steven Spielberg movies, and one of my favorite movies altogether. Getting to see it — for the very first time! — on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen, was a thrill!

I love that Close Encounters is NOT an action/adventure like most of Steven Spielberg’s movies are.  Close Encounters is a more cerebral drama, and a surprisingly dark one at that.  As an adult, the unpleasantness of Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) and Ronnie (Teri Garr)’s marriage is more painful than it is funny, and that the film ends with Roy’s having never reconciled with his wife and kids, and possibly never seeing them again, is almost shocking as the ending of a big-budget Steven Spielberg film.  I love Close Encounters for that.  I love it for its messiness, both literally in the way characters are constantly talking over from one another and for the surprisingly realistic mess of Roy and Ronnie’s house, and also for its messiness of storytelling in that not everything is explained or wrapped up in a bow at the end of the film.  But most of all I love the film for being an intelligent sci-fi drama, rather than a shoot-em-up.

While some of the forty-year-old visual effects in the film look a little dated, over-all I was very pleasantly surprised how well the effects held up on the big screen!  These old-style visuals were executed with tremendous care and artistry, and the vast majority of the film’s special effects looked dynamite.  What an achievement that these visual effects still look so great forty years later.  The mothership’s arrival at the end was suitably awe-inspiring, as it is supposed to be.  I’d only ever seen those moments before on TV.  Seeing the enormous mothership appear above Devil’s Tower on a huge screen was amazing.  (For more info on the effort that went into the film’s HD restoration, click here.)

There is a lot of memorable, haunting imagery in Close Encounters.  Seeing the film on the big screen emphasizes what an incredible job Steven Spielberg did directing this film.  The shot compositions are incredible.  I’ll never forget the images of Roy staring at the shaving cream in his hand; or the shot of Roy in front of the huge mountain he has created in his house, as Devil’s Tower appears on his small TV (see below); of the image of Barry’s mother Jillian running into the fields outside her house, chasing after her lost boy; or the just-mentioned iconic shots of the mothership appearing over Devil’s Tower… and so much more!

As with T2, one of the great delights of seeing this film in the theatre was getting to hear the incredible score booming out from the theatre’s speakers.  John William’s score for the film isn’t one of his more famous works, but I adore it — it is majestic when it needs to be, and suspenseful and creepy when it needs to be.  And that iconic five-note theme: genius.  I have been humming it to myself for days.

The version of Close Encounters shown with this re-issue is the third cut of the film, created by Mr. Spielberg in 1998.  This was absolutely the right choice.  Mr. Spielberg was famously dissatisfied that the film was rushed to release by the studio, and in 1980 created a new “special edition” director’s cut of the film.  For the most part, Mr. Spielberg’s additions and adjustments were terrific enhancements of an already-great film.  However, at the studio’s request, new special effects shots were added to the end, showing glimpses of the inside of the mothership.  Mr. Spielberg has since emphatically stated that those additions were a mistake, and in that he is one hundred percent correct.  In 1998 Mr. Spielberg created a third cut of the film, preserving most of the changes made for his 1980 “special edition” but removing the additions to the ending.  That is the strongest version of the film in my opinion, and thankfully that is the version that was shown here.  (Click here for some more info on the different versions of Close Encounters.)

This 40th anniversary presentation included a short featurette, before the movie begins.  This is a fun little look back at the film, with some interesting recollections from Mr. Spielberg and others involved with making the film, and some cool-to-see behind-the-scenes footage.  We also get to hear from some other modern filmmakers, such as J.J. Abrams and Denis Villeneuve, talking about how Close Encounters impacted them.  The featurette is great, but as I have often commented in regards to these sorts of featurettes included with revival screenings, I wish this played at the END of the film, rather than at the beginning.  This featurette includes clips of some of the film’s most famous scenes, and as such would ruin the experience for any newbies in the audience.  Even for a fan of the film like myself, I’d rather enjoy the film first, without having some of its best moments pre-empted by this pre-film featurette.  This is my only complaint about this 40th anniversary re-release.

What a joy it is to get to see great films like these back on the big screen, where they belong!!  I’m glad I was able to get to see both of these re-releases, and I’d love for studios to do more of this sort of thing.

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