Too Close for Comfort: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Review

The theatrical poster for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

    Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1977 to overwhelming success,  
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is possibly one of the best-known science fiction films. It became very influential in pop-culture at the time, and was rather revolutionary for showing a relatively benign race of aliens, not here to conquer or destroy, but to build up a friendship with us. It combines elements of wonder, horror, mystery and drama to bring us a really interesting, if slow, story about a man trying to get answers after he himself has a close encounter with a UFO. Spielberg's direction, the masterful special effects and John William's beautiful score all combine to create a coherent and gorgeous film. 
STORY: 4/5 Stars. Close Encounters has a very intriguing plot full of mystery, wonder, and suspense. The pacing, however, can be slow, and the film tends to drag in some areas, but in the moments where the ships appear and the plot continues, I found myself unable to look away. It opens with a scene in the Sonoran Desert, where French scientist Claude Lacombe and American former cartographer and Lacombe's translator, David Laughlin, are investingating a strange discovery: Flight 19, a squadron of Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers from 30 years ago. These planes had been missing until now, and strangely they are completely intact, but no pilots were found with them. Later on, at an air-traffic control center in Indianapolis, controllers watch and listen as a pilot scarcely avoids a collision with a UFO. The pilot refuses to report the UFO sighting however, despite the encounter.

Lacombe and Laughlin investigate the sudden reappearance of the missing 1940s planes.
   A UFO creates havoc in Muncie, Indiana when its electrical field causes the toys of a three-year-old boy to suddenly start moving around on their own. Awakened by the sudden noise, little Barry Guiler gets up and decides to investigate. When he finds someone offscreen in the kitchen, he runs outside to follow them as they leave, impelling his mother, Jillian, to go after him. Meanwhile, Roy Neary, an electrical lineman, is called by his workplace to investigate the sudden rolling power outages across the state. He is suddenly blinded on his way though as a UFO shines its light on him and causes everything around him to shake and shiver. The bright lights burn his face, and as the UFO leaves he quickly recovers from his sudden shock and tries to pursue. The glowing flying saucer floats down the road, joining several other ships that are being pursued by the police. They escape Neary and the cops though, flying off into the night sky. Shaken and fascinated by the event, Roy becomes obsessed with UFOs and visitors from outer space, much to his wife's discomposure. He also is haunted by images in his mind of a unique and odd, mountain-like shape, a shape that Jillian too sees after her encounter with the spacecraft.
Roy's truck is lit up by the bright lights of the UFO.

   Later, Jillian is horrified when a UFO appears from the clouds and approaches her house, the alien invaders shining lights into every entrance and window they can. Her son Barry is excited by the return of the visitors, and tries to go and greet them, in spite of his mother's terror.  She tries to protect him from the arriving extraterrestrials, but he escapes her embrace, heading outside. Jillian finds herself in a state of intense anguish as the aliens take Barry aboard their ship and leave.

Barry is abducted by the alien visitors.
   Lacombe and Laughlin continue to investigate the sightings of UFOs, traveling to India where they learn of a musical, five-tone sound the alien ship was purported to have made. After sending a repeat of the same sound to space, they receive a response from one of the ships, revealed by Laughlin to be a set of geographical coordinates. These coordinates point to Devil's Tower, Wyoming where the US government opts to set up a landing zone to meet with the beings from another world. A public broadcast is sent warning everyone of a train crash that released a deadly nerve toxin into the air, as to keep the public away from the landing sight. Roy, who's mania has driven away his wife and children, is constructing a crude model of his vision when he sees the report on TV, and realizes that what he's been seeing is Devil's Tower. Jillian also sees the broadcast and the two meet together to go to Wyoming and hopefully get answers.
Devil's Tower.
   The military apprehends almost everyone drawn to the mountainous region, but Roy and Jillian manage to escape their custody and continue on their journey up the rocky cliffs, where they eventually find the landing site. Government specialists prepare to communicate with the ships via lights and musical notes, and the alien spacecraft arrive. At first, it's only three of the smaller ships that arrive, and stop to communicate, before quickly flying off into the night. Then, at last, a huge alien ship, the mothership arrives. Nearly twice the size of Devil's Tower and covered in lights, it hovers above the landing site, as Roy and Jillian watch in awe. The aliens and the US government exchange musical tones with one another before the spaceship lands and opens, revealing a bright white, glowing interior. As all the abductees from across time are returned to Earth, Jillian rushes forward to be reunited with her sun. The abductees include the pilots of the missing planes, who have not aged since their disappearance. Finally, the film ends with the alien occupants coming out of their massive spacecraft, revealed to be the Greys. As the Greys greet the humans, they select Roy out of a group of potential travelers to join them on their journeys across the cosmos. The film ends with Roy being brought aboard, and the aliens leaving the landing site, disappearing into the twinkling void of space. Overall, while this is a slow film at times, the story still manages to keep you intrigued, keep you wanting to know what's going to happen. And the fact that the aliens aren't revealed until the end helps keep you wondering.
The alien mothership appears!

ACTING: 4.5/5 Stars. The actors in this film all do a tremendous job portraying their characters, and all of them have great depths of emotion. Richard Dreyfuss is great as Roy, especially when depicting his near-maniacal obsession with UFOs and the strange mountainous shape he keeps seeing in his mind. Melinda Dillon plays her character Jillian Guiller very well. You really get a sense that she truly cares for Barry, and how she portrays her character's terror as the aliens abduct her son is a really moving and suspenseful moment thanks to her acting. Even three-year-old Cary Guffey did well as Jillian's son Barry. Again, the scene where he is abducted, he has the complete opposite reaction to his mother when the aliens arrive, he is overjoyed and thinks they're playmates. This really sells a sense of innocence that a young child should have.
SPECIAL EFFECTS: 5/5 Stars. Perhaps the film's strongest attribute is its use of masterful special effects by Douglas Trumbull. This film has aged really well, and that's definitely because of the wonderful visual effects. Real miniatures are used for the spaceships, and they are all things of beauty, wonderfully unique in their design, and covered in flashing lights of every color, these spaceships are anything but boring. The scenes in which they appear really highlight the sense of wonder they bring, as these are not menacing spaceships armed to the teeth. The aliens, designed by Carlo Rambaldi,are depicted in a few ways. Based on the Greys and having different heights and proportions to incorporate varying descriptions from people who reportedly encountered UFOs and aliens, there were a couple of different puppets. A majority of the aliens were small, and were depicted by young children wearing alien costumes, and the effects still hold up very well, as they still look close to real. The bright lights from the ships help cover any flaws that might otherwise be visible. Overall, the special effects really made this film for me.
A spaceship rushes down the street, police (offscreen) in hot pursuit.
Three small UFOs arrive at the landing ship, showcasing their stunning, colorful lights

The Mothership, as seen in the film's climax. Layered like a cake and covered in pointed antennae and flashing lights, it truly is a breathtaking piece of miniature-work..

One of the Grey Aliens at the end of the film.
MUSIC: 5/5 Stars. John Williams is this film's composer, and he wrote this film's score the same year he did Star Wars, and while he is perhaps best known for his Star Wars score, Williams' music is just as masterfully written and performed here as it was in the aforementioned space epic. The main theme for the film contains music based on the five-tone signals that the alien ships give off, and the Williams utilizes this throughout the score, especially in the ending when the massive mothership flies away. Angelic choirs accompany the relatively benevolent aliens as they arrive, meanwhiile dissonant and unnerving music accompanies scenes such as the abduction of little Barry. Williams' scores show emotion like no other, and this is especially apparent in Close Encounters, which has moments from all across the emotional spectrum. From awe and wonder to terror and fear, Williams highlights it all with his beautiful compositions.
ENJOYABILITY: 4/5 Stars. Overall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and it's easy to see why. While lacking in exciting action and destruction, and being a film with a bit of a slow pace, it more than makes up for that with its sense of mystery, wonderment, and drama. Its special effects also add to the joy of watching it, and the actors do a wonderful job of playing their characters. Everything from the score, to the bright special effects, and the refreshing take on the alien plot, are aspects that make this film pretty close to being a masterpiece. Spielberg is a truly great director, and this film is definitely one of his best in the sci-fi genre. Truly a classic, and while it's not a personal favorite of mine, it's definitely a really well-made movie that I think virtually anyone can enjoy. Close Encounters is at its best when it's a spectacle, and there are many moments when it is. Highly recommended.


  1. I remember this movie. although I didn't remember the details very much. More the feel of the movie....It was a big deal back then. Back then, I found it strange and maybe it was meant to be.....


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