downton abbey
marcy alancraig, a woman of heart

#25: close encounters of the third kind (steven spielberg, 1977)

(This is the 26th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Arguably my favorite religious movie. Spielberg’s intentions are clear late in the film, when the Mothership makes its appearance, and two different characters look up and say “my God.” Roy Neary has an encounter with a UFO; he and others who had the same experience know their lives have changed, but are in the dark about “what it all means.” They are driven by a common vision of an odd, mountainous structure and an equally odd five-note musical pattern. Neary’s quest to understand is spiritual. The aliens, of course, are Gods. Benevolent aliens, benevolent gods, which makes Close Encounters a satisfyingly positive look at religious ecstasy. You don’t need to be a religious person to respond to the film’s appeal: the kindly aliens just want to be our friends, want to teach us, want to take care of us. They are gods in a post-god world.

Close Encounters is also one of the first films to be released in more than one version. The original was released before Spielberg felt it was ready; when it succeeded beyond expectations at the box office, he convinced the studio to let him re-edit a Special Edition for clarity (he also added a look inside the Mothership at the end, a move so stupid he later disavowed it). Finally, many years later, Spielberg created a Director’s Cut that included much of what had been trimmed from the original for the Special Edition, and got rid of the unfortunate peek inside the spaceship. If you only watched one, I’d recommend the Director’s Cut. For certain, avoid the Special Edition.

Jeff chose this at #49, and I don’t really have much to add. His piece was excellent, and it inspired one of the best and longest comments thread so far. I’ll add that I agree with Jeff that this film is one of Spielberg’s best at showing suburban life, and I love his paragraph about obsessions. I also agree that Spielberg is one of our finest directors. This may be the only one of his films I include, but there were plenty of possibilities to choose from. Meanwhile, if we’re going to play the Star Wars vs. Close Encounters game, well, let’s just say I don’t think George Lucas is one of our finest film makers.

And, just to reassure Dave, who objected to Jeff’s earlier inclusion of this movie: I only have one more movie on my list that might be construed as a “kid’s movie” (and I’m not so sure about that).


Since this had already showed up on another list, there weren’t many additional comments. Comparisons were made to Super 8 (understandable) and Zodiac (odd, yet ultimately quite appropriate).



I watched Zodiac again last night--it's become this inexplicably calming touchstone I return to every few months. Still hoping you'll revisit it and post any follow-up thoughts here.

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