When I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind a number of years ago for the first time I remember being disappointed. I wanted E.T. and instead I got a bizarre story of a man who sees a UFO and proceeds to lose his mind. Years later I appreciated Spielberg’s first alien movie much more having my expectations reset.
When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) encounters a UFO, he’s left with a sunburned face, a skeptical family and a shaken psyche. In an attempt to make sense of what he saw, Roy starts seeking out others who’ve had similar “visions”. Among those he finds are a woman, Jillian (Melinda Dillon) who has lost her son to the invaders, and a researcher (Francois Truffaut) preparing for Earth’s first contact with extraterrestrials.
The second act is all about observing a man who appears close to losing his mind. He sees images of a strange mountain that he can’t escape. Everywhere he looks he sees this vision and feels an uncontrollable urge to model it out of everything he can, including mash potatoes and piles of dirt he throws inside his home. His wife loses patience after Roy begins his indoor landscaping project. She and the kids take off. Roy tries to stop them but it’s no use, they’re gone so he continues to build a large model in the middle of his home of the image that’s burned into his mind. The model is built and Roy is no closer to understanding what it is or what it means. He’s lost his family and his sanity until he catches a glimpse of Devil’s Tower on a TV news report. This revelation leads Roy to Wyoming where he meets Jillian.
The government is trying to scare everyone away from the area near Devil’s Tower. They know they’re making contact with alien lifeforms and they don’t want the public to know about it. That doesn’t stop Roy, Jillian and others from making their way to the sacred spot. The army does its best to capture and deport all those who’ve made the trek but Roy and Jillian escape.
The last act is quite long and a bit disappointing after experiencing the full on insanity of knowing what Roy saw and the torment he went through trying to convince himself and others that what he witnessed was real, that it wasn’t the end of the story. What should act as closure feels more like a merciful ending.
Spielberg has commented in the past that he wouldn’t likely end Close Encounters the same way if he was making the movie today. I respect him for admitting this yet still leaving the original film intact unlike some other directors I won’t gratify by mentioning by name who take their prized works of the past and tinker endlessly with them.
Finally, it should be mentioned that this Blu-ray transfer is gorgeous, especially considering the age of the film. It gives me great hope for the release of Jaws, E.T. and the Indiana Jones series on Blu-ray yet this year. If you watch Close Encounters I highly recommend the Blu-ray release. Definitely worth the high-def treatment.