Close Encounters of the Third Kind – This is one of those movies I’ve seen so many references to that I kind of felt I should watch it.
It actually came out the year I was born. Some explorers and their American interpreter find a bunch of abandoned fighter planes from World War II in the Sonoran Desert with their pilots missing, and several people in Indiana see flying saucers, including a kid and his mother and Roy Neary, an electrical lineman played by Richard Dreyfuss. He becomes obsessed with recreating an image of a mountain he’s seen in a psychic vision, to the point where he alienates (get it?) his family. Eventually, when he accidentally breaks the top off his model, he realizes it’s actually the flat-topped Devils Tower in Wyoming. The kid from earlier is abducted by the aliens, so his mother also wants to find the mountain they’re indicating. And the military has been conducting their own investigation, interpreting coordinates sent by the alien ships, and they block off the area around Devils Tower, so the two seekers have to break in together. They meet up with the explorers from the beginning, and do finally reach the mountaintop, where the spaceship makes another landing and returns a bunch of people they’ve abducted over the years. This includes the crew of the Cotopaxi, the wreck of which was just found last year near St. Augustine, Florida. So I guess that negates the movie, as it has the ship show up in the Gobi Desert. The aliens communicate with music, and the people of Earth respond by repeating it, which I would worry they’d think was mocking them. How do you like it when someone repeats everything you say? I enjoyed it, but it reminded me how movies that deal with alien encounters in what’s supposed to be a more serious way pretty much have to leave out a lot. You do see the aliens in this one, and they have the pretty standard Grey design, but there’s no explanation for why they abducted people.
I don’t know that they COULD have explained that without it being a bit disappointing, but it also feels like nothing is really resolved. I saw Contact back when it came out, and I remember thinking it was good EXCEPT when the protagonist just had a dream sequence when they were building up to an actual alien encounter, yet at the same time I don’t know how they could have shown an encounter and not ruin the generally realistic feel. Sometimes you just can’t win. I also noticed on Wikipedia that Steven Spielberg later admitted it was pretty cruel for Neary to leave his family, which is something I noticed. The viewer wants him to succeed in his quest, but his family didn’t do anything wrong and has to witness what, from their perspective, seems like total insanity. His wife is played by Teri Garr, whom I know from Young Frankenstein, but Neary preferred chasing aliens to rolling in the hay.
There was no way I was going to write about this movie without referencing Garfield and Friends, where one of the U.S. Acres cartoons did a bit on different kinds of close encounters. A close encounter of the fourth kind is when the UFO invites you out for Chinese food, the fifth kind is when the UFO does an impression of Sylvester Stallone, and so on.
What’s kind of interesting is that the kid who’s abducted is from Muncie, Indiana, which is around where Jim Davis is from. The original classification of close encounters was done by J. Allen Hynek.