Though I wasn’t able to make it to the theaters to see the 40th anniversary re-release, I decided that popping in my blurry of Close Encounters of the Third Kind would suffice for this week’s Wayback Wednesday.
After this rewatch it’s safe to say that Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the only movie I have ever felt deserves to be considered the best of someone’s filmography, despite me having a clear favorite. Y’all know I do not entertain the Best being different from Favorite argument, but with this film I make an exception. Spielberg’s blockbuster tendencies are on full display, but also his master of craft and story. Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite Spielberg but this film really feels like him at the height of his skill.
Spielberg has since become so enamored with the father son relationship and happy endings that it has flattened out some of his career lately. Close Encounters is as personal as an artist can get without being autobiographical. Which is perhaps why folks don’t like the ending, which I think ranks among the top movie endings of all time. It’s brutal to watch Roy abandon his children, but it’s amazing to witness an artist put their personal life on display. Spielberg has mentioned that not as much as five years later that he wouldn’t have Roy leave because it was selfish and impulsive, but that’s what makes this moment all the more powerful. It’s divorce and abandonment on a cosmic scale and it’s meant to infuriate us and not leave us with easy answers, because life never does.
There’s more to this movie than it’s brilliant ending. Spielberg’s film has become the template for so many sci-fi films since it came out. Watching it now I see the scenes that JJ Abrams would ape for Super 8 and the camera moves from a dozen other sic-fi films. Spielberg wasn’t the first to set a movie like this in a small Midwestern town, but he surely seems to have perfected something with Close Encounters that will be hard to be topped.