‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ still exist in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic


Movie Review

Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

Even if it didn’t contain five of the most famous music notes in movie history, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” would be one of the most memorable science-fiction movies yet made.

Showtime presents the “Director’s Cut” of the 1977 blockbuster Thursday, Nov. 18, and Friday, Nov. 19 — and if ever a filmmaker earned such a revisiting of his work, it’s Steven Spielberg, whose name was as much a selling point for the picture as anything after his monstrous success with “Jaws.” Audiences were eager to see what he would come up with next, and in a hallmark of his work, he imbued the story he wrote about alien-spacecraft sightings on Earth with a humanity that has been a trademark of his career.

Spielberg reunited with two of his “Jaws” collaborators — star Richard Dreyfuss and composer John Williams — to tell the story of several people whose lives are changed, understandably, by unusual experiences eventually traced to the presence of extraterrestrials in our orbit. Melinda Dillon plays a mother distraught when her young son (Cary Guffey) vanishes in the wake of an at-home light show stunning enough to beat anything ever put forth on a stage, but much of the plot centers on the utility-company worker portrayed by Dreyfuss.

After the truck that he’s in shakes, rattles and almost rolls during a bizarre outage of all power sources in his area, he becomes obsessed with visions of an enormous mountain, making models of it … even one out of mashed potatoes at the family dinner table. He starts to wonder if he’s going crazy, but a team of scientists (including one played by iconic French moviemaker Francois Truffaut) also is getting signals about possible UFOs.

Eventually, all relevant parties converge on Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, the site indicated by the Dreyfuss character’s visions. The resulting meeting is a display of sheer screen wonderment, and a big reason the movie has three versions: the original release, a 1980 “Special Edition” that Columbia Pictures wanted, and this 1998 “Director’s Cut” that offers the film in the form that Spielberg ultimately wanted it in.

As for the music-note series used here to communicate with the aliens, its familiarity has had it redeployed in satirical ways since (one example: the sound made by the keypad James Bond uses to open a locked door in “Moonraker”). “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is good for much more than that, though … and it’s universal in so many ways, it undoubtedly will continue to stand the test of time.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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