“This means something. This is important.”
Ever since I first saw Close Encounters (must’ve been on TV before I was ten) that line has come to mind whenever I see a big pile of mashed potatoes. But I got two things wrong. Firstly, Richard Dreyfuss doesn’t say that line during the mashed potato scene, but earlier. And second, I remembered the movie being a long, slow, boring build-up to a brief, awesome alien sequence, but it’s more of a medium, slightly boring buildup to a long, quite boring alien sequence. Either way, it’s safe to say it’s not my favorite Spielberg movie.
I’ve been meaning to watch more movies from 1977, the year I was born, to figure out what people were up to back then, but it only raises more questions. How was Richard Dreyfuss allowed to be a movie star? I wonder if Spielberg and Lucas (for Star Wars) being up for the same best-director oscar was the ’70’s equivalent of when Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line were nominated for best picture, only back then Spielberg was the arthouse favorite and in ’98 his was the slam-bang commercial juggernaut to Malick’s more contemplative war movie. How did Francois Truffaut end up co-starring in a Hollywood movie, and did it help his later films get into American theaters?
F. Truffaut, and is that Bob Balaban?
Is the movie endorsing men having extra-marital affairs and abandoning their families? Dreyfuss has three kids, but when his wife doesn’t understand him he bonds with Melinda Dillon instead, then at the end he leaves not just his home but the planet.
The government is preparing some guys in Devo jumpsuits to go into space as earth ambassadors, but the only time we see them in training it’s at a last-call religious meeting. Gives the weird feeling that they’ve been selected for some kind of Christian mission to the aliens.
Jeez, but Teri Garr as Dreyfuss’s wife is shouty and has no patience at all. I mean admittedly he builds a full-on rock reconstruction of Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower in their living room, but she has already moved out by then, always having seemed more hysterical than sympathetic. Good contrast was Barbara Rush in Bigger Than Life, whose husband is losing his mind, but she never stops trying to help him. Compared to that, Garr is a one-dimensional bitch whom Dreyfuss was right to leave (though it means leaving the kids in her care, so there’s no winning this one).
Teri Garr is unhappy:
Some guy named Larry (Josef Sommer of Stepford Wives) shows up at the Devil’s Tower then falls behind and gets gassed (the visual effect of the gas shown with dazed little birds falling in front of the camera – classy). Who was he? Besides the gassing/evacuation/secrecy, the government seems surprisingly non-hostile.
Wow, Lance Henriksen looks young.
All the backgrounds look fake – even in Wyoming. They’re not fake in a latter-day CGI manner, but in an old-timey studio painted-backdrop kind of way – and the forest Dillon runs through after her son looks so carefully arranged. Strange that a movie which was probably state-of-the-art in ’77 (with the the effects guy from 2001: A Space Odyssey) seems quaint now, years more old-fashioned than its contemporary 1977 Star Wars.
Dillon under a false sky:
The first encounter with the aliens by Melinda Dillon’s young son (Cary Guffey, cast next in a couple of Italian-opportunist alien comedies) foreshadows two later Spielberg productions: Poltergeist (toys coming to life, scary tree shadows waking the kid) then E.T. (the aliens raid the fridge).
All this gentle-alien cuteness, communicating through music and sign language, abductees returned unharmed, the slow buildup to the slow conclusion – it all seems anticlimactic after you’ve watched Mars Attacks a few times.