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Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1978 ****

Following on from Star Wars was quite an ask; Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi drama had been in development for four years, but was a very different kind of film from Lucas’s franchise-booting fantasy. Instead, CE3K was a blue-collar view of an electronics engineer Ron Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) who is obsessed with UFO’s after a close encounter, leading him to alienate his family and defy a government cover up to make contact. An eclectic support includes Teri Garr as his wife, director Francois Truffaut as an expect on extra-terrestrial contact on hand to put the emphasis on language and communication, and Bob Balaban as his assistant; Balaban’s own published diary throws considerable informal light on the production process. The disappearance of a child, emphasis on Neery’s madness and the sinister nature of the establishment whitewash are three rather uncomfortable elements here, making for a more adult movie than might be anticipated. But the set-pieces, notably a mountain-top police chase and the final mother-ship revelation, are brilliantly handled; if CE3K’s impact his diminished today, perhaps it’s because Spielberg’s vision was considerably darker and more grounded than most fantasy cinema allows.

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