In 1977, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" got lost behind the raging success of "Star Wars." "Close Enounters of the Third Kind" is a quieter sci-fi film, with a more human touch and featuring a standout performance by Richard Dreyfuss in the lead role of Roy Neary, a telephone line worker whose encounter with alien life leads to his obsession with a desert area in the US where something big is about to happen.
The film essentially follows Roy's journey to discover just what is going to happen. In many ways, "Close Encounters" is an introspective film and Dreyfuss does a wonderful job of bringing Roy's process out in the open for everyone to see. We see firsthand his obsession balanced with his sincerity, his growing paranoia balanced with determination, and the falling apart of his social circle coupled with his increasing isolationism.
In supporting roles, Teri Garr does a nice job as Roy's wife and Melinda Dillon turns in a great performance as a single mother, along with young actor Cary Guffey in the role of her son.
In featured roles, Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban particularly shine. While the special effects don't have the Star Wars razzle dazzle, they are still quite impressive and perfectly fit the tone of the film. It would be nearly impossible to forget the closing scenes of the film and the sheer power of the special effects.
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is certainly not Spielberg at his best, and yet it's a remarkably humanistic counterpoint to that same year's "Star Wars." In "Close Encounters", we are allowed a greater chance to experience the humanity of science fiction and the spiritual aspects of the search for intelligent life in the universe. The characters here are treated with dignity and respect, even when it appears they may well be off their rockers.
From a purely critical perspective, I find myself preferring "Close Encounters" over "Star Wars." This film moved me, challenged me, provoked me and enlightened me. I bonded with the characters, felt involved in the story and was in awe of the technical aspects of the film. The end result is that "Close Encounters" feels like a more complete, a more satisfying film experience. "Star Wars" may have won the box office, but "Close Encounters" won my heart.