Film Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Updated on January 22, 2018
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1977, Steven Spielberg released Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which starred Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Carey Guffey, Bob Balaban, Josef Sommer, Lance Henriksen, and Roberts Blossom. The film grossed $306.1 million at the box office.


After a series of incidents where ships and aircraft believed to have been lost years ago start reappearing in unusual places around the world, much of Indiana is visited by a number of UFOs. One of the witnesses to these ships is Roy Neary who begins seeing visions of a distinctive mountain and becomes obsessed.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a great film, taking the idea of aliens returning the people and vehicles they previously abducted and coming back to earth and presents audiences a story surrounding their imminent return. Multiple people are given visions of a specific mountain and the film shows Neary taking what he sees and turning it into a fixation from creating the formation with mashed potatoes to making a sculpture. Jillian Guiler is another witness, seeking to reach the formation in order to find her son who had been taken away by the flying saucers. At the same time, the government is aware of what is going on and attempts to make first contact. These stories eventually converge to find all the parties involved meeting the aliens. A notable aspect is this film reconstructs the plots found in many science fiction films dealing with aliens. Those stories feature malevolent aliens and here, they may have acted menacingly at first, but turned out to be nice and benevolent.

Additionally, the film is paced quite slowly. However, this is not to its detriment. Throughout most of the two hour runtime, there is plenty of focus on Neary descending into madness due to the visions, scientists and the government figuring out how they are going to attempt contact, flying spaceships, and the effects they have on the world. The way the film shows all of these to the viewer is methodical, slow enough to show everything that is happening, though not slow enough to derail any interesting in the upcoming payoff revealing the aliens’ appearance. Despite the slowness, all two hours feels worth watching.

Furthermore, the above is combined with good effects and great cinematography, utilized to give believability and massiveness to the models used while filming. When it appears at the climax, the mothership is massive, dwarfing the facility used to initiate first contact. It evokes a feeling of the smallness of humanity in the scope of the vastness of space. The humans might have achieved great accomplishments on Earth, some of them quite large in scale. Nevertheless, none of it matters when compared to the mothership, able to blow out entire windows with nothing but sound. Moreover, the film shows the effect they have on the world. Their mere presence is able to take whatever technology is around and make it go haywire, perfectly seen when Barry’s toys begin operating on their own when he is abducted.

5 stars for Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Awards & Recognitions

bold indicates reception of award/recognition

Academy Awards

  • Best Cinematography
  • Special Achievement Award (Frank E. Warner for sound effects editing)
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Melinda Dillon)
  • Best Director
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
  • Best Sound
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Best Music, Original Score

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA – Saturn Awards

  • Best Director
  • Best Music
  • Best DVD Special Edition Release (For the “30th Anniversary” release)
  • Best DVD Classic Film Release
  • Best Science Fiction Film
  • Best Actor (Richard Dreyfuss)
  • Best Actress (Melinda Dillon)
  • Best Writing
  • Best Supporting Actress (Teri Garr)
  • Best Make-Up
  • Best Special Effects

American Cinema Editors, USA – Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Feature Film

Awards of the Japanese Academy

  • Best Foreign Language Film

BAFTA Awards

  • Best Production Design/Art Direction
  • Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Direction
  • Best Film
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Sound
  • Best Supporting Actor (François Truffaut)

David di Donatello Awards

  • Best Foreign Film

Directors Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture – Drama
  • Best Director – Motion Picture
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
  • Best Original Score – Motion Picture

Golden Screen, Germany Awards

  • Golden Screen

Grammy Awards

  • Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special

Hugo Awards

  • Best Dramatic Presentation

International Film Music Critics Awards

  • Best Re-Release of a Previously Existing Score

Korean Association of Film Critics Awards

  • Best Foreign Film

Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA – Golden Reel Awards

  • Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects

National Board of Review, USA Awards

  • Top Ten Films
  • Special Citation (for the special effects)

National Film Preservation Board, USA

  • National Film Registry

National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA

  • Best Director
  • Best Film

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director

Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame – Motion Picture

Writers Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen


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