Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
In today’s cinematic world, Chris Nolan has made going to movies an event. In the 70s, Spielberg was that guy. His films are light and entertaining enough to attract the masses, but they often delve into deeper topics – filled with subtext and a thought provoking story. His masterpiece, Jaws represents this ideology, and his follow up with, CE3K, follows up perfectly. It deals with the unknown, human curiosity, conspiracies, faith, and the extra-terrestrial, all with biblical and political undertones; but maintains a palatable atmosphere – never hitting us over the head with Spielberg’s theories and beliefs.
The main attraction, of course, is the paranormal premise. Everyone in 1977 was wanting to see aliens! But like in Jaws, Spielberg doesn’t show us the aliens very often (actually not until the end). We’re only teased by their spaceships like the confused characters are. It doesn’t matter though! The story telling is impeccable, making a movie about aliens, about the people just like us – wanting to see the unknown. Richard Dreyfuss embodies the whole film; an adult with the curiosity and liveliness of a child. Milinda Dillon plays her role of a woman under similarly to Dreyfuss, and perfectly contrasts Dreyfuss’s wife.
Most everyone portrayed here are fantasists, and their interests are piqued by the “third kind”. But, Terri Garr, as Roy Neary’s (Dreyfuss) wife wants nothing to do with an adventure that may come from encounters of the third kind. She’s here for the realists in the audience – those that can say, “Listen to her! Is there anyone that is sane?” Dillon however, maintains her motherly appearance while also being intrigued by the aliens – in a search for her son. Spielberg crafts the characters with enough background info to allow the audience to understand their actions, but never bloats it with dialogue. Rather, he allows the enamoring effect of the premise (of aliens coming to Earth), actors’ perspectives, and outstanding visuals reel the audience into the story.
Near the beginning, we’re at the Neary household. I’ve always found this scene amusing. I mean the kids want to stay up to watch a four hour biblical epic (The Ten Commandments)? They don’t want to watch Pinocchio? Something’s fishy. The scene is hilarious, but is also rich in subtext. The whole film is really a biblical analogy – The Ten Commandments. Roy is like Moses, the aliens like God, Devil’s Peak is Mount Sinai, some characters represent the followers of Roy to the aliens, and others like his wife are the ones the object to the higher callings of the aliens (God). It’s very creative, but never overbearing (as this is my third viewing and only the first time to recognize it).
That’s what’s deep down in the film, but on the surface it’s a very enjoyable film that touches on topics all of us can recognize. Things like conspiracies, cover ups from the government, and lies. This is all prevalent throughout, but it’s Spielberg’s motif of Pinocchio that really drives it home. In one scene, Roy lifts some papers pertaining to the encounters and uncovers a Pinocchio figure – a symbol lies being covered up by the government by spreading false claims for their own good. It’s subtle, but brilliant.
The story telling, pacing, acting, what have you is all excellent, and it’s the technical aspects that make this even more memorable. The cinematography from Zsigmond is stellar, capturing the awe of the characters incredibly well. The editing and set designs are impeccable as well, showcasing the characters, but also leaving room to spare for the set-pieces. It also creates a worldly atmosphere by showing newspapers from foreign countries, going to foreign lands for evidence, including Francois Truffaut as a French scientist – Spielberg makes the story about more than just the US. The visual effects are incredible as well, as are the SFX.
CE3K is a very enjoyable film – entertaining throughout – but is also a masterclass film in terms of story and its presentation. The world building is incredible, and makes such an improbable event seem real and a possibility. It’s not Spielberg’s magnum opus, but it is still a brilliant piece of cinema.
Overall Grade: A+