“Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” post-screening follow-up

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” post-screening follow-up

What an experience to see it present day. Had a pre-screening dinner in the new convention center section of downtown LA with fifty new friends, all brought together by Paul Hynek, son of the man who worked closely with Steve Spielberg to bring the original movie to light 40 years ago and who defined what the three phases of close encountership are: 1) sighting, 2) physical evidence and 3) contact.

Then into the cavernous theater for the 4K digital director’s cut, which did not disappoint. Spielberg has always had a gift for capturing the American cultural zeitgeist of the moment on the screen, lingering over families and especially kids. While scenes were much longer then than now (who has time to watch people talk at dinner?) one of the reminders that we get when we watch something decades old is how it preserves the former age of people we know now as old or ancient.

Richard Dreyfuss as a virtual kid, with the reckless energy to match, not to mention that this was Spielberg’s, what, third feature film? How insane is that on the genius scale? And how in hell did anyone get along without hiding their phone under the dinner table for continuing updates on whatever? Eh, whatever.

What really resonated was the final third of the film, as Dreyfuss hones in on the secret governmental operation on the mountain plateau in Wyoming, where an enormous temporary landing strip has been assembled by a devoted corps of engineers and scientists, preparing for the greatest moment in modern Earth history. Which happens and does not disappoint.

The aliens throw a half dozen gorgeous little scout ships around just to bedazzle, which apparently signal the mother ship all’s well, clearing the space for the landing of this giant vessel that handles gravity like it was a raindrop, then disgorges a group of air force crews it had scooped up 30 years prior, ostensibly for benign probing (everybody seems dazed but in perfect health) before beckoning a replacement crop of volunteers to join the friendly nakedlooking aliens motioning them to walk up the gangway. Which, you may remember, includes a blinking, grinning, mind-blown Richard Dreyfuss, who has been summarily written off as certifiable by his clueless earthbound family, anyway, so what’s to lose. This is what he was born for.

That was a religious experience for me in 1977. And while time changes everything, it still left me buoyed and otherwise uplifted the other night. That scene, that visitation. Have we already experienced it? Are we simply descendants of a race that touched down a million years ago and dropped off the building block DNA to get us started? And if not, why not? And why haven’t they made themselves more known if they have the tech to get here?

We’ll never know. Until we know.

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