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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that director Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind is ultimately an uplifting, optimistic story with themes of perseverance and humility, but it has many scary, spooky moments before the aliens' exact nature is revealed. To a mother's horror, her toddler son disappears, becoming a captive of unknown villains. Earth is enveloped by strange events: electrical storms, unexplained shaking, and unidentified flying objects (UFOs). A house is attacked by mysterious forces; dead animals appear on quiet country roads. A loving father is faced with losing his family because of his obsession/conviction. Scattered curse words include "hell," "s--t," and "bastard." Members of the military are mostly portrayed as unsympathetic and authoritarian, while scientists are characterized as open-minded, trusting, and intelligent. Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon co-star.
What's the story?
In CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) encounter a UFO and travel to its landing site in Devil's Tower, Wyoming. Jillian is seeking her son, who went bye-bye with the alien ship. Roy's obsession with the UFO sighting drives his family away. Inexplicably drawn to Devil's Tower, Roy and Jillian realize that they're not the only ones who feel they've been called there. French scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), top-secret U.S. government agents, and ordinary folks are there to meet an enormous spacecraft, which, when it shows up, returns humans taken over decades (including Jillian's son). When the aliens appear, Roy boldly boards the ship in an intergalactic exchange program. (In the reissue, which added some new scenes, viewers get a glimpse of the inside of the spacecraft.)
Is it any good?
This is a thrilling adventure story and a brilliant example of the art and craft of moviemaking. The story unfolds with extraordinary power, involving viewers as much in Roy's inexplicable compulsion as in Jillian's search for her son. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is so different from many other alien movies -- it posits the idea not just that "something" is out there, but that it's something wonderful. Watch how director Steven Spielberg lets viewers know that the aliens are friendly.
There's something very believable and compelling about the way that the aliens use music to communicate and to teach the people on earth. Spielberg creates a sense of wonder not just in Jillian's son Barry (Cary Guffey) but in the adult characters and in the viewers, making them children again, with the aliens as the "adults," who -- reassuringly -- look and behave like gentle children, giving us a sense of comfort.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of life beyond our solar system in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Do you think there are other intelligent beings out there? Why or why not? If so, what do you think they're like, and do you think they'll ever come to Earth?
Talk about how aliens are usually portrayed in the movies. What does this movie do differently? What signs do you get that these aliens will be benevolent?
Was this movie scary? What were the scariest parts and why? How does music, lighting, etc. affect how scary a scene is?
- In theaters: November 16, 1977
- On DVD or streaming: September 19, 2017
- Cast: Francois Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Richard Dreyfuss
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Space and Aliens
- Character Strengths: Humility, Perseverance
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some intense sci-fi action, mild language and thematic elements
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.