"We are not alone!" screamed the ads when Close Encounters of the Third Kind was first released to theaters in 1977. After about 95 minutes of ponderous suburban angst, the viewer indeed discovered they had a friend or two in the skies.
I was just a stupid kid when I first saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I really didn't have the slightest clue what in the hell was going on. But oh how I loved the finale, a special effects-choked extravaganza which became one of the most famous scenes in cinema history. The seemingly endless buildup had some kind of payoff, and director Steven Spielberg's career was set for life (well, he did follow this film with the 1941 disaster). Close Encounters gets stronger with each viewing, though Spielberg has famously tinkered multiple times with the product.
I've seen the Special Edition, where we actually go inside the spacecraft; I've seen the Collector's Edition where we no longer go inside the spacecraft but the story has been re-edited; I've seen the Making of documentary where we discover the deadlines Spielberg was forced to work under and the different ideas for the spaceships and aliens. It's all a part of the myth of Close Encounters.
The spring of 1978 for me was the season of Star Wars and Close Encounters. It was my first year of junior high school. My friends and I would still ride bikes through the neighborhood. Our parents would drop us off at the cramped mall theaters. The great ongoing debate was whether Star Wars or Close Encounters was the better film. Many said "Star Wars." But for me, the most awestruck revelation in film history was Close Encounters.
I still love Spielberg's epic UFO creation and watched it again just the other night. It's a sort of quasi-religious experience for a kid raised on War of the Worlds and Invaders From Mars. In Close Encounters, the aliens were friendly and most shocking of all - we were nice to them! This had not been done before as the alien standard was usually a growling James Arness dressed as a murderous carrot. With Close Encounters, Cold War paranoia was rinsed away.