Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Everything Wrong With Hollywood Cinema in a Nutshell

I just got back from the 4K restoration of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and WTF were they thinking putting a spoiler-filled DVD-featurette-quality talking head introduction in front of the movie explaining everything and why it matters? Do we really need to hear from Denis Villaneuve and JJ Abrams how much they love this film? Do we need to hear all the John Williams music in advance? We had friends who had never seen it before with us and the little featurette gave away so many important moments and the musical motif and everything.

This is, for me, the fundamental problem with Hollywood movies today. It’s why I prefer that my students avoid doing Q&A’s at their screenings. The studios in charge want everything explained and analyzed for the audience, and what audiences need (and what Spielberg understood) is to just sit for a few hours and fall under the spell of the movie. They need to feed their lizard brain, not their rational brain. They need some atmosphere, some poetry, not a freaking talking head spoon-feeding them the theme of the movie before the first frame even begins. Just let us fall under the spell and drive home pondering and we can talk about it with our friends after we’ve slept on it.

It’s especially insulting to do it in front of THIS movie, one of the most beautifully poetic, abstract, and dialogue-free films in mainstream cinema. I’m shocked Spielberg even agreed to put that intro in there.

The movie was great, BTW. I wish the studios were worthy of presenting it.

Science fiction adventure about a group of people who attempt to contact alien intelligence. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) witnesses an unidentified flying object, and even has a “sunburn” from its bright lights to prove it. Roy refuses to accept an explanation for what he saw and is prepared to give up his life to pursue the truth about UFOs.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1977 ‧ Science fiction film/Drama film ‧ 2h 15m
Initial release: November 15, 1977 (New York City)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Music composed by: John Williams
Box office: $303.8 million
Awards: Academy Award for Best Cinematography

awesomeness0232: I don’t know if I would call this particular example the *fundamental* problem with Hollywood, but it is a pretty irresponsible decision. You’d think they’d just open with a little “stick around after the feature for some special content” or something and then play it post-credits. Hearing from great filmmakers about how a film influenced them is cool, but it’s silly to open the movie with it.

JayGeeBee: While I agree that spoiler culture is a thing now where fewer people seem to respect the experience of watching a film, I’m more curious about your preference for your students to avoid Q&A’s at their screenings. You’re referring to students who have made their own films, no? Shouldn’t aspiring film makers be encouraged to get up in front of a lot of people, field questions, and have fluency in describing their work? There are a ton of important skills to learn from that not only personally, but professionally. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why you would prefer them not to, but I thought I’d throw a counter-theory your way.

jeffneruda: I was furious for the same reasons. I had seen it before but it had been years and I remembered loving it but was excited about seeing it on the big screen for the first time and I treated it like going to a brand new movie. The featurette really put a damper on it for me. It would have been fine and even welcome at the end, but prior to the film was super spoilery and set up weird expectations that I think affected how I viewed the film.

coentertainer: For me the entire half hour before a movie starts (commercials, trailers, featurettes on current movies, cinema information etc) is all “headphones in, mess with my phone” time. If I’m sure the place will be dead (I try to only go to mid-week matineés towards the end of a films run) I don’t even leave my house until a few minutes before the program starts. The only things I’ll watch before a movie are short films (usually only found on animated children’s films) and trailers of films I’ve already seen out of curiosity of how they were marketed.

SeaQuark: This might be a Villaneuve thing.

After the credits of *Arrival* finished rolling in the theater, the audience got “treated” to a puff-piece documentary telling us all how great the movie we just watched was and explaining all of the difficult, confusing themes of the movie.

Never seen anything like that in a movie theater before. It’s like they were terribly afraid of people “not getting it” but all this does is reveal a lack of confidence on the part of the people presenting the film.

F_Scott_Shitzgerald: I think you need to take a deep breath. I was not fortunate enough to attend one of the 40th anniversary showings so I did not get a chance to see the opening vignette but what you have described sounds completely par for the course when showing classic movies.

When PBS shows The Lady from Shanghai they preface it with a five minute segment featuring a film historian who gives you some historical context for the film. He or she explains where Orson Welles was in his career, highlight some important parts of the film, and explain how the ending house of mirrors sequence influenced french new wave directors, maybe sharing some quotes from them talking about its importance. Does revealing the climatic finale “spoil” the movie? Is PBS indicative of al that is wrong with Hollywood cinema? Of course not. Part of the joy of watching classics is that you get to see their place in history and recognize where they drew inspiration and how they influenced.

Close Encounters is a classic. It’s forty years old, ten years older than Lady from Shanghai was when it came out. Its Spielberg at his creative height and it clearly has had a big influence on film makers of today. Now like I said I haven’t seen this opening so maybe it is as offensive as you claim but there is no reason it shouldn’t get the same sort of glowing contextualization that we have traditionally provided for reshowings of other historic films of its caliber.

As an aside, I don’t think Close Encounters is capable of being “spoiled” and if it was it would have already been spoiled by the culture in general. I know that when I got the chance to watch close encounters for the first time I had already seen Homer Simpson make a sculpture out of his mash potatoes and that throughout the movie different scenes were making me go, “oh yeah Mupets in Space.” It does not matter if you know exactly whats going to happen Close Encounters has the power to transport you into its world and keep you on the edge of your seat.

One last thing. I couldn’t find the PBS intro from Close Encounters but here’s the promo for the showing. It has the money shot of the spaceship flying over Devils Tower.

WestWonWildly: Is anyone going to get pumped up by this? Before they were on the seat BUT MAN HEARING THE STAR OF THE FILM SAY IT WAS THE BEST TIME OF HIS LIFE HAS GOT ME READY! …I mean seriously, I really would like to see Close Encounters but I don’t feel like paying to see the BluRay once in theaters. This couldn’t be further away from seeing a movie in theaters, this is simply seeing a disc with bonus features on a big screen – ONCE.

In my mind Spielberg was very much for re-release but doesn’t have the clout to say NO anymore lately and have it stick with higher ups.

MattressCrane: Yeah! Jeeze. I was quite late entering the theatre for it, and i have only seen parts of the film when i was a kid, so i was planning on seeing it fresh. Only walked in on the last few minutes of the featurette.

But I had to hang my head down and try my best not to listen to them describe every beat of the story.

SpeakThunder: I went to the 40th anniversary screening at the Dome at the Arclight in LA where it premiered, with Q&A with the editor a producer, and some other peeps. And as the moderator said in our screening when people reacted to a spoiler he dropped when he introduced the film “The film is 40 years old, we can talk about it now”.

abrightersummerday: Sorta re-framing the critique: What pre-show materials *would* enhance the experience of seeing a movie like this?

Movie theaters, especially arthouse/indie/repertory ones, struggle to get butts in seats. A big, promoted re-release like Close Encounters is one thing, but film exhibitors are having a harder and harder time convincing people that the theatrical experience is worth paying for. That the fact the movie may be available to watch on your phone, laptop, or big screen TV, doesn’t mean seeing it in a dark room with strangers isn’t an important experience.

So one line of thought for people invested in keeping theatrical screenings alive, and creating a place for classics, obscurities, genre fare, arthouse, experimental, foreign, non-Hollywood stuff… is that people want something value-added.

So you get costume events, props (think Rocky Horror or The Room), food and booze (Alamo Drafthouse), special guests, etc. etc.

Is a video essay along less spoilery and self-congratulatory lines something worth showing before a movie? Maybe especially one people will be less familiar with than Close Encounters? Is there any piece of on-screen content that will *increase* the immersion, fun, poetry, or excitement of the screening?

dustin_slothman: Ugh I haven’t seen it in theaters yet but I can’t help but agree with you. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love extra features, behind the scenes, etc. But like f**k, I wanted to take a few of my friends to see this as it’s one of my all time favorites. To me, there’s nothing like going into a movie completely blind. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a classic I haven’t seen yet and just go for it.

For instance I saw Bonnie and Clyde was actually showing in theaters and was like oh f**k I haven’t seen this ever so how lucky would it be to get that whole experience! So I hauled ass to the theater and made it just in time. I think it was a TCM thing and might’ve had a short Ben Mankiewicz thing at the start, but I was getting popcorn and missed it.. Completely blown away by the film. I want more films to be shown in theaters like this.

But overall, I more-than-agree with you. I think films are far too spoon-feedy in general these days. And I mean I would even say a little too self-congratulatory. The Last Jedi for instance hasn’t even come out yet and we already have a behind the scenes featurette where everyone is swooning about the “unique” direction Rian Johnson has taken the series.

I think either TLJ or the nearly 3-hour-long Blade Runner 2049 is going to be a let down among fans and maybe even critics. Part of me actually hopes so, so we can get off of this 80s blockbuster nostalgia wave.

The original Blade Runner wasnt even a blockbuster, it was a sleeper hit that’s become culturally accepted as a masterpiece in terms of so many elements of the film (music, effects/sets, screenplay). Now movies are just a brand. How many scholarly articles were written connecting Jaws to capitalism and/or communism, Star Wars to the mythologies studied by Joseph Campbell. You can’t do that nowadays. Everyone is patting themselves on the back before their movies even come out.

neonoir12: They’ve done studies that show spoilers do not reduce one’s enjoyment of content. This is a pretty lame take. If you wanted to point out an issue with Hollywood, perhaps you could have pointed to studios allowing a holiday weekend to pass without a major release. That’s a problem.

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