[Extraterrestrial Abductions Day] Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg

137 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Melinda Dillon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

With today being Extraterrestrial Abductions Day, I wanted to look back at a Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) film that I didn’t have much exposure to: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I didn’t see the film until after college, and I didn’t recall liking it very much. So, today, I thought, let’s give it another try.

Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws, Madoff), an electrical lineman in Indiana, is forever changed after he experiences a close encounter with an unidentified flying object while investigating an outage. He develops a thirst to discover exactly what he witnessed that consumes him entirely, causing rifts in his marriage to wife Ronnie (Teri Garr, Tootsie, Aloha, Scooby Doo!) and his children. Roy’s search for answers takes him across the country where he meets Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows, The Green Room), a French scientist also enamored with the possible discovery of alien life.

My frustrations with Close Encounters of the Third Kind do not lie on the technical side of things. I happen to find the visuals and sound design to be superb, some of the best put to film (coincidentally, the film was released the same as the original Star Wars, which nabbed a number of technical awards at the Oscars). I enjoyed the performances from Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story, Reign Over Me) as Jillian, a single mother who shares in Roy’s journey for answers.

My issues, though, come from Spielberg’s screenplay and how he chose to direct it. Roy does some pretty shitty things in the film, he isn’t a character I like or feel for, and yet Spielberg chooses to give the film such a light-hearted tone. It’s as if to say to his audience, “Look at this funny guy pushing his family away! My, isn’t he strange?” It just didn’t work for me. I want to feel for him and what this journey is doing to him, but I don’t.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a beautiful film, one that furthers the abilities of the artist with its progressive sound design and visual effects, but I just didn’t like the emotional arcs of the characters. An impressive technical marvel to this writer, but one without true substance.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] War of the Worlds (2005)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

Screenplay: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) has always been an alien fanboy at heart. Periodically throughout his career, he continues to return to the genre of the extraterrestrial. He even owned a copy of Orson Welles’ original radio play for War of the Worlds. After many attempts to get a story off the ground, Spielberg was eventually able to do so in 2005.

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Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) isn’t all that great of a father. He loves his kids, but he just doesn’t really know them. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s Shameless, The Invisible) don’t enjoy staying with him. But when the Earth is attacked by forces from beneath and beyond the planet’s surface, Ray is forced to grow up and become the father he is supposed to be as the family evades invading extraterrestrials who want the world for themselves.

This is a very different film for Steven Spielberg. For starters, the plot runs in a very different way. Rather than unfolding as the film progresses and evolving based on the character choices, War of the Worlds is much more of an action onslaught like previous fare Mad Max: Fury Road. The plot is revealed rather quickly and then takes a step back to the high action spectacle that unfolds for our hero. It was new terrain for the filmmaker.

Tom Cruise does his best to play to his character’s weaknesses here. He isn’t entirely a likable guy but when greatness is thrust upon him, Ray needs to step up and protect those around him from harm. Dakota Fanning plays Rachel to the truest understanding that a nervous child would have during these events. Unfortunately, she is rather annoying in this film. I get that you’re scared, but she is always screaming! Then there’s Justin Chatwin, who has more of his father in him than he realizes as he is conflicted in what he thinks makes a man. Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I, Frankenstein) gives serviceable work as the ex-Mrs. Ferrier and Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Welcome to Me) gives one of the best albeit small performances I’ve seen from the actor.

War of the Worlds benefits from having Spielberg’s terrific flair for capturing events on film. The sequences are well put together, so much so that you miss some of the inconsistencies in the flow of the film. The sound mixing and editing, for which the film was nominated for an Oscar, are also booming. The invader ships, or Tripods as they are referred, make this unsettling sound as they destroy humanity. That, mixed with the top notch visual effects, give this film a unique flavor and an intensity that continue throughout its runtime.

I wasn’t all that impressed with John William’s score here as it comes off as more sounds mixed into the film than a bona fide music track.

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I can completely get why some didn’t enjoy War of the Worlds. Many called out the underwhelming ending, which is actually taken from the source material and considered one of the best endings ever. I enjoyed, but perhaps the reason is that I knew this was the ending going in. I think without the great irony of the film is that by knowing the ending, it makes it better but not necessarily as thrilling, but by not knowing the ending, it feels like a cop out but is entertaining throughout. My suggestion to best enjoy the film is to read the book first (seriously, this is me suggesting that you read, and that will anger some of you). The film doesn’t necessarily follow the novel’s story at all, but it retains the key themes that should enrich your viewing experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

Jurassic World (2015)

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Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

 

It has been 22 years since the events of Jurassic Park, and now John Hammond’s vision has been fully realized. Jurassic World has been up and running for about a decade, and has been run by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, 50/50) to great success. Now, though, with declining numbers, the park’s owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi, The Amazing Spider-Man) wants something new and bigger to boost attendance. He has enlisted Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, Mulan, Focus) with the task of genetically hybridizing a new dinosaur species called the Indominus Rex, but this new species is much smarter than they could have realized, and now a raptor trainer named Owen (Chris Pratt, TV’s Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy) must help Claire find her nephews, Nick (Nick Robinson, TV’s Melissa & Joey, The Kings of Summer) and Gray (Ty Simpkins, Insidious, Iron Man 3), who are missing in the park.

In this third sequel to the Jurassic Park franchise, we see something that has been almost promised for just as long: a fully functioning theme park, exactly what John Hammond would have wanted. It is a completely new experience for fans of the series, and it offers a cadre of new set pieces for director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) to completely destroy.

Chris Pratt gives another leading man performance that proves he has the chops to continue raking in the dough. Now Owen isn’t played as well to Pratt’s strength, and he comes off rather wooden at the beginning of the film before really finding his character beats as the film progresses. His chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is pretty strong, though the developed romance between feels way contrived in the grand scheme of the story.

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The supporting players all mostly give in to the conceit of the film and perform admirably. Our child actors Robinson and Simpkins do enough to get by, though Simpkins underwhelms when compared to previous work in the Insidious franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Run All Night) is great as the slimy Hoskins who wishes to use Owen’s raptor skills to train the beasts for militaristic purposes. He is matched perfectly by Irrfan Khan’s Masrani, an eccentric billionaire very similar to Hammond and who wishes to follow in his footsteps and do right by him. The term “Spare No Expense” comes to mind several times.

B.D. Wong returns to the franchise from the original film as the genius Dr. Wu, a character much expanded upon from the original source novel by Michael Crichton. In this film, Wu defends his place in the history books as the clever mind behind many of the park’s greatest attractions.

Now the dinosaurs here as missing much of the Stan Winston touch that made them so magical in the 1993 film. They still look amazing from the terrific visual effects work, and some of them, like the mighty aquatic Mosasaurus, but it is something I missed. Looking back on Steven Spielberg’s original film, I still look in wonder at the magic on the screen, whereas here I know I am seeing CGI.

Michael Giacchino’s score is also a great feature of the film, subtly using John William’s original themes while adding notes of grandeur and chaos to reinvent it. When we first see the gorgeous set pieces accompanied by the original music, it made my heart skip a beat.

Flaws? Yeah, there are several. The use of the Gyrospheres being completely controlled by the attendees? Yeah, no safety features required there…not! This film makes several of the same mistakes that we’ve seen before, making the characters seem like they paid no attention to the mistakes made in previous installments.

JURASSIC WORLD - 2015 FILM STILL - Pictured: The Indominus rex dominates all creatures in her path - Photo Credit: Universal Pictures   © 2014 Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Thankfully, the film is much saved by how great the wins are. There are several faults at play, but overall this is the best film in the franchise since the original. The little pieces of homage to the T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Mr. DNA, John Hammond, and Ian Malcolm help validate this film as a strong installment in the series that holds its own and opens new avenues for the future of the story.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen Jurassic World? What did you think? Did this film’s life find a way or go extinct in the process? Let me know!

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Congo (1995)

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Director: Frank Marshall

Cast: Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson, Grant Heslov, Joe Don Baker, Tim Curry

Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley

109 mins. Rated PG-13 for jungle adventure terror and action and brief strong language.

 

The late Michael Crichton was known for his ability to write science fiction as science fact. When Jurassic Park was released in 1993, everyone wanted on the Crichton train, even causing Steven Spielberg’s colleague and friend Frank Marshall (Eight Below, Arachnophobia) to take on a weaker work called Congo and make it essentially like Jurassic Park with apes. There’s only one hitch: the two stories are nothing alike, and Congo burned for it.

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Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh, TV’s Nip/Tuck, Secretariat) wants to gets his ill ape Amy back to the wild, but without funding, he and his partner Richard (Grant Heslov, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Monuments Men) are out of luck. But when their plight comes under the attention of Herkermer Homalka (Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Burke and Hare), who may have motives of his own, Peter, Amy, and Richard are on the way to the Congo. Along the way, they meet up with Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney, The Truman Show, Mr. Holmes), who is heading in the same direction in search of answers to the disappearance of someone close to her.

Let me just start out by saying that there are some great elements in this film that aren’t handled correctly. Ernie Hudson (TV’s Oz, You’re Not You), for example, gives a fantastic performance as Captain Munro Kelly, a man assigned to get Peter and Amy to their destination safely. Unfortunately, we also get Dylan Walsh, an uncommanding lead, Laura Linney as an unlikable and poorly written character, and Joe Don Baker (GoldenEye, Mud) in one of the most laughably horrendous roles in screen history. I can live with Tim Curry’s hilariously cheesy work as Homalka, but even he doesn’t fit here.

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The screenplay is poorly put together and it leads to an uneven film that presents too much substance bloating a film with silly and convoluted plot threads. Jurassic Park, this is not. Not in the slightest.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[Oscar Madness] Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O’Rourke

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

114 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Poltergeist is an interesting film. It is equal parts comedic and utterly chilling, and not without an ounce of controversy.

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From director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortuary) comes Poltergeist, a tale of the Freelings: Diane (JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Big Year) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s Parenthood, The Incredibles). Their new home has been having some issues…issues like a living tree and clown doll trying to kidnap their son,  a closet that warps daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into some purgatorial dimension, and chairs that slide across the floor. You know, normal new house problems. When Carol Anne is lost somewhere in the house, the Freelings must join together with paranormal researchers to save the young girl.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson command their roles with precision and chemistry as the chief parental units. In fact, the relationships of the entire Freeling clan are what holds this family and the entire film together. If you don’t feel for the family, you don’t feel for the film, and thankfully, this family works. Director Hooper commands a completely different tone for this film than previous efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the tone being more alike Spielberg’s other 1982 work with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but more on that later…

What makes this film a classic is the practical effects. Some of them are still realistically well put together over 30 years later. A few of them are still horrifying, like the mirror dream sequence and the actual skeletons in the pool (seriously, they were real skeletons). All in all, the film is still really shocking, especially for a PG film (the PG-13 didn’t really exist at the time).

So, there was some controversy about who the real director was: Hooper or writer Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Tonally, it looks to be Spielberg, but reports have surfaced that could go either way. Spielberg does seem like a backseat director to me, but I’m thinking Hooper myself.

Finally, let’s discuss the Curse. This film has often been considered to contain a curse much like the one that the Freelings are attached to (perhaps because of the real skeletons used during filming). Actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was killed by a former boyfriend in 1982 after filming completed. Then, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 after surgery to repair a bowel obstruction at the age of 12. She was filming Poltergeist III at the time.

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Poltergeist, a movie with history, permanently engrained in history. While the film does run on a bit longer than it needs, and featuring one too many paranormal investigators, but still a strong horror classic. Check it out, if you haven’t already. There is a reboot/remake on the way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Jurassic Park (1993)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Michael Crichton, David Koepp

127 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

I’m going to tell you a story now. When I was a young child, I was positively blown away by Jurassic Park. I just always wanted to watch it. Unfortunately for me, I was absolutely terrified of the film. I never got past the famous T-Rex sequence without running out of the room as fast as possible. Finally, when my next-door neighbor volunteered to babysit me one night, he made me a promise: We were getting through Jurassic Park tonight. And we did. And it remains one of the most thrilling examples of perfect filmmaking even now, 22 years later.

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, TV’s Peaky Blinders, The Hunt for Red October) and his colleague Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, The Fault in Our Stars, Wild) have just been hired by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, The Great Escape, Elizabeth) to look into his newest project, an amusement park on the island of Isla Nublar. They are joined by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day, Mortdecai), an observer of the Chaos Theory, as the three discover that Jurassic Park is filled with genetically cloned dinosaurs. When the island’s security defenses go down, the dinosaurs are unleashed, and the scientists must find a way off the island before chaos takes them out.

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First of all, I want to discuss the screenplay from Michael Crichton and David Koepp. I love the original novel and this adaptation is pretty damn close in the overall scope and the tone conveyed. There are a few changes and a few scenes omitted in the name of time, but the script is pretty great for both an adaptation and a film in general.

The list of performers, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough are so perfectly cast that it amazes me. Add in veteran character actors Bob Peck (The Black Velvet Gown, Slipstream), Martin Ferrero (Heat, Air Bud 3), and Wayne Knight (TV’s The Exes, Space Jam), and you have some genuinely perfectly cast players.

Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) had so much invested in this project, and so much faith in it at the same time. It is refreshing to find a director that cares so much about a project. His care for pushing the visual effects envelope while maintaining his style and flair for the suspense and the fantastic.

The look and sound of the dinosaurs literally created the modern view of dinosaurs in film. The incredible sound work (the noises of the velociraptor hatching were created by cracking an ice cream cone and the squishing of a cantaloupe and pineapple) is what earns this film the realism that Spielberg so desperately wanted.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss the famous scene in which the T-Rex’s movement causes a water ripple in a glass. The sound originally came to Steven Spielberg while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire. His production team eventually, after many, many failures, created the effect with a guitar string placed underneath the fake dashboard.

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Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park stands as one of the most groundbreaking and equally effective films of its or any generation. The film still looks gorgeous and has stood the test of time. The special effects haven’t even aged all that much. My hope is that Jurassic World is even partially as good as this one.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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