by Michelle Erica Green

This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.

Grade: A
Year: 1977
Running Time: 2 hours 32 minutes

Video Summary:
A young Midwestern boy plays a strange melody on his xylophone. Halfway around the globe, monks chant the same tune. People all over the world report mysterious sightings in the night sky. While scientist Claude Lacombe tries to make sense of these "close encounters," a research station receives a message from an unknown craft.

Indiana electrician Roy Neary sees the alien lights and has a vision of a mountain, which he sculpts out of shaving cream, mashed potatoes, and mud. Nearby, Jillian Guiler's toddler is taken from her house by a spaceship. When she and Roy both see a news report about a toxic spill near Devil's Tower, they feel drawn to the landmark even though the government has evacuated the area.

Escaping from federal captors, Roy and Jillian travel to Devil's Tower to witness the arrival of the spacecraft, which communicates via a series of musical tones. Though Jillian's goal is to find her son, Roy moves closer to make contact.

Best For Ages:
9-12: Spectacular visuals and action will hold their attention, but disturbing emotional content makes this film inappropriate for many in this age group.

12 & up: The most appropriate audience for this classic, many teens will enjoy the drama and special effects.

Parental Advisory:
Educational Value: This movie stresses the importance of imagination and innovation. Humans communicate with aliens using a common musical scale. A French-speaking character and translations offer language exposure.

Entertainment Value: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS helped spark a science fiction resurgence with special effects that still look impressive. John Williams's score and a memorable performance by Richard Dreyfuss add heart.

Violence: Domestic appliances pin down a woman in her home; government employees use force to disperse crowds; a helicopter pursues people spraying narcotic dust.

Profanity: Mild curses.

Emotional Intensity: A distraught man screams at his children and terrifies his wife, who sends the children away from home to keep them safe from him.

Frightening Situations: A toddler is abducted by an alien spaceship; dozens of animals appear to have died in a toxic accident.

Questionable Behavior: Children insult their parents; a son hits his father with a Ping-Pong paddle; a toddler leaves the house alone at night and runs into the woods.

Mature Themes: Extraterrestrials arrive on Earth; in order to keep the aliens a secret, the government fakes an environmental disaster; a man abandons his family to travel into space.

There's no question of the overall excellence of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, one of the most breathtaking science fiction movies ever made. However, it’s not necessarily a great video for children. The movie embodies our fantasy that something wondrous could await among the stars, but here commitment to family takes a backseat to the compulsion to explore that fantasy.

Steven Spielberg tells the story of a man challenged by his faith in a fairy-tale vision. It's easy to compare CLOSE ENCOUNTERS to PINOCCHIO; in fact Roy Neary mentions the story several times by as he wishes upon the stars. But here the fairy tale has a dark side: an alien kidnapping, a government conspiracy, and a family torn apart by obsession create an X-FILES-like tone.

The message that we are not alone is hopeful, but CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND is a sophisticated movie. Older viewers will understand that Roy's torn loyalties represent a common human impulse to seek new horizons (and that the aliens in Spielberg’s story call people to their landing site). For young children, however, the images of suffering families--screaming parents, wrecked houses, abandoned kids--may overwhelm the magic of alien presence.

For a more appropriate video for younger kids about extraterrestrials landing on earth, look for Spielberg’s famous E.T..

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