The lights in the sky have never appeared brighter. Beaming back into cinemas to mark the film’s 40th anniversary, this digital restoration of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi touchstone reintroduces a genuine UFO: a blockbuster that operates with hushed stealth, expanding its sense of momentous events approaching from distant galaxies exponentially. No bolt-shooting pre-credits sequence here; for score, a carefully sequenced five-note motif; instead of screen-hogging CGI, a glimpse of something through a rear windscreen, then effects sculpted, more tangibly, from moulding clay and mashed potato.
For some while, its noisiest locale is the Muncie, Indiana home of Richard Dreyfuss’s everyman Roy Neary, so convincingly overrun with kids, toys and media that it might drive anybody’s eyes heavenwards, or in search of escape. That backdrop remains a significant part of Close Encounters’ genius: the depiction of Earth is so credible that we readily take the same extraterrestrial leaps of faith as its protagonist.
In a featurette playing before the rerelease, Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve argues it’s all deeply self-reflexive, a film about film-making (hence, perhaps, the presence of François Truffaut) and the pressures of generating out-of-this-world spectacle – a line that holds if we approach Close Encounters as the tale of an obsessive struggling to preserve sanity and marriage while rallying others to share his unifying vision.
Either way, the view from the mountaintop remains remarkable: grand celestial theatre, in which the greatest storyteller in modern movies invites us to set aside any scepticism, look up, and believe.