Show Business: The Aliens Are Coming!

Jaws' creator moves dazzlingly from the deep to deep space

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The gaffes fade from memory once Close Encounters reaches its climax—for which Spielberg saves the most spectacular futuristic effects. Even here, it is the director, not the technical staff, who causes the movie to take flight. In Spielberg's benign view, the confrontation between human and alien is an ecstatic evolutionary adventure, rather than a potentially lethal star war; it is a wondrous opportunity for man to be reborn. When the earthlings and the visitors at last communicate in the film, bellowing "Hello" to each other in bursts of light and music, it is like hearing a child speak for the first time—or, as one character explains, it is "the first day of school."

The moment has a powerful, almost mystical, emotional charge, and to raise the temperature still higher, Spielberg caps the scene by filling the sound track with an old and uncannily appropriate song from a Walt Disney movie. By then, Close Encounters is a celebration not only of children's dreams but also of the movies that help fuel those dreams. Of course, it is one of those movies. Spielberg has done what he set out to do: at the end of Close Encounters, the audience is sitting with him in the lap of the universe, ready and waiting for new magic to fall into their lives. — Frank Rich

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