War of the Spielbergs

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind which we saw again preparatory to visiting the actual Devil's Tower begins kind of slow, then picks up a bit with the first UFO encounter, but doesn't really engage kids of today (the music-video/Cartoon Network generation) until Dreyfus starts sculpting his living room masterpiece; then Spielberg's magic takes firm hold, and they're pretty much transfixed by the rest of the picture.

(Note that some of the best scenes cut out of the Special Edition--of Dreyfus freaking out and wrecking their back yard, and of some of the more unsettling family confrontations--have been restored, while the most disappointing scene in the Special Edition--the scenes inside the Mother Ship--have been cut out, and that this edition, on this viewing anyway, seems the most satisfying)

Despite their exposure to present-day CGI, the kids were still bowled over by Close Encounter's finale--which is more impressive, I realized, than anything in Spielberg's recent War of the Worlds. You see more of the aliens and their ships in War, they're definitely more active than the primitive puppets and models in Close Encounters, but (and here's one thing I noticed of present-day CGI), the size and mass of today's monstrous machines and creatures don't inspire much awe; they move too fast, and Spielberg doesn't spend enough time building up their entrances. Plus there's a sense of depth, of huge spaces beyond the brightly lit airfield in the earlier film that you don't feel in the later one (Spielberg wasn't contented with using a studio set, so he shot the scene in a hangar so big it had its own weather patterns).

War is darker Spielberg, with impeccable literary credentials (elements of which he tosses out or dilutes to please his totally unnecessary Hollywood star) and state-of-the-art SFX; Close Encounters is mere popcorn fare (only the barest outlines of Paul Schrader's spiritually anguished script is still visible) with Spielberg the filmmaker at his most visually inventive. Guess which I prefer?

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