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'Close Encounters' was the best choice during weekend of box-office blues

Posted September 7

Did you notice that “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was playing in local theaters last week? Yes, that “Close Encounters.”

For its 40th anniversary, Steven Spielberg’s classic sci-fi thriller received a one-week release in 900 theaters across the country — and 13 of those theaters were located between Lehi and Layton.

But it opened with little or no fanfare. My guess is that a lot of you didn’t even know it was playing.

Too bad. It’s the best film of the summer. Yes, this summer. Not that there’s been a whole lot of competition.

Oh, there were some good movies and some box-office blockbusters, but they are only candidates for the best film of the summer by default.

You may be a fan of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and perhaps you’re ready to defend the sequel. Or you may feel that “Wonder Woman” opened some doors for women in the film industry and are therefore ready to laud it as groundbreaking and historical. Or perhaps you want to argue for “Detroit” or “Wakefield” or “A Quiet Passion” or “The Lost City of Z” or something else that tickled your fancy or spoke to you in some cinematic way.

Hey, they’re all interesting films, some are very enjoyable, and perhaps all are worthwhile 2017 picks. But in a summer of really good movies would they still rise to the top? Probably not.

Seeing “Close Encounters” on the big screen again, however, just confirmed what a great film it is. In fact, if ever there was a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen … as big a screen as possible … it’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

So, yes, I’m calling it out as the summer’s best movie.

Sure, there’s that little matter of it actually being 40 years old, but let’s not quibble.

I didn’t review the film when it originally opened. I wasn’t even working for the Deseret News in December 1977. But I did review Spielberg’s “Special Edition” of the film released in August 1980, concluding with this sentence: “What’s really sad this summer is that ‘Close Encounters’ is without peer the best movie in release.”

That was just two-and-a-half years after it’s release. Thirty-seven years later, for the summer of ’17, I feel the same way this year.

So I wish you had known it was playing. I wish it had been better advertised. I didn’t know until just a couple of days before it opened.

And while it was great to see it again in a theater, it was disheartening that there weren’t more people in attendance.

Of course, since the week before was labeled the worst movie box-office weekend in 16 years, who was even going to go see what was playing? Just lucky geezers like me, I guess.

You may have seen the news reports — by Time magazine, the Washington Post, USA Today and other respected publications — that pronounced the weekend of Aug. 25 the worst box-office weekend in 16 years.

Then the following week, Forbes published a story suggesting that the Aug. 25 weekend was not just the worst in 16 years but may in fact be the worst ever, or at least since 1927 and the dawn of the “talkies.”

And then, just to make it even more alarming, as I write this I’m seeing reports that a week later, the weekend of Sept. 1 — counting an extra day for Labor Day — was the worst in 17 years. Yikes! (I can’t bring myself to look at Forbes this week.)

Meanwhile, Box Office Mojo reports that “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” came in at No. 14 on the Labor Day weekend box-office list. With a little publicity perhaps it could have made the top 10 or even the top five.

Playing for a full week at Cinemark and Megaplex theaters all over the valley is unusual for a classic film, of course. Lots of classics play in local theaters from time to time, but only for a couple of days, and none are really publicized all that well — unless you know where to look.

Since movie listings have almost completely disappeared from hard-copy newspapers … along with readers … you need to check online at various theater websites.

Cinemark Theatres have periodic six-week classic-movie series all year long, wrapping them around the monthly Fathom Events' Turner Classic Movies releases. Coming up are showings of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Wall Street,” “The Princess Bride,” “Casablanca” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Meanwhile, Megaplex Theatres will begin a 10-week series of classics on Sept. 11: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “From Here to Eternity,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “All the President’s Men,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Citizen Kane,” “High Noon” and “Forrest Gump.”

And other series include the Organ Loft, which begins its fall season of silent classics (with live organ accompaniment) on Sept. 21 with “Safety Last,” and the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem, with its ongoing series, with these films scheduled between now and November: “The Unforgiven” (the one with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn), “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” (the 1930 version), “Goodbye, Charlie,” “The Birds,” “Swing Time,” “Blood Alley” and “Oklahoma!”

So when things look bleak at your local movie theater, choose an alternative. Most of these films are guaranteed to please, and the Megaplex and SCERA classics series offer reduced admissions.

And while you’re at it, check with your nearby movie houses to see if anyone kept “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for another week.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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