Dennis D. McDonald ( is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on and aNewDomain.



A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald

Published Jan. 13, 2002

Seeing this movie again after a delay of several years I was very pleasantly surprised at how well it holds up.

I appreciate the emotional and character aspects of the movie even more, particularly the inner workings of Neary’s mind as he struggles with the implanted message. I am also struck at the amazing creativity and energy that went into the production. The number of famous sounds and images present in this movie is substantial.

There are so many memorable sequences they are difficult to catalog in a short list. My favorites? I really enjoyed Francois Truffaut this time around. The comeraderie between him and Bob Balaban is very well done. Teri Garr as Roy Neary’s wife is, well, precious and touching. I would have given her more screen time but understand with so much going on that decisions had to be made. And sounds and images? It’s practically impossible to decide where to begin.

Fundamentally, the creative decision to imbue the aliens with a sense of playfulness and the ability to communicate via sound and music is a stroke of genius. I’m sure that if one goes back through all the SF stories ever written that you’ll find something along these lines. But seeing them presented so creatively and accessibly in a big budget mainstream Hollywood movie is a measure of Spielberg’s powers (as well as evidence that a successful movie provides the director with a great deal of artistic freedom). There’s also a great deal of naiveté here that, viewed from these more cynical times, is a bit jarring. The lockstep view of government secrecy, for example, is sophomoric and reminiscent of the 1950’s.

Plus, Roy’s decision at the end to leave his family behind is, perhaps, dramatically honest but nonetheless painful to consider when viewed from one’s role as a parent.

Overall, however, the movie works and deserves its success. Its focus on “middle class” values and situations, its lack of violence and bloodshed, its focus on positive aspects of first contact, and its dearth of any substantial teenage characters make is somewhat anomalous early in the twenty-first century.

This two-DVD set also contains quite a few interesting — and some not so interesting — extras. The “making of” documentary is very informative and gives each participant an opportunity to reflect on a very special experience or a particular problem solved. The deleted scenes are deserving of being deleted. I only wish that there was a “music only” track as there is with SUPERMAN. But the movie is king on this DVD set and is deservedly the main attraction.

Review copyright (c) 2002 by Dennis D. McDonald

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