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It’s all quiet here on the dark side of the moon – Marvel Super Special #3, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

November 22, 2010


My recent post about the abject failure of Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes stories to translate into the realm of staple-bound newsprint got me to thinking about this adaptation. But before I say anything about the book itself, I need to let everyone know where I stand on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the film that it — obviously — adapts.

It’s my favorite movie. Ever.

Though the first Christopher Reeve Superman, always a beloved strip of celluloid, has claimed a larger and larger share of my affections as I’ve grown older, CE3K will always have the advantage of not having a Margot Kidder-spoken “Can You Read My Mind” moment. When my age was in the early double digits I used to pop in the VHS tape of Encounters every single weekend, and it’s still a special two hours whenever I dim the lights and plop myself in front of the TV to watch it. Steven Spielberg was young(er) and hungry back when it was made, and while his films today are superbly crafted, they just don’t sing like the movies he made before he was in a higher tax bracket than God.

Close Encounters was a righteous fusion of music, sound, mood, effects, dialogue, locations, casting, and everything else. You name it, it had it. And I love this movie so much — and have loved it for all tha parts of my life that I can remember — it was with some trepidation that I bought this comic. Well, maybe trepidation isn’t quite the word — I was happy to get it, but I figured that it couldn’t ever live up to the film.

So, when I got home the day I purchased it, I opened it up to see who was given the impossible task of adapting this thing. Archie Goodwin handled the scripting, with Walt Simonson doing the pencilling and Klaus Janson the inking. I like both members of the art team — there were two early marks in its favor.

So how is it?

No surprise — it’s a mixed bag.

While I like both Simonson’s and Janson’s work individually, their styles don’t meld all that well. And, while some comic book adaptations have stills from the production to work with, it seems that most of the character designs in this adaptation were crafted out of whole cloth. You aren’t going to find Richard Dreyfuss or Teri Garr of Francois Truffaut anywhere in these pages. And that’s not the biggest problem. Try as they might, it’s an impossible task for these guys to adequately capture the bottled magic that you would see on the screen.

Just for a brief example, let’s have a look at the biggest no-effects takeaway scene in the movie, the one that’s been parodied by The Simpsons and countless other times — the mashed potatoes scene.

First, the film version:

And here’s the comics version:

The adaptation team is trying. They really are. But they can’t replicate the fear and sadness of a family as Dad falls apart before their very eyes. I shouldn’t criticize them for failing to perform an impossible task, but the failure’s still there.

Okay. I have some issues with the art and teh scripting, but I said that it was a mixed bag. So what’s the good stuff? Well, there’s actually quite a lot of it. If I’ve given Simonson and Janson a hard time for not distilling all of the silver screen goodness, I can at least praise them for capturing certain things. I was struck by the posture of Roy Neary in this panel, when he’s being interrogated by Truffaut’s and Bob Balaban’s characters:

The way he’s leaning back with his arm straight and his hand on the table completely sums up Neary’s mental and physical posture at that point in the movie, and made that particular scene flash in front of my eyes. It kind of makes me wonder if the artists really were working from production stills, and that the lack of precise character likenesses was just a conscious “Screw it” choice. Maybe they had some storyboards instead. I don’t know. But this small piece of the project fulfills one of the old pre-VCR goals of comic adaptations of movies — giving a memento to those who watched the flick and want some help mentally replaying it.

Also, while nothing on flat paper can adequately depict that moment when we realize that all the ships at Devil’s Tower are just the prologue and the big momma mothership shows up, this two-page spread makes a noble stab at replicating the grandeur:

And even the final page, though it lacks John Williams’s stirring score, makes for a stylish close:

I’m admittedly predisposed to “geek out” for anything related to Close Encounters, and this book, warts and all, is no exception. Though it could never replace the original, nor did it ever aim to, this book made for a decent read. And, considering my love for the film, the fact that I didn’t open up my window at pitch it out onto the lawn is a good sign.

“This means something…”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. petedoree permalink
    November 22, 2010 12:29 pm

    Hi Jared, nice overview of a favourite adaptation of mine. Personally I love the art ( and Archie’s scripting ), but just to settle the question of the likenesses. I think I’m right in saying at this point in Marvel’s history, there were very strict rules about not making the characters look like the actors. This all started with the Planet Of The Apes books, when Charlton Heston point blank refused to let them make Marvel’s Taylor look like him, so George Tuska having to draw the character as ‘ generic hero type’ and it then becoming a legal thing. Marvel didn’t have a lot of money either to do these things , so it may also’ve been the fact it would’ve costed them more to pay the production team /actors to use their likenesses. George Perez’ Logan’s Run adaptation & the Star Wars comics were the same.
    But having said all that, I’m sure I read an interview with Simonson, where he said all he was given was Archie’s script, and a brief look at some pre-production photos where he was allowed to make some quick sketches, and that was it.
    Still a great comic tho’.

    • November 23, 2010 11:45 am

      Thanks for the insights. That all makes a good deal of sense. I have to say that, with the Star Wars adaptation, I saw more of Han and Luke and Leia in what was on the page than what I see here with Roy Neary. He looks more like one of the Belushi brothers (John or Jim, take your pick) than Richard Dreyfuss. All of that has a lot to do with how Close Encounters has imprinted on my brain like a momma bird’s face on a baby chick’s. It’s distracting for me to not see Dreyfuss, but that’s more my fault than the artists’.

      Call me an idiot, but I hope that, when Heston refused to let his face be used in the comics, he proclaimed, as only Chuck Heston could: “Marvel, let my likeness go!”

  2. November 13, 2011 7:17 pm

    Maybe they had some storyboards instead. That all makes a good deal of to post a comment to your blog.This is my google


  1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind Redux – A few words from Walt Simonson « Blog into Mystery

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