Monday, June 8, 2020

Recasting 1977: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

One might think that since I started Streep's "Recasting" project with a lead role, it's going to as such moving forward. I'm afraid that's not the case. One of my sort of self-imposed guidelines is that with the film replacements I'm choosing, I'd still like her recasted filmography to be one that might realistically be feasible. For example, not having anything too similar too close together, or working with the same director four years in a row. Not that there aren't examples of that, but part of the fun (and my own compulsions) is in trying to make the whole thing work as a complete set. 

With that in mind, I think it's reasonable that Meryl would have been cast in a couple more supporting roles before just becoming a major leading lady in top projects. That brings me to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is a film that I think I had seen before. At the very least it was a film I was aware of, as I remember my dad often remarking how great of a movie he thought it was. He was never one to really seek out videos though, so it was never something we had around the house or I ever remember seeing even played on TV (although I suspect it was). 

Imagine if director Steven Spielberg had seen an early cut of Hester Street. We know that filming for Close Encounters began in May of '76. Seems a bit too close for Meryl to have caught his eye and still make it into the film. However, we also know that Melinda Dillon, who plays Jillian Guiler in Close Encounters, was only cast about a week before she was set to shoot. So, we'll pretend it was Streep instead who snuck in at the last minute to play the single mom whose son is snatched by aliens. 

I like the idea of Meryl being in a good sci-fi flick. Knowing that she was in the running for 1979's Alien, and had apparently auditioned for Princess Leia in some movie called Star Wars, it's not like she would've been opposed to the genre. This was a big picture with a good role for someone with her experience and clout (or lack thereof). Quick side note--watching it again recently, it had been completely lost on me that Melinda Dillon is Ralphie's mom in A Christmas Story, a film I watch every year around the holidays and adore. I also don't remember the film being as good as it is (again, I'm not positive I'd seen it before, but thought I had). The effects are way less cheesy than I was expecting, and for a decent-sized supporting role, Meryl would have had the chance to show of some of her stuff. 

She'd get to play a midwestern mom whose house is attacked by some alien presence, and as mentioned, deal with the aftermath of her son being abducted. It's something that could easily veer an actor into being typecast as a sort of damsel in distress, but we all know Meryl wouldn't have gravitated toward future roles that would've perpetuated that. Plus, the character of Jillian has to go through a pretty broad set of emotions in her journey--shock, fear, despondency--all the while being a determined parent, much of it done alongside the great Richard Dreyfuss.  

The film was an enormous success both critically and commercially. Dillon was the sole acting nominee (out of a total of eight) at the Academy Awards the following year. It's got a wonderful humanist message and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Had Meryl been a participant, it would have no doubt given weight to her prestige as an actress in potential future projects. 


  1. love your Gestalt approach to the project

    1. Of course I had to look that up, but I agree. And the more I write about it, the more it seems that the "recasting" project might be closer to an actual "reimagined" filmography than my original had been. Both are fun regardless.