A frustrating experience.
This was a standout moviegoing experience. I was 17 and just becoming a pretty big cinephile and focused on working in Hollywood, so I was paying more attention to movies. I also started driving that year and the sense of freedom of being able to drive to the cinema on my own was great. This was just a magical year for moviegoing for me. I liked going to the cinema alone at least on the first viewing, because it was very personal.
Anyway, 90% of this movie is amazing, some of the best stuff Zemeckis has ever done. The guy is a natural born storyteller and handles a camera like no other, with the exception of Spielberg. The excitement, mystery and wonder he's able to convey for most of the running time is just fantastic.
It's the ending I have a big problem with. I understand the turning of the tables and making a hard core atheist have to rely on faith to convince others of her quest, I just wish the content of her quest was more substantial than being reunited with her dead father on a beach. If she'd actually experienced a full on close encounter of the 3rd kind with an alien civilization on their home turf, this could have been a classic IMO. It's what the movie was building towards...the mystery of who or what these beings are and what was in store for the occupant of the craft was nearly unbearable tension, just wonderful cinema, and I think Zemeckis was more than capable of paying it off.
It's still a movie I like to revisit every now and again. The acting, cinematography, score, and visual FX are all great.
As a side note, seeing this movie again really makes me long for Zemeckis to return to live action and stop fiddling in the lab with half baked technologies. Leave that stuff to Lucas and Cameron.