..

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
30th Anniversary Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  135 Minutes (original), 132 Minutes (special edition),137 Minutes (director's cut)
Release Date:  November 13, 2007

We are not alone.

Film ****

Years before captivating the world with the charming E.T., Steven Spielberg, fresh on the heels of his blockbuster success Jaws, penned and directed another awe inspiring film about alien contact…one that not only ignited the imaginations of moviegoers around the world, but offered cinema’s first real sense of optimism about the unknown.  This was a picture where the aliens were not destructive, terrifying, or even comic.  It proceeded under appealing assumptions:  1) that there was intelligent extraterrestrial life out there, 2) said life was luminous and intelligent, and most importantly, 3) it was benevolent.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out in 1977, the same year as Star Wars.  Both films had impacts on science fiction and moviemaking in general, but in different ways.  While the latter was a good old fashioned fairy tale spruced up for the future, Close Encounters was more thoughtful, owing less to the mainstream tradition of sci-fi cinema and more to works like 2001.  It also came about in an era where the UFO fad was particularly strong, and as such, both it and the movie were able to fuel one another.

Even as a child, I admired the sense of style.  There is no build up or establishment…the picture gets right into the heart of the mystery that drives it, as a team of scientists in the desert make an amazing discovery:  a team of aircraft that had inexplicably vanished in the 1940’s has suddenly turned up.  The gas tanks are full, the engines still work…in fact, the planes don’t seem to have aged at all.

In America, strange sightings of brilliant looking craft occur, most notably affecting two families:  Roy Neary (Dreyfuss), a utility worker who becomes the embodiment of manic obsession much to the dismay of his wife (Garr) and children, and a single mother Jillian (Dillon) and her three year old child who seems to be the only one who understands both the wonder and the harmlessness of the events.

Their experiences lead them to a man made monument, the Devil’s Tower, where a French scientist (Truffaut) and a team of experts await mankind’s first encounter. 

The film treads a careful line between showing us enough and not showing us too much.  Our imaginations are as important in this process as Spielberg’s.  He gives us the material we need to construct the pictures, and though we don’t get to experience Roy’s ultimate journey at the end, this is actually a good thing.  What series of sets and special effects could possibly compare to where our own minds would take us at that point?

The film has evolved over the years, returning to theatres in 1980 with some newly filmed footage, and eventually reaching its director’s cut length.  This DVD contains all three released versions of the film, theatrical, special edition, and director's cut.  You can compare and contrast to your heart's content.

Speaking as someone who had the little rubber spindly alien toy and a Close Encounters lunchbox as a child, I can say that my perceptions and understandings of the movie have evolved too.  The sense of wonder I had as a youngster remains, but with a greater appreciation for the optimism inherent in the film.  It’s too easy nowadays to think that mankind’s prospects don’t look as promising as Spielberg envisioned…but it’s nice to revisit the film and reminds ourselves that they can be.

Video ***

On to the goods…Sony has delivered a terrific anamorphic transfer of some slightly flawed material.   That is to say, there are no image complaints here that can’t be contributed to the age of the film and/or negative problems.  Such issues are only apparent during some of the night time sequences, where inconsistencies and a bit of flicker is apparent.  In both darker and lighter scenes, contrast is excellent and color rendering is sharp and very natural looking.  The finale on Devil’s Tower is an excellent indication of how good the disc really is:  detail is incredible, even in long and deep focus shots.  All in all, this effort, though perhaps not reference quality, should please fans who’ve been waiting a while.

Audio ***

With nice 5.1 remasters in both Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, this DVD delivers again.  Only a select number of scenes really make full use of front and back stages, but when they do, the effect is incredible:  full, rich and dynamic, with strong low ends and smooth crossovers in all directions.   John Williams’ famed score, along with the pentatonic scale signature notes, comes across with wonderful fullness and a new, opened-up sense of orchestration.  Again, a very commendable effort.

Features ***

A solid package of extras rounds out this Anniversary Edition DVD.  For starters, there's a 102 minute  documentary on the film, featuring interviews with Spielberg, principal cast members, and crew.  It offers details on everything from the revolutionary special effects to the way Spielberg coaxed a winning performance out of his child actor.  There is also an original 1977 featurette “Watching the Skies”..

Summary:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a special cinematic landmark that doesn’t seem to age.  Its optimistic and intelligent views open up an appealing world of possibilities that have kept its legion of fans growing over the years.  This quality DVD brings that experience to life in the comfort of your own living room.  Recommended.

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com