CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss,
Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut
Director: Steven Spielberg
Audio: Dolby TureHDDolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, DTS HD
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
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.
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 cinemas 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 1940s has suddenly turned up. The gas tanks are full, the engines still work in fact, the planes dont 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 Devils Tower, where a French scientist (Truffaut) and a team of experts await mankinds 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 Spielbergs. He gives us the material we need to construct the pictures, and though we dont get to experience Roys 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 directors 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. Its too easy nowadays to think that mankinds prospects dont look as promising as Spielberg envisioned but its nice to revisit the film and reminds ourselves that they can be.
Video *** 1/2
I'm convinced there may never be a perfect looking version of this movie, owing to flaws in the source material, but this Blu-ray is about as good as you could hope. The color contrasts are much better, particularly in the grand finale, and the level of detail has been turned up a notch.
Audio *** 1/2
The extra boost from high definition sound give the audio extra kick. John Williams' score is perhaps the best beneficiary, but the subtle ambience that quickly turns to an all out sonic assault make for tremendous dynamic range. Spoken words are clear, but sometimes sound a little thin compared to the rest of the remastering.
The best Blu-ray feature might be the "View From Above". If you watch one of the two later editions, pop-ups will allow you to know exactly what was added, what was deleted, or what was changed. This edition also includes a 30th anniversary interview with Steven Spielberg.
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”. Rounding out are some deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons, photo and art galleries, and a cool booklet and poster that lets you easily compare the three versions.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a special cinematic landmark that doesnt 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. The Blu-ray edition offers fans more than they've ever seen before, in more ways than one.