Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2 release of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (Collector’s Edition). One of the greatest science-fiction films ever by the master director of the late twentieth century. The film gets a package it truly deserves.
One’s first opinion of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind may depend on which version has been viewed. The first ‘draft’ of the film was released in 1977; however, director Steven Spielberg released a ‘Special Edition’ in 1980. The Special Edition was released in 1980 and contained many new scenes and dropped many old ones. The ending was completely different, and the original version dropped out of circulation soon afterwards. Therefore, The Special Edition became the only version that most of the newer generations have seen. The Special Edition version was an overrated mess, and many fans were disappointed that Spielberg had denied them the original version. Adults championed the film over its chief rival – Star Wars, also released in 1977. Yet, most young sci-fi fans felt that the film was never in the same league as George Lucas’ epic. However, time has been kind to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and the new collector’s edition version (yet another modification by Spielberg) has reinstated the film as a true classic of the twentieth century.
Being that there are numerous versions of the film, watching the newest version is like trying to remember if something that happened to you actually happened or was just a dream. There are scenes in the new version you’d swear you never saw before, and there are scenes that you’re sure are still missing. Rather than catalogue the numerous differences between the versions here, you can check them out at the Internet Movie Database
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is E.T. for adults. The film presents the sensuality of wonder and belief in a way never before depicted in film. The final act is spine-chilling in its tenderness, and the film never sags in tension and the pace gradually builds to a wondrous conclusion. The synopsis of the film is quite simple, a close encounter of the first kind is, from the words of the filmmakers, a sighting of something strange that can’t be explained and could be a UFO. A second kind refers to markings (Such as crop circles) left behind by UFOs. A third kind refers to an actual meeting between a human being and a UFO. Richard Dreyfuss plays Roy, a line worker and average family man, who after an accidental encounter with a UFO, feels almost compelled to travel to an isolated (random?) area in the middle of nowhere believing that something out of this world (such as official alien contact) is going to happen. Soon his family are alienated from him, and he has been fired from his job, but Roy is never deterred from his personal quest. It also emerges that there are others like him, and the military have also become aware of the area, as the film builds up slowly to a wondrous conclusion.
What makes Close Encounters Of The Third Kind so powerful a film is Spielberg’s subtlety with regards to the aliens. Just like Jaws, the aliens are not shown in their entirety until the final act, and the film works all the better for this. The performance by Richard Dreyfuss is world class, and thank heavens original choice Steve McQueen declined the role. Dreyfuss should have won an Oscar for the film, but thankfully he at least received the Best Actor award that same year for The Goodbye Girl instead. Dreyfuss manages to convey both the idea of adult sensibility and childlike wonder in the same performance, and the film works because Dreyfuss is so magnificent. Francois Truffaut has a great screen presence but unfortunately his acting isn’t up to much, but that doesn’t really matter. Teri Garr and Melinda Dillon have two-dimensional roles and prove adept at playing them. Dillon was even surprisingly nominated as Best Supporting Actress but lost to Vanessa Redgrave for Julia.
One of the most famous aspects of Close Encounters is the wonderful and highly original score by legendary composer John Williams. The years 1975-83 proved to be William’s best work, ranging from Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Return Of The Jedi. Unfortunately, Williams lost the Best Original Score Oscar for the film, and was beaten by himself for the Star Wars score. Some of the cues in the final act are some of the most rousing and emotional ever witnessed in a science-fiction movie.
Also worth noting is the excellent Oscar winning cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and wonderful special effects by Douglas Trumbull. The Sound effects also proved first rate and were also awarded an Oscar, in a year that was technically dominated by Star Wars.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is a film that sparks many emotions: It makes you wish you were a kid again and makes you wish they still made films that were this good.
Academy Awards 1977
Best Cinematography – Vilmos Zsigmond
Special Achievement – Frank Warner – Sound Effects Editing
Academy Award Nominations 1977
Best Director – Steven Spielberg
Best Supporting Actress – Melinda Dillon
Best Art Direction/Set Decoration- Phil Abramson, Joe Alves, Daniel A. Lomino
Best Visual Effects – Roy Arbogast, Gregory Jein, Douglas Trumbull, Matthew Yuricich, Richard Yuricich
Best Original Score – John Williams
Best Film Editing – Michael Kahn
Best Sound Recording – Gene S. Cantamessa, Robert J. Glass, Robert Knudson, Don MacDougall
Presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and given an anamorphic transfer, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind looks better than ever. Some of the exterior shots look dated and are obvious interior sets, but even so, the pristine transfer allows the special effects to flourish more than ever before.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind has a heavy reliance upon good sound quality, particularly with regards to the film’s final act, and thankfully Columbia Tristar delivers with three superb audio mixes. For the elite sound fans among us, there is a DTS track, which fully complements the film to the highest audio level and leaves you in awe in certain key scenes (such as the epic final sequences and early desert scenes). The 5.1 and 2.0 mixes are as good as their capabilities allow and are included for those of us who haven’t upgraded yet.
Menu A very atmospheric moving menu that incorporates clips from the film as well as some well chosen portions of John Williams’ excellent score. Granted, the menu gives some of the later parts of the film away, but it’s still very in keeping with the overall tone.
Packaging: Single amaray casing with usual Columbia Tristar layout, complete with inner-attached holder for the second disc and a booklet containing brief production notes and chapter listing.
Making Of Documentary The ‘Making Of’ Documentary featured on Disc 2 has to rank with The Exorcist: Fear Of God and the Taxi Driver Documentary as one of the best ‘Making of’s’ available on DVD. It runs for one hundred and one minutes and is even separated into chapters. Every element of production is documented and as it was only filmed a few years ago many of the cast and crew seem to hold it in a nostalgic light. Of particular interest is the interview with Cary Guffey (Who played little Barry in the film) where he describes Spielberg’s unique yet very effective directing techniques when it comes to directing children (let’s just say it involves a gorilla costume). This documentary perfectly complements the film and is fascinating to watch.
1977 Making Of Featurette This only lasts for six minutes, and is in essence a very dated promotional film detailing the major players of the cast and crew and a short synopsis of the story. Valuable only for completists.
Deleted Scenes Eleven deleted scenes are included (not fourteen stated on the case) and given the history of Close Encounters and the amount of re-edited versions this is a valuable extra. The first question you will be asking is whether one of the scenes included is the (in)famous final scene of the Special Edition version with Roy’s first movements inside the spacecraft. The answer is yes, and the scene is better as a deleted scene, which suggests Spielberg was right to re-cut the scene from the film, as the ending is best left ambiguous. Other deleted scenes include extra dialogue between Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban and also include some scenes of Roy at work, which gives greater insight into his rash decisions that managed to get him the sack. On a trivia note, you might notice Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed from ‘Rocky’ or Chubbs from ‘Happy Gilmore’) in a cameo as a military patrolman. The deleted scenes are presented in 2.0 stereo and 2.35:1 non anamorphic widescreen.
Trailers & Filmographies The trailer is an extraordinary four and a half minutes long, but at least is the original theatrical version. Unfortunately, the trailer contains much of the same footage as the 1977 ‘Making Of’, and so is again only worth something to the extreme completists amongst us. The Special Edition trailer for the re-edited version three years later is much more exciting and only lasts one minute and fifty seconds.
The filmographies are just that, films featuring the major members of the cast and crew.
To conclude, although there is no commentary from Spielberg which cynics might point out will surely be released one day on a reissue, the extras are excellent and fully complement the film. As for the film itself, it’s slowly becoming a science-fiction masterpiece on a narrative scale, coupled with an excellent DVD package that is one of the top five purchases of the year.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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