Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Collectors Edition
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 132 mins .
PG . PAL
The lost planes of Flight 19, missing since 1945, suddenly reappear in mint condition in the middle of a harsh Mexican desert. Commuter planes in the USA are “buzzed” by unknown, brightly lit craft. A huge, long-lost ship turns up in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Thousands of people in India start chanting a melody that they heard from the skies. And in places scattered across America, ordinary people are feeling the pull of an unknown force. This means something. This is important.
PRESS: In the interest of safety, the RTA has installed 1000watt light bulbs at all level crossings.
Originally released in 1977, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind arrived in cinemas amidst the Star Wars sci-fi frenzy, a time when every moviegoer was living, thinking and talking space and special effects. But unlike George Lucas’s vision of distant galaxies and the myriad carbon copies that appeared in cinemas and on television in subsequent years, Close Encounters was a movie that was firmly grounded in reality. While generally regarded as a science-fiction film, it is largely a human story, a fantasy that takes its narrative thrust and inspiration from the long-held conviction of many that there other worlds exist outside of our own, and that the inhabitants of those worlds would have a natural curiosity about Earth and its inhabitants. Pre-dating The X-Files by decades, Spielberg’s story is not of those otherworldly beings, but of the humans who are affected by the visitors’ desire - never explained - to discover more about them and their planet.
Government agencies inevitably become involved as these aliens make their presence known - but it’s the ordinary people this film focuses on, and two people in particular. Power worker and devoted father Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) sees things that he cannot explain while out on an emergency call. His wife and children are sceptical, and as he is drawn inexorably towards something he doesn’t understand, his family slowly disintegrates, Neary convinced he is going insane. Meanwhile, single mother Jillian Guiler becomes terrified as her young son Barry is himself drawn to the call of these mysterious creatures - and she, too, shares a recurring vision that she can’t explain.
Placed in the same category as Star Wars at the time of its release, Close Encounters is really the polar opposite of Lucas’s space opera. This is a finely crafted story about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances - a recurring theme in Steven Spielberg’s work both then and now. The slow build of tension and unravelling of mystery that he employed so effectively in Duel and Jaws in preceding years is put into action perfectly in Close Encounters, deftly balancing the events as seen from the point of view of those “in the know” with those of the “everyman” characters that are the story’s main focus. Dreyfuss is astonishingly good as Neary, but it’s Spielberg’s insightful pacing and remarkable subtlety that really makes this movie work. Not a single shot is wasted throughout, with much of the story’s emotional thrust conveyed to the audience through simple, subtle visuals and character traits. The man may have spent much of the ‘80s on more audience-pleasing fare like ET and Always, but Close Encounters amply demonstrates this director’s skill at both storytelling and mood-setting. Some scenes here are literally loaded with tension and energy, almost all of that a result of the direction, editing and innovative use of lighting.
Get down low and go, go, go.
The special effects on show in Close Encounters may not be comparable to today’s pursuit-of-reality CG, but nothing like them had been seen before back in 1977, and they still look amazing today. They were created by Douglas Trumbull, who was responsible for the execution of the groundbreaking effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey; like his work for that film, the effects in Close Encounters are subtle, elegant and make great use of colour and light - and considering that they were done with the fledgling effects technology of the late ‘70s, the achievement is even more impressive. The cinematography - mostly by Vilmos Zsigmond (who won an Oscar for his trouble) but with contributions from four other equally talented men - does a great deal to enhance the mood of the movie and the perceived realism of the effects.
As most already know, Close Encounters was re-released in 1980 in a “Special Edition” version that differed substantially from the 1977 original, removing 16 minutes of the original movie and adding 13 minutes of footage, some of it recovered from the original shoot and some shot specifically for the new version. Spielberg, labouring under time and budgetary constraints, had never been happy with the original cut of the film, and managed to persuade Columbia Pictures to front another million or two for the shooting of the new scenes for the re-release - but the price was that he had to include shots of the inside of the end sequence’s space craft, at the insistence of the studio. It was that final scene, along with the removal of some key character-development moments from the original cut, that made the so-called “Special Edition” so disappointing; even more disappointing, though, was that Spielberg then insisted that the 1977 version would be completely withdrawn. In recent years, the only place it has been available was on the Criterion Collection laserdisc set, which spread the movie over many disc sides but did offer viewers the chance to recreate the “Special Edition” version via chapter programming, albeit with many large gaps as the player searched through the disc.
Kevin Costner discovers the Titanic in 'DesertWorld'
It’s been a long wait for a DVD version of Close Encounters - clips from the film were part of the DVD promo on Columbia Tristar’s first region 4 releases - but fans of the film are well rewarded for their patience with what Spielberg now considers the definitive version of his movie. The version on this DVD, assembled by Spielberg and Sony Pictures’ film restoration department in 1998, is essentially a merging of the 1977 and 1980 versions of the film, but thankfully without the self-defeating see-inside-the-spaceship ending of the “Special Edition”. All the crucial character moments from the original film are restored, and are joined by most of the newly shot sequences from the 1980 version. Taken as a whole, this new version is more expansive, unfolds its story better than ever before, and is most likely the best cut of this film released to date (and hopefully the last!)
Now 25 years old, the negatives for Close Encounters are in remarkably good shape considering the tortures they’ve been exposed to during the successive re-editings (this version is the third, not counting television variations). Transferred to digital video by Sony’s HD Center, the film has never looked better - rest assured that this DVD transfer makes the previously state-of-the-art Criterion effort look shabby by comparison. Never before has Close Encounters been seen on home video with such clarity - and this transfer just about outdoes the experience of seeing the film in a cinema, too. Here, there’s so much detail that we see many of the subtle details that illustrate the story properly for the first time - details that often involve something a small as a tiny shooting star, or a shadow passing along the ground from a passing spacecraft.
ID4: Episode 1 - The prequel.
The effects shots do occasionally suffer slightly from instability of the film frame itself, which may well have been a problem at the original optical printing stage - remember, this was 1977, and Trumbull and his team were innovating as they went along. There’s also a fair amount of film grain and some minor negative faults visible in the opening desert sequence. But to see Close Encounters with such clarity, detail and rich colour saturation is nothing short of a revelation, and Sony have pulled all stops out to make this look as good as it gets - indeed, the 132 minute movie takes up nearly all of the dual-layer disc’s capacity. The various subtitles used through the movie, as well as the end credits, appear to have either been redone from scratch or enhanced; either way, they’ve never looked so clear, and the opening credits have never looked so perfectly black.
All in all, it’s a marvellous transfer of a film that must be seen in its full Panavision ratio to be truly appreciated - this is NOT a film that was shot with television compromises in mind.
Just like the video, the audio for this “definitive” version of Close Encounters is both true to the original and wonderfully enhanced. Close Encounters was released right at the dawn of Dolby’s matrixed cinema surround-sound process, which had only been in use for a couple of years and only recently properly exploited for the first time by Star Wars. It’s important to remember that all recording and mastering media at the time were analogue, and much less care was taken over cinema sound than it is today.
That said, Close Encounters was always a tour-de-force in the cinema. This reviewer saw the film during its original run in Melbourne, where newspapers reported people walking out of screenings due to the “intense, overbearing loudness” of it all. In hindsight, that was probably just due to the fact that people weren’t used to multi-speaker surround sound, but nonetheless Close Encounters outdid Star Wars in terms of sheer sound quality at the time.
The soundtrack on this DVD is supplied in 5.1 format in both Dolby Digital and DTS as well as in Dolby Surround; it’s very important to note that the track has been remastered (and presumably remixed) but has NOT been enhanced or “recreated”, as has been done with the upcoming DVD release of Superman. The mix here sounds very much like the six-track analogue mix from 70mm prints of Close Encounters, and it’s very likely that those audio stems were used as a source; the frequent panning of dialogue to side channels to match on-screen action - something that’s not done today - implies that this is indeed the case.
John Williams’ stunning orchestral score is clear and very present, though it does not have the fidelity of a modern recording and has sounded much better on CD releases; dialogue and effects are all perfectly balanced and distortion-free, with surround activity very subtle but often involving. Bass and sub-bass is stunning here, the best it’s even been with this film - and in some key sequences, bass response is crucially important. In all, this is a very, very good representation of the movie’s original soundtrack, without resorting to any re-recording or “modernisation” - and that is, of course, a good thing.
We’ve had the chance with this release to compare the region 4 and region 1 versions of the Close Encounters set, and those wondering if Australian customers are getting a good deal can rest assured that our version contains everything that’s present on the US release - except that the Australian version is packaged in a solid plastic case, while the US edition comes in a pretty but ludicrously impractical cardboard fold-out pack that will certainly not stand the test of time. The region 1 version is also THX certified (and therefore contains the THX “Optimode” feature on the first disc, a rudimentary set of TV-calibration test patterns). Direct comparison between the two different movie discs reveals that picture quality is more of less identical, with only the higher resolution and slightly shorter running time of the PAL version to distinguish between them. The region 4 version also contains fewer audio streams, allowing more room for the video encoding itself. The animated menus on both discs are identical across the different regions’ versions as well.
The AFL board takes control of the cricket and issues more umpires.
All of the extra features for Close Encounters are stored on a second dual-layer disc, and while by no means comprehensive they’re very, very worthwhile.
Documentary: The Making Of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind: Written and directed by Laurent Bouzereau in 1997 and originally seen in the US on the Collector’s Edition laserdisc, this 1 hour 42 minute documentary is a fascinating, insightful and comprehensive look at the production of Close Encounters, covering the conception of the film, casting, pre-production, production, special effects, editing, the arrival of the 1980 Special Edition and much, much more. Modern-day interviews with all the key personnel and actors are included, with the exception, of course, of Francois Truffaut, who died in 1984. Spielberg is interviewed while on a break in shooting Saving Private Ryan, and seems to greatly enjoy recalling stories about the production of his film 20 years beforehand. Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, and even a grown-up version of Cary Guffey (who was 3 years old when the film was made) offer their recollections (and Guffey seems to recall a lot for someone who was so young at the time!). Douglas Trumbull talks about his 65mm effects work, revealing that Close Encounters was the first film to combine live action with motion-controlled effects, and that the first ever CGI effects tests were done for the film - but ultimately abandoned - by fellow effects guru Colin Cantwell. Memorably, Trumbull points out that the final sequence’s giant mothership was in fact designed to resemble “a giant descending breast”! Spielberg, meanwhile, reveals that actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman were considered for the role of Roy Neary, and that Steve McQueen came very close to taking the part. There’s a bit of revisionist history in some of what Spielberg says - for example, he claims that the disparate appearance of the various aliens at the end of the film was an intentional attempt at portraying different “races” of aliens, when in reality it was due to a drastic last-minute redesign in post-production. But regardless, there’s plenty of intriguing info throughout this documentary, backed up by rare unused production footage. This is simply one of the finest “making-of” features you’ll see, and is worth the disc set’s price all on its own. Presented in 4:3 with film footage letterboxed at 2.35:1.
Deleted Scenes: Eleven scenes not used in this cut of the film, including three that were in the original 1977 version. These are all presented letterboxed at 2.35:1 but are not 16:9 enhanced; audio is unfussy mono with the exception of the three previously seen clips, which have Dolby Surround audio. The unseen clips are in reasonably good shape, though there are of course scratches and other film artefacts visible, and film leader with hand-written text represents some unfilmed sequences. In order of menu appearance, the scenes are:
In The Desert: A short scene from the opening desert sequence that sees Lacombe instruct his interpreter to translate not only what he says, but also his “feelings and emotions”. Since that is made obvious elsewhere in the film without being explicitly stated, this scene was obviously superfluous.
Roy At The Power Plant: A 94-second scene removed from the 1977 cut of the film, showing Roy Neary at his employers’ power plant preparing to head out to investigate the power failures that have blacked out the entire area. This is supplemented by a longer, never-seen sequence where Roy and his team investigate in the field. Taken as a whole, this is slowly-paced, and it’s not surprising that it was cut.
Roy Gets Directions: Neary in the field investigating the power outages and asking a bunch of rowdy locals for directions.
At The Airport: A lengthy scene that shows Lacombe arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and meeting his interpreter for the first time - and once again, an attempt is made to state that Lacombe desires his interpreter to translate his “feelings and emotions” - an attempt again abandoned. The scene then moves to on board a plane - presumably the one “buzzed” by a UFO at the start of the movie - where government officials board the plane and confiscate the passengers’ cameras and recording devices. The scene concludes with Lacombe requesting translation of a book he’s bought at the airport - which turns out to be an erotic potboiler!
At The Police Station: Neary waits in the police station after the UFO chase, as the police involved try to write up their reports about the incident, but are discouraged from doing so for fear of ridicule.
At The Barbecue: A nicely revealing deleted scene set the day after the UFO chase at Neary’s house, where his friends and neighbours join his family for a barbecue, and Neary sees symbolism in a mound of Jello.
English Lessons: Lacombe lies in his motel room listening to an English lesson on tape, when his interpreter bursts in to let him know that “the trucks are rolling”. Largely superfluous, this was cut for good reason.
On The Roof: Neary stands on the roof of his house with a telescope and camera, watching the skies.
Leaving Town: An extension of the evacuation sequence, this was included in the 1977 version of the movie; the 1980 re-edit handles this section of the film much more tightly.
At The Gas Station: Roy and Jillian, heading for Devil’s Tower, refuel their car when they are spotted by helicopters.
In The Spaceship: The controversial three-minute scene that was shot at Columbia’s insistence for the 1980 Special Edition, showing audiences the inside of the mothership. While very visually rich and loaded with special effects, this sequence completely destroyed the film’s ending, and Spielberg himself now admits that it ruined the mystery of the final scenes. Dreyfuss looks noticeably different in this scene to the one that immediately preceded it in the Special Edition cut.
Theatrical Trailers: Running for over four and a half minutes, the very, very old-fashioned 1977 trailer features the famous “nighttime roadway” effects shot that many, at the time, complained was not in the actual movie! A very talky trailer that’s nonetheless great to see again, this is presented at 2.35:1, and is not 16:9 enhanced. The Special Edition trailer, also at 2.35:1, is much shorter at 1 minute 45 seconds, and predictably hooks the audience by making it quite clear they’re going to see inside the spaceship this time around. The Guy With The Voice That Does Trailers is in fine form on this early effort.
1977 Featurette: Watch The Skies: Just under six minutes in length, this promotional featurette repeats much of the material from the theatrical trailer, and expands upon it. Not an especially compelling watch, it is nonetheless a nice inclusion. Presented at 2.35:1 and not 16:9 enhanced, it’s in reasonably decent shape. If you’ve ever wanted to see Spielberg without his beard, or producer Julia Phillips right in the midst of the drug addiction she wrote about in her book You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again, this is the featurette for you.
Filmographies: Throwaway film resumes for Spielberg as well as Dreyfuss, Truffaut, Garr and Dillon. A half-hearted effort.
Animated Menus: Common to both discs, these are 16:9 enhanced and very nicely done, though ironically they - as well as the DVD’s front cover - are a massive spoiler for the mothership sequence at the end of the movie!
Dolby Digital City Trailer: The less said the better. The Aurora Dolby trailer would have been much more appropriate at the front of this movie.
DTS CD Trailer: If the DTS audio track is selected from the audio menu, this trailer will play before the film begins - but the Dolby Digital trailer is played right before it, which is a bit of an authoring boo-boo. This particular DTS trailer is that company's early cinema effort (even stating that "This theatre is equipped with DTS sound"!) and is more than a little bit cheesy; the newer DTS Piano trailer (as seen on the Gladiator DVD) is much better and should have been used here.
"I'm telling you, it's not a voodoo mountain at all".
Unquestionably one of the greatest films ever made, and an intelligent counter-strike in the sci-fi wars that took over Hollywood in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind still stands as a compelling, moving story 25 years after it was shot. With Spielberg on top form, a terrific cast and eye-popping effects from the great Douglas Trumbull, it’s a film that demands repeat viewings and gets better every time it’s seen. Columbia Tristar has delivered the best-quality version of the film yet on this DVD - in a re-edited version that now stands as the definitive one - and the extras included are genuinely illuminating and worthwhile. While audio and video are certainly not up to 21st century standards, the transfer represents the movie as well as possible given its age and history; the video and audio ratings here reflect that. It goes without saying that this is a DVD set that should be a part of every movie fan’s collection.