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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/13/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/14/2007

Ah, the 1970s, I remember them well. This was a time when exploring the unknown becoming very popular in America. Even at a tender young age, I was a frequent visitor to the 100s section of the Dewey Decimal system to read as many books about ghosts, Bigfoot, and The Loch Ness Monster as I could. In Search of... was a popular show. And everyone was looking for U.F.O.s. It was at this turbulent time that Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind appeared and became a hit. Seeing the film 30 years later, I realize that it still belongs in the 70s.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind opens in Indiana where strange things begin to happen. Air traffic controllers seeing unidentified blips on their radar screens. There are massive blackouts. While investigating these power outages, electric company employee Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) sees strange lights coming from the sky. Meanwhile, strange lights illuminate the home of Gillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her young son, Barry (Cary Guffey), disappears. During this time, we also see a Frenchman, Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) and his interpreter, David Laughlin (Bob Balaban), traveling the world investigating odd occurrences.

Following his experience, Roy begins to act very strangely, and he keeps having a vision of a mountain-like object. Much to the horror of his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr), Roy constantly draws the mountain or sculpts it out of any handy item, even mashed potatoes. Gillian also has these same visions. After seeing a story on television, Roy and Gillian realize that they are both being drawn to a remote area of Wyoming. Once there, the two, along with some other pilgrims, realize the stuff of dreams: we are not alone in the universe and the visitors are here.

The 1970s was a very difficult time for many Americans. The Vietnam War and Watergate left many people confused and disillusioned with the world. Many found themselves searching for something to believe in, no matter how intangible it was. Thus, we have the interest in the unknown. Close Encounters of the Third Kind perfectly captures this feeling with the Roy Neary character. Here we have a man who lives in the suburbs with his wife and three kids and one night he has an extraordinary experience. From them on, he is obsessed with learning more so that he can believe. Roy's journey in the film is both a spiritual and a physical one as he crosses the country, but it mirrors how many Americans were feeling at the time.

Unfortunately, this feeling doesn't work as well today, and 30 years later, it's easy to see the flaws in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. One must remember that this was only Spielberg's third feature film and it was clearly a mammoth production. Watching the film now, we see a filmmaker who is still honing his craft, especially in the middle-section of the film. The movie really drags here, most notably in the scenes where Roy is freaking out. (In an interview in the bonus features on this disc, Spielberg acknowledges that these scenes went on too long.) The narrative structure of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is somewhat similar to Spielberg's earlier hit Jaws. Both movies open with some extraordinary events and end with a spell-binding confrontation. The middle of both films contain a great deal of plot development and dialogue. But, whereas in Jaws there was the suspense that a monster shark could devour anyone at anytime, there isn't much to cling to in the middle of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The finale is certainly interesting, but if you haven't been sucked into the story, it is little more than a special effects extravaganza. The movie also suffers from a lack of character development, as we truly learn very little about Roy, Gillian, or any of the other principals.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is certainly an admirable film. Spielberg was able to capture the zeitgeist of the moment with his story of U.F.O.s and those who were determined to learn the truth. Along with Star Wars, the movie set a new standard for special effects and Spielberg got some great performances from his actors. But, the movie's sense of wonder doesn't really work today, and the film plays as a very slow study of a man (Roy) who seems to be going insane. And despite the fact that the ending stunned audiences years ago, many will finally it dull today. Those who fell in love with Close Encounters of the Third Kind when it premiered should still love it, but I can't see this film garnering many new fans.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind zips across the sky onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The disc holds a 1080p HD AVC transfer and the film is letterboxed at 2.35:1. Given that this movie is 30 years old, the image looks fairly good. There is some notable grain at times, most notably during the opening scene in the desert, but it's rarely distracting. The image is sharp and for the most part, clear. There are no notable defects from the source material. The picture is certainly crisp, but it doesn't have the impressive depth found in more modern films which have been transferred to Blu-ray. The colors are good and the night-time scenes are never overly dark. The disc houses a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48kHz and between 2.5-3.0 Mbps and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and 1.5 Mbps. Both tracks provide clear dialogue and sound effects. The 5.1 audio works well on both tracks as they offer some nice stereo and surround effects. But, I must say that the sounds of the U.F.O.s whizzing by in the early scenes was disappointing. On the other hand, the subwoofer effects are very well done and really add to the finale.

The Blu-ray Disc contains three versions of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We get the Original Version (135 minutes), the Special Edition (132 minutes) and the Director's Cut (137 minutes). The branching here is very well done. But, this disc contains what may be the two greatest extra features ever. The set contains a fold-out poster which illustrates the differences between the three cuts. As if that weren't enough, there is a feature on the disc which will inform the viewer of new or unique footage in the version which they are viewing. I often struggle to find the subtle differences between cuts while watching various versions of the same movie, so this feature was a blessing.

The remainder of the extras for this set are found on Disc 2. "Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters" (21 minutes) is an interview with the writer/director. He discloses that he had been working on the film before Jaws and that he was really into U.F.O.s at the time. He gives a very detailed account of the writing of the script and the creation of the story and the look of the film. He speaks very frankly about why he made the special edition. "The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (101 minutes) combines modern-day interviews with archival footage. We get comments from Spielberg, Dreyfuss, Garr, Guiler, and Balaban. We even get to see the little boy all grown up. This piece contains some deleted scenes. It examines casting, planning for sets and special effects, and music. There is an extensive discussion of the shooting of the film. There is then an extensive discussion of the planning and execution of the special effects. Editor Michael Kahn then talks about the challenging of editing the film. Spielberg again discusses the idea behind the "Special Edition".
"Watch the Skies" (6 minutes) is a odd featurette from 1977 which is a combination of voice-over, stills and some behind-the-scenes footage shown in a peculiar three-way split-screen. There are 9 DELETED SCENES here, with no PLAY ALL. There are STORYBOARD COMPARISONS for 5 scenes, and 2 STORYBOARD GALLERIES. There is also a gallery of "Location Scouting Pictures", as well as a gallery of "Mothership Drawings by Ralph McQuarrie". "Behind the Scenes" is series of 16 still galleries showing many facets of the production, while "Production Team" shows pictures of Vilmos Zsigmond, Joe Alves, Douglas Trumbull, Michael Kahn, and John Williams at work. "Portrait Gallery" has stills of the cast as well as Spielberg and Technical Advisor Dr. J. Allen Hynek. "Marketing: Original Theatrical Release" has examples of posters, lobby cards, and trading cards. We also get still from the making and promtion of the Special Edition. Finally, we have trailers for the "Original Version", the "Special Edition", and the "Ultimate Edition". The set also contains a book with pages of glossy color photos. Overall, a very nice package.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long