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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Lacombe: Mr. Neary, what do you want?
Roy: I just want to know that it's really happening.

- François Truffaut, Richard Dreyfuss

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: May 28, 2001

Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr
Other Stars: François Truffaut, Bob Balaban
Director: Steven Spielberg

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG for (intense sci-fi action, mild language, and thematic elements)
Run Time: 02h:16m:44s
Release Date: May 29, 2001
UPC: 043396126497
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is a cultural phenomenon. It is entrenched in the annals of cinema, and there's no question it changed much about movie-making in the process. It's an 'experience' movie that unites the audience by making them part of an extraordinary event; nothing short of contact with an alien race. While, yes, this event is fictional, the mastery of the design makes it seem very real, as if we all are sharing the event together. True, the experience was more pristine and amazing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but even today, the brilliance of Close Encounters is still easily apparent.

The story focuses on Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a fairly average guy who leads an average life. This is all radically changed, however, when he has a mysterious encounter with a UFO during a power-outage. Afterwards, he is infused with the enigmatic desire to figure out the truth behind what he saw. At the same time, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her young son Barry (Cary Guffey) have similar, unusual experiences. Unfortunately for Jillian, her experience ends in her son being abducted by the strange alien presence, making her desire to uncover the truth all the more urgent. Eventually, both Roy and Jillian find themselves on a quest to encounter these forces that have changed them, and seek to understand the nature of the beings attempting to make contact with our world.

While these people's lives have been dismantled, a secret government project is in the works that has been watching the phenomena and studying it. Project leader Claude Lacombe (esteemed French director François Truffaut) finds himself leading up to a momentous occasion where humans may be able to make significant contact with these alien visitors, but all the while, the beauracracy that surrounds him wants to keep the public out of the equation. Close Encounters tells a several stories at once: the deconstruction of Roy Neary's family life; Jillian Guiler's search for her son; the government project to study and cover-up the aliens, and how the public in general deals with the strange events. It is very much rooted in the attitudes about UFOs at the time, and how the world was, in general, not very interested in them the way we are now; today it's more socially acceptable to, say, go to Roswell, New Mexico and participate in UFO conventions, whereas back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, it would be considered very kooky.

The film's title comes from the definitions of alien contact as set down in the real-life government documents related to "Project Blue-Book", the UFO study program that, to this day, is still shrouded in secrecy. A "close encounter of the first kind" is simply seeing or thinking you see a UFO; the "second kind" is actual evidence of a UFO disturbance, and the "third kind" is actually having physical contact with an alien ship or aliens themselves. What made this film such an "event movie" was the fact that, back then, there had never been a government-confirmed encounter of the "third kind", so director Steven Spielberg was promising something big. Did he deliver? Ultimately, the answer is a resounding "YES."

Unlike many projects about extra-terrestrials, Close Encounters kept a certain reverence, mystique, and charm about the concept of alien beings visiting this planet. There's a romance here that rarely seen much anymore; this is one of very few major movies with the concept of "friendly" visitors, not the conquering, evil beings bent on destroying the world. With this in mind, Spielberg could be subtle and slow-paced. He could build up the concept with good use of character development in both the humans and the aliens. Although their actual appearances are brief, the aliens are, in fact, major stars, as their mischief becomes the one thing uniting each of the main characters. They are creepy and frightening, but it's a very energetic fright: not knowing their true intentions, yet also knowing they mean no harm. Maybe the film seems naïve and far too kindhearted, but that's a refreshing prospect to me. It's a "kinder, gentler" film about Earthlings not being alone in the Universe and, although dated, it has an inescapable charm and warmth.

After release in 1977, Steven Spielberg received permission (and funds) to do more work on the film, including the production of several new scenes (which required getting back the actors, crew, and F/X team). The end result of his work was re-released in 1981 as the "Special Edition" of Close Encounters. Columbia grabbed a repeat audience by promising an expanded, tastier ending sequence, which Spielberg supplied. The Special Edition removed a considerable amount of footage from the original version and replaced it with new elements, and afterwards, the original version was never offered againon VHS. As a result, there's been quite a bit of confusion about what really constitutes Close Encounters anymore; as it now ranks as one of the most cut-up films in history, thanks to various network television and cable versions, not to mention weird, 'completist' bootlegs making their rounds in official-looking boxes.

In 1998, yet another new version was created: the "Collector's Edition" which, as proclaimed by Steven Spielberg, is the final, "director's approved" version. This release (presented here on this DVD) merges footage of the theatrical and Special Edition versions, leaves a few scenes deleted, and omits the expanded ending which Spielberg now claims he never cared for. Without question, I feel this is the most satisfying cut of the film, and finally brings the complete Close Encounter experience home, and the wait has been well worth it.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As much as I'd love to put Close Encounters into the 'A' bracket, a few rough spots keep it out. The majority of the movie looks very impressive, with smooth and clean presentation. I was impressed with the widescreen transfer on the Collector's Edition VHS, and here it is even better with the obvious benefits of DVD technology in resolution and depth. The rough spots are mainly the heavy grain apparent in certain sequences, especially scenes with special effects. Some aging is apparent, and there are even noticeable print anomalies (vertical white fades, minor movement in the frame). All of this, though, is undoubtedly the effect of time on shots that originally had to be re-printed and processed many times to create the matting and rotoscoping effects. The grain is distracting and seems ironically worsened by the high quality of the overall transfer, so certain scenes are a bit murky and hazy. This is nothing killer, though, and the picture is certainly at the standards one would expect. Aliasing distortion is minimal, and there are no apparent signs of serious edge-enhancement or other distractions. If you have never seen Close Encounters in widescreen, you have not seen the movie. The full experience is far more impressive then what television and pan&scan VHS has been making us watch for years.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is pretty conservative. Tastefully done, without being totally wild, the vast majority of the sound is kept in the front 3 channels. Stereo effects are very common and superbly done, giving a very theatrical, bold effect to the film. Dialogue is a bit harsh and tinny at times when compared to the generally improved audio, but it never becomes a major problem. Surround effects are sparse, but well used, and the film's finale gets most of the background activity. The most benefit from the 5.1 track is John Williams' excellent musical score, which gains renewed power in the improved acoustics and depth of the track. My only real complaint is that the track seems to carry a little too much bass for my taste, subwoofer activity is very constant and very heavy.
The 2.0 Surround tracks lack the clarity and depth of the 5.1 mix, but they do seem to mimic the general tenor of the older sound mixes Close Encounters has had, so if you're looking for a more "old-school" mix of the audio, it will do nicely.
Also included is a DTS 5.1 audio track, which I am unable to review, but I'll wager a guess that the harsh dialogue problems in the 5.1 track are probably less of a problem there. It should be noted that the disc defaults to DTS audio which I consider something of a negative. DTS has been known to cause problems (and damage) with non-DTS equipment, and as Dolby Digital is the official standard of DVD audio, in my opinion, it should always be the default; DTS is an extra.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:07:55s

Extras Review: The second disc included in this set has some good features, starting with a superb 85-minute documentary, directed by Laurent Bouzereau. Small portions of this work previously appeared in a featurette on the Collector's Edition VHS, but the full-length experience is a must for the Close Encounters fan. The program features recent interviews with Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, and even Cary Guffey, all grown up! Extensive discussion with crew members is also present, including effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, editor Michael Kahn, composer John Williams, and production designer Joe Alves. As usual for Bouzerau documentaries, it is strictly about the making of the film, without any promotional fanfare or cheesy narration. A virtual wealth of information is presented, including facts on the development of the film, how certain effects were achieved, and the usual anecdotal stories. If every movie had making-of films as good as this, we really wouldn't need commentaries. Also, the program has its own chapter stops.

Accompanying the main feature is a 6-minute promotional featurette created in 1977. As you may expect, it's an interesting marketing piece from the time, but it's a fairly uninteresting and melodramatic approach to the movie, with disturbingly dark narration. It is, however, properly widescreened at 2:35:1.

A sizable collection of deleted footage is presented, including the previous Special Edition's extended ending. Most of the footage has never been seen (except on laserdisc), but a few moments appeared in the original, 1977 version (like the "Roy at the Power Plant" scene). Sadly, the condition of these scenes is not up to the quality of the movie itself (this really disappointed me in terms of the extended ending, which uses elaborate special effects). Though in widescreen, it is not anamorphic. Another minor issue: none of the failed screen tests for the ending are present. Some of this footage is in the documentary, but the complete sequences are not here, which was something I actually expected to see.

The disc is wrapped-up with the original theatrical trailer, "Special Edition" re-release trailer (both in fairly decent condition), filmographies for the central cast and Steven Spielberg, and multiple subtitle tracks. To be honest, with the number of subtitle tracks, it would have been nice to see the Dolby 2.0 audio tracks dumped in favor of fewer compromises on the video/audio quality of the remaining elements. I liked the included material, but to be honest, some more features, perhaps storyboards, conceptual photos, etc. would have been nice. Obviously, the documentary had access to this material, so it could have been added with raw access on the disc.

The packaging is rather nice, leaving behind the standard keepcase for a new kind of fold-out case that has some nice artwork and a holographic sheen to it. This case is enclosed in another outer sleeve as well. The inside of the fold-out portion has some production notes and chapter listings. Some have complained about the complexity of the case, but the few extra seconds it takes to open doesn't really seem to be that big of a deal. My biggest gripe, without a doubt, is the crappy menu design. They're easy to use, but they look terrible, spoiling many scenes from the movie (yes, I'm sure there's actually people who haven't seen the film), and are overly "clever" with exaggerated, futuristic design. The full motion video in the background is also poorly done and looks akin to badly compressed MPEG-1 video.

In the end, the Close Encounters package is nice, but a tad hollow considering what could have been done with branching paths technology allowing you to view any cut you wanted to, including footage you'd never seen. While it's true that viewing all the footage would have added up to an almost 3 hour movie, I think that would have been a decision best left in the hands of the audience. There's also a distinct lack of chapter stops for such a long film; 28 only really covers specific, entire sequences. If I nitpick, it's only as a devoted fan of the film.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a marvellous, classic epic about the wonder of looking into the night sky and seeing a friendly face somewhere in the universe. It changed everything about the perception of aliens in cinema and brought the UFO phenomena to the forefront of American pop-culture. Its preservation on DVD is satisfying, well presented, and worth owning. Highly recommended.


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