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Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Collector's Edition - 1977 (2001) - Columbia Pictures

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Collector's Edition

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Film Rating: A+
Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B+/A
Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
137 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, "tri-fold" slip case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:07:47, in chapter 12), THX Optimode test signals, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 and DTS 5.1), Spanish and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: The Supplements
142 mins (documentary only), NR, full frame (1.33:1) and letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:06:38, in chapter 6 of documentary), original theatrical trailer, Special Edition theatrical trailer, The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind documentary, Watching the Skies featurette (circa-1977), 11 deleted scenes, filmographies, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (10 chapters for documentary), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned

"Ah Jah Ah Ya De!"

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (a.k.a. CE3K) was the first film I actually remember wanting to see. I got to see Jaws with my parents at the local drive-in and, because of the scare factor, the name Spielberg was a warning that the film might be too much for kids. Ironic, huh? So, upon seeing the mysterious and slightly frightening commercials on TV, my parents (doing their parental duty) went out and saw CE3K without me first, to judge if it was "safe". And I resented the hell out of them for it. I never did get to see it at the theater. But I did get the alien bendy toy and, for a 6-year-old, I guess that's enough.

The story of CE3K, aside from the one involving me, concerns a whole swirl of plots coming together as one. In the middle of the desert, a squadron of planes that disappeared in the 1940s off the coast of Florida mysteriously shows up in prime condition. A team of government scientists floods in and the questions begin: how did they get here? What brought them? Is this important? Does this mean something? Meanwhile, Middle American air traffic controllers are getting reports of mysterious aircraft playing chicken with commercial airliners. Are these two things somehow related? Enter Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfus. He's an Indiana power station worker, who gets called to the location of several power outages one night. And, while lost on a country road, Roy sees something that changes his life forever. Something he can't explain. Something that leaves a burgeoning mark inside of him.

Roy is now plagued by a pounding in his head, that only seems to give way when he's sketching or sculpting a dark shape out of whatever he can find at hand. His family doesn't understand what's going on and, after he looses his job and chases his family off, he hits the road to find the truth. It's on this quest that Roy meets another dangling plot thread: Jillian (Melinda Dillon) and her little boy Barry. Barry has a connection to the ever-growing mystery and will soon become part of it. Together, Roy and Jillian will uncover the answers to all the questions asked in the film. And if they're right about what they find, none of us have anything to fear from what lies out amongst the stars.

When it's all said and done, whether you like the current crop of Spielberg movies, Close Encounters remains a wonderful film and it's aged very well. Aside from some of the dated pop cultural references and clothing styles, this is a film that could have been made yesterday. The acting is superb, the story is well-woven and everything about it works. Spielberg had yet to hit his over-sentimental period, and so this film is presented with a a very natural honesty. Nothing seems forced. Any emotion you feel here is all about the great filmmaking, and nothing feels artificial. I have always loved Close Encounters.

CE3K has travelled a long strange road over the years. With all of the alternate versions of this film that have been in circulation, since its initial release in 1977, you'd need a blueprint just to figure out what's "new" footage, what's original footage and what's was seen only in the syndicated TV version. Honestly, at this point... I can't tell anymore. But that's okay - for all intents and purposes, this is Spielberg and Columbia's ultimate, final director's version of CE3K. But (just FYI) if you're interested in how the film had worked in the past, Criterion released a great laserdisc a few years back, that tried to preserve the integrity of all of the original versions of the film - a must own in the days of laser. But I much prefer a "definitive" approach, that incorporates everything Spielberg was trying to accomplish. That's what this new DVD is.

So the big question is: how does Close Encounters look on DVD? I have to tell you, I'm a little torn in this department. While the transfer quality is right up there with most of Columbia's other DVD work, I can't help but feel that a lot of the night shots in this film look slightly weak. The blacks - the contrast - is fine. But, as we all know (like any great UFO film), a lot of CE3K takes place at night. And some of the night scenes here look a little weak. They're soft and the darker areas of the image are very much lacking in detail. How did it happen? Did Columbia drop the ball? I don't think so. There's a handful of reasons, all of which are both fair to assume and couldn't be helped. First of all, the original negative has likely lost important density over the years. There's also the kinds of flawed film stocks that were being used for special effects shots back in the late 70s and early 80s - they've become corrupted over time. Both of these factors have left their mark on CE3K, and it's a shame. But, when all is said and done, CE3K looks pretty remarkable despite these factors, and is still very watchable. Just look at the brighter scenes in the film. Color density there is bright and striking. You can't help be impressed with this transfer, for the most part.

But even more impressive here is the sound. The best thing on this disc is the DTS 5.1 track, and it just might be one of the best DTS mixes I've heard. It's tight, fluttery and spins you around the room. I couldn't believe how great this film sounds in DTS - it really draws you in. The Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround tracks also do a fine job, but they're nothing compared to the DTS. If you don't have DTS yet, and you're a fan of this film, this disc is a great reason to upgrade your receiver. Oh... and if you want a nice piece of Lucasfilm trivia, listen very closely starting about 11 seconds into chapter 7 - you'll hear the THX logo music. I'm sure this will start some controversy for those purists who dislike some of the recent 5.1 sound mixes for older films on DVD. But I'm very happy with this 5.1 audio experience.

The special features here are just like candles in the icing of the cake. Since it's a two-disc set, you'll find all the extras on Disc Two. First up, there's the original theatrical trailer, which has an almost documentary feel (a-la the trailer for The Abyss). There's more behind-the-scenes footage in it than actual scenes from the film. It's pretty neat. There's also the so-called Special Edition theatrical trailer, which heralded the 1979 re-release (that featured the awful "Roy inside the Mothership" ending that has since been excised from the film). Next up is the very long, but thoroughly enjoyable, The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind documentary. It's from Spielberg documentary mainstay Laurent Bouzereau, and it's mostly the same documentary that was featured on the 1998 laserdisc re-release. It covers pretty much everything, aside from the fact that other writers, including Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), wrote the original draft of the script. It's also pretty heavy with Spielberg interviews from the set of Saving Private Ryan, along with interviews with other stars from the film. Then there's Watching the Skies, the film's 1977 featurette (where a lot of the documentary footage from the trailer first appeared). It's cool, but feels slightly fluffy. Finally, the most important feature of this special edition is the inclusion of some 11 deleted scenes. Everything that I remember ever having heard about, or seen, in the previous editions of CE3K can be found here (including the aforementioned "Roy in the Mothership" ending). A lot of this footage actually helps to round out the film a little bit. You don't need to actually "see" the footage in the context of the film, but seeing them separately helps round out the motivations and define the plots a bit better. Definitely check them out.

So there you have it. As you can see, this DVD contains a huge selection of stuff - enough to please fans of all previous versions of the film. My only complaint with the disc is the packaging. It's sort of a lame, fold out affair, which reminds me of the packaging for Walking with Dinosaurs. After seeing the very cool collector's packaging that Columbia's been doing recently for Men in Black, Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai, I was expecting something much more special than this for Close Encounters. The film definitely deserved better. Oh well.

Close Encounters is an important film. I think it's pretty close to perfect, and it remains one of the most enjoyable films I've ever seen. The DVD does great honor to the film, and tries to preserve it as best it can. Time hasn't been as kind to CE3K as we would have hoped, but that's just the way the nitrate crumbles. At least the film is now preserved on hi-def. I predict that Close Encounters is going to fly off store shelves, and that's a good thing. It's important. It means something.

Todd Doogan
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