Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut
Extras: Feature-length Documentary, Promo Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Filmographies

It is hard to believe that a landmark film like Steven Spielberg’s "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" has been absent from the DVD format for so long, but finally it is making its debut on the silver disc in a Collector’s Edition from Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Released as a 2-disc set in a fairly unconventional packaging, the DVD release contains the 137-minute director’s Cut of the film on one disc, and a number of great supplements on the second. Eager, just as about anyone, I decided to take a look at this release to see how it shaped up on this DVD.

I am not sure how much really needs to be said about Steven Spielberg’s "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind." It is the story of a few people who find themselves face to face with aliens one night. Spaceship illuminate the nocturnal skies, turning the night into day, obviously exploring Earth. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is one of the people who witnessed the appearance of these spaceships and from that moment he is on a mission. To find the aliens and make contact with them. After days of agonizing frustration, he suddenly realizes where he can initiate the contact, and he is immediately on his way to the place the aliens have firmly imprinted in his memory. He is ready to meet the aliens, ready for a close encounter of the third kind.

Tastefully staged and edited, "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" is not nearly as sensationalistic a movie as one may think. It is a thoroughly character-driven piece that uses alien encounters as a premise to show the change those who have had encounters go through. When director Steven Spielberg finally pulls all the stops towards the end of the film, beautiful photography, the atmospheric music and the clever use of lens flare create a climax that is powerful and beautiful to watch. Once the film is finished, viewers will find themselves wondering to themselves, "What would I do in this situation?"

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is presenting "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The transfer is <$THX,THX>-certified but nonetheless, I found the transfer to be only moderately impressive. While the print is mostly free of speckles and blemishes, it shows quite a bit of grain and some inconsistencies in the color timing. As a result, certain shots subtly change color while they run. A number of splice and registration problems also cause the image to noticeably jump and waver at times. Some edge-enhancement is also evident in the transfer, creating visible halos around objects when contrasted against uniformly dark or bright backgrounds, like the sky.

While this presentation is certainly good and pleasing, a film of the caliber such as "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" and the fact that fans have been waiting for this DVD for four years should have been reason enough to create a truly pristine video transfer. Despite these minor problems, the presentation of the film is rich in color with vibrant hues and beautiful gradients. Contrast is bit harsh at times, but it is a result of the film stock used and has been the director’s intention. Blacks are very deep, rendering endless nightskies and deep shadows. Fleshtones are faithfully rendered and throughout, the bold colors simply stand out. The compression of the film has been done very well, especially considering how many language tracks are on the disc, eating away at the available disc space. And yet, the presentation is without notable compression artifacts.

A variety of audio tracks have been included on this release, such as an English <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> and a 5.1 <$DTS,DTS> audio track. These are complemented by English, French and Spanish <$DS,Dolby Surround> language tracks. The <$5.1,5.1 mix>es are dynamic and powerful, adding immensely to the overall impact of the actual film. With a wide sound stage integration, sound effects and the music manage to create a level of grandeur at times that is as mesmerizing as the spaceships themselves. Surround usage is good, especially in the scenes towards the film’s climax with spaceships flying overhead from the rear to the front and vice versa. For the remainder of the movie, surround channels are engaged occasionally but to a much less effective degree in order to properly accommodate the mood. Overall this is a very good mix, especially considering that this is not the film’s original theatrical mix. The DTS track that is included is slightly more dynamic than the Dolby Digital track, producing a presentation that features a slightly more pronounced bass extension and clean high ends. Given the limitations of the original material however, real quality differences between the tracks are marginal at best.

On the second disc of the release you will find a feature length "Making Of" documentary. Running over 100 minutes, this is an extensive and complete – as far as you can say such a thing – excursion into the production of the film. This is not your typical, shallow promo featurette, but a fairly exhaustive documentation of the technical, philosophical and artistic aspects of the movie. It is full of interview segments with a large number of cast and crew members, and also contains plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. Ultimately this is one of those rare "Making Of" documentaries that get it all right. It is entertaining and informative and never degrades itself to a fluff piece.

The honor goes to the 1977 featurette "Watching The Skies," which can also be found on the disc. This is clearly a promo featurette designed to attract people to see the movie and is not intended to shed any real light on the makings of the film.

A series of eleven deleted scenes is also part of the second disc. While presented in <$PS,widescreen>, sadly none of these deleted scenes is <$16x9,16x9 enhanced>. The are a nice mix of footage that never made it into the movie, as well as some scenes that were actually used in the expanded Director’s Cut found on the DVD. Trailers and Talent Files for the principal cast are also part of this disc, rounding out the release.

While it may seem that this release contains only a few number of extras, let me assure you that the full-length documentary covers most aspects that you would otherwise find in separate features on a DVD. Content-wise there’s really not much missing, so don’t be fooled by the relatively short listing of features on this 2-disc set.

"Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" is obviously one of the films that is universally accepted by most fans and critics as a landmark in his career. And for good reason. While the film has its weaknesses and is overly stylized with clichés at times, the story itself and most importantly the restraints the director imposed upon himself in dealing with the aliens, helps make this film a major achievement without the flash-in-the-pan found in many other films on the same subject. Seeing "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" shows why Steven Spielberg has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood and that his skills exceed those of most other directors. This 2-disc DVD set is a great release, although there is, sadly, still room for improvement, starting with the video quality and ending, perhaps, with the packaging. Nonetheless, all fans of the film will definitely dig this DVD and hope for their own close encounter of the third kind.