Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Bob Balaban, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon
Extras: Featurettes, Booklet, Photo Gallery, Trivia Track, Storyboard Comaparison

Who would have thought that "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" would be Steven Spielberg's first movie to come to a high definition format? If someone had asked me a year ago I would have expected "Jurassic Park" to be the first one, simply because of its show-off factor. Well, I can't be right all the time, I suppose and so here we are with a truly neat package for the director's 1977 scifi film "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind."

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. Spaceships 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 without a moment's hesitation he is 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 has its dark suspenseful moments, especially in the first act when the aliens abduct a little boy, and then moves on to character drama with an incredible third act.

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, beautiful and touching to watch. Once the film is finished, viewers will find themselves wondering to themselves, "What would I do in this situation?"

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is presenting "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" in three versions on this release, all accessible on one disc. First there is the 1977 theatrical cut, the 1980 Special Edition cut and then also the 1998 Director's Cut. From the disc's main menu you can easily pick which version you wish to view and off you go. As an additional extra the studio has provided optional icons on the screen to indicate where changes in the film have occurred among these different cuts and which piece of footage is part of which version. To take things one step further, Sony Pictures has even included a glossy printed timeline showing the changes in each of the versions with descriptions and still images. Pretty cool, and as an added bonus the movie's theatrical poster is printed on the back of the map.

All three versions are presented in brand new 1080p transfers in the movie's 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer is splendid to say the least and is richer in color than ever. The black levels and contrast are simply amazing and will leave you speechless, while the colors are incredibly rich and saturated. The vibrant lights of the alien spaceships have never been so lucid. It is an incredible feast for the eye adding a completely new dimension to the film.

However, as much as I love the transfer a word of heed is necessary because I know there will be a lot of badmouthing going around the internet because of the film's grain. "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" is by definition a very grainy movie. By nature of the technology that was employed to create the atmosphere as well as the special effects film grain is integral part of the movie. As a result this graininess is fully reproduced on this Blu-Ray disc. Let's be frank here, if the studio had removed the grain, which they could have using modern digital tools, they would have messed up the film's sometimes edgy look and they would have destroyed the director's vision as well as changed the overall atmosphere of the film. Clearly people who care about movies do not want this to happen. Cleaning up movies is one thing, sanitizing them is a different thing entirely. Therefore I think it is important to understand that the grain in this film is desired and part of the presentation and not a mistake or negligence on the studio's end. Film has grain and any home video presentation should be a representation as close to the original presentation as possible, even if it means showing grain on people's television screen.

The superb presentation doesn't stop in the audio department either where Sony Pictures Home Entertainment provides us with losslessly encoded DTS HD and Dolby Digital TrueHD tracks which are as good as the audio for this film can get. These are identical reproductions of the original master audio tapes and as such they are flawless. Compared to the audio found on the DVD version there is a noticeable added clarity to the presentation and an added multi-dimensional feel as the surround channels do their work.

The film is accompanied by an optional trivia track that holds a lot of valuable information, showing the differences between the different cuts, as described above. It is called "A View From Above" and makes use of Blu-Ray's Java technology to present its information in a very handy form.

On the second disc of the packaging you will find a whole lot of additional materials, both new and old. Among the brand new features is a new featurette, presented in igh definition, called "Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters." As the title suggests, it is a retrospective by the director as he is reflecting on the movie and its development. It is full of valuable information as he discusses his approach and problems as well has his fascination with the subject matter.

Of course the "Making Of" documentary that was part of the DVD release is also included here. 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.

Also included is the 1977 featurette "Watch The Skies" which is clearly a promo featurette that was designed at the time to attract people to see the movie and is not intended to shed any real light on the makings of the film. Interestingly enough, it is presented in high definition here.

In addition to these documentaries you will also find a photo gallery and a selection of storyboard to film comparisons on the release.

The release also comes with a very cool booklet, called the "30th Anniversary Collector's Booklet," that features production stills and cast and crew information. It is very well done and adds quite a bit of value – and actual weight – to 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 alone covers most aspects that you would otherwise find in separate features on a DVD. Add to it the cool new features and you're all set with all the answers to all the question you may have had about the movie.

"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 Steven Spielberg's 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 Blu-Ray Disc version is exactly the kind of thing that will make fans of the film happy. It has all the features, and some more, plus it offers all cuts of the film in a splendid high definition presentation. If you ask me, the Blu-Ray camp just got a serious boost!