“In my early years with Noel Coward, he said, ‘My dear, always come out of a new hole.’ But we don’t come out of any new holes today, do we? We go back and come out again and again - out the same hole: parts one, two, three and so on. And I think it’s terribly sad. Looking at the list of recipients, everyone was an innovator, a path finder. They found new things to do. And we all thrive on new things. Okay - do parts one, two, three. But don’t make them the staple diet! We’ll sink if we do.
This business lives on creative pathfinders…I terribly miss somebody like Irving Thalberg. He had a foot in both camps – creatively and with the money. We’re in terrible danger. I think there are some wonderful new picture makers. But please, you chaps in the money department…remember what they are. Thalberg once said, ‘the studio has made a lot of money…and it can afford to lose some!’ I think the time has come where the money people can once again afford to ‘lose some’ by taking risks with new film makers. If they get a break, get encouragement…we are all going to come up and up. Anyhow, wish them luck. I certainly do.”
- David Lean (accepting his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, 1990)
In more recent times, director, Steven Spielberg has gone on record as saying contemporary filmmaker's “have forgotten how to tell stories.” I quite agree. Spielberg was, and remains, one of the last of the more ‘painterly’ masters of his craft; someone so transparently influenced by the true artists from Hollywood’s golden age. It would behoove us all to reconsider how movies have digressed into a sort of frenetically energized spectacle since David Lean’s speech at the AFI. Today’s movies owe more to the nucleus of a badly drawn-out music video or overblown video game than what Hitchcock once termed ‘pure cinema’. Alas, too few, toiling behind the camera are intuitively qualified – or even in possession of such daring – merely to take the time and set up a master shot, positioning the camera to allow for the audience to fall in love with their images. I will go Spielberg a step further and blame the handheld Steadicam for this digression. Like all the creative tricks in the filmmakers’ toolbox, the Steadicam has its place. Alas, it should never be considered the crutch to rely upon. Ditto for ‘green screen’ compositing: this has made a generation of filmmakers lazy in their study of light and shadow, wholly relying on digital matte process to achieve an artificial mood.
Even more fatal to the enduring appeal of American movies, today’s cinematographers have somehow managed to homogenize their art into abject copycat. There was a time when the search for visualized distinction was the Holy Grail. Now, the goal seems to be to make every movie vaguely – if not directly – resemble the one released just before it. Action and science fiction movies are particularly guilty of this: a sort of uber-monochromatic ‘look’ with simplified, washed out color palettes, blown out contrast levels, jittery handheld camerawork, and, in rapture for the John Woo chop-shop editing style that has made visual mincemeat of most every scene in a contemporary movie. For some time, this ‘way’ of making movies has been rather erroneously sold as the new 'style'. Yet, upon careful consideration it is not ‘style’ so much as ‘technique’ – at least, of a kind – and decidedly not even the best of all options, ideally suited for telling stories on film. The argument peddled in its defense is that “no one will sit through a 'slow' paced film these days”; frankly, an insult to both the intelligence and patience of the avid film goer. Worst of all, it has degraded American movies; made them disposable and unmemorable – tapping into the popular zeitgeists of the immediate moment but without any thought for longevity; either, of a particular movie’s staying power or, and cumulatively, of the art form itself.
I would like to extend a challenge to my readership and to up and coming film makers. Name me a movie made this past year, likely to celebrate golden anniversaries seventy-five or even fifty years later, beloved in the same way as a Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music. Give me an example of one movie within the last ten years to have gripped and shaken its audience to their core with prolific and enduring messages, as The Bridge on the River Kwai or Network. Show me a single picture from the last twenty years as profoundly humanistic as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, How Green Was My Valley or The Song of Bernadette. Provide an example of a comedy from the last decade to rival the remarkable razor-backed sincerity of The Americanization of Emily, The Apartment or Annie Hall. I’m not greedy. One title will do. Pitifully, even the ‘best’ Oscar-nominees from the last two decades have lacked such staying power.
On a personal note, as a devotee of cinema art, I increasingly get bored watching the 'new style' unravel my innate love for ‘the movies’ into frenetically visualized apoplexy. I don’t want to be disappointed sitting there in the dark, though, frequently, I am. My expectations are high - yes. But if you have not been thoroughly entertained – I would suggest you ask for your money back. Movies are meant to fill up our leisure. This should always remain their paramount function. Two hours of life I can never get back ought to never be wasted on an endeavor that is merely ‘okay’. Consider how the cinema artists of yesteryear were working from a grave technological deficit. Yet they gave us art of the highest (and occasionally, lowest) order. Regardless, there was an innate striving – not only for getting things done – but for doing them well and much better, in competition with the next fella.
The Leans, Hitchcocks, Cukors, Wylers, Wilders, etc. shared a passion for revealing unique truths, exploiting that rareness only the medium of film can provide to illustrate deeper realities about the human condition. I don’t see a lot – if any – of such ‘verisimilitude’ happening in my movies these days. Objectively, I do not think I am alone in this. The genre being discussed is irrelevant because the effect today is virtually the same; barely passable, or even subpar movie-land product being peddled as anesthetizing, rather than ‘enriching’ entertainment. When the dream factories retired their B-serials in the mid-1950’s they also forfeited the right to feed us B-grade shlock masquerading behind an A-list budget, taken over by clumsy editing, inferior acting and ever-clever special effects. So, I say to all: Expect More From Your Movie-Going Experiences! Do not settle for second best.
This lengthy introduction may seem a very longwinded way to reintroduce Spielberg’s own Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as the extraordinary achievement in science-fiction it remains to this day. But such an example reminds us of a more leisurely pace in hand-crafted movie magic. There was, to be sure, nothing relaxing about the breakneck swiftness with which Spielberg directed the picture; a back-breaking schedule, buffeted by setbacks and budgetary constraints. In 1977, Spielberg was already the peerless master of his craft: sci-fi long neglected by the money merchants as mere Saturday matinee trifles for the kiddies. But Spielberg had a far better understanding of what science fiction could become; both, its precepts as well as its hallmarks. Perhaps only in retrospect can we see Close Encounters as a Master’s class in elevating sci-fi to a finely honed art form. Revisiting it again, I remain thunderstruck by Spielberg’s comprehension and insightfulness; his deft handling of the anamorphic visual space, calculating every moment for its maximum impact.
The awesome discipline exhibited by Spielberg in Close Encounters of the Third Kind has, arguably, never been duplicated since in the sci-fi genre, though it was generally overlooked by most critics of the day as ‘dopey Hollywood mysticism’ with Spielberg’s ‘tinker-toying it together (to) make it enjoyable, mildly funny and -- in one sequence -- even credible.’ Even as many of these same critics enjoyed their experience – or at the very least, their blood sport in writing about it – back then, they failed to give Spielberg his due for providing the amusement fully formed and seemingly, effortlessly. Yet, in Close Encounters we can clearly see, not only the sheer brilliance and undiluted purity of the work itself, but also, the wheels of its’ director’s mind intelligently deconstructing the alien-abduction mythology. Spielberg illustrates his great respect for his audience by affording them the opportunity to indulge and methodically digest his interwoven stories – never encumbered by flashes of surround sound or snippets of light and shadow, passing phantom-less, mindlessly, with only feverishness before our eyes. Indeed, Spielberg knows how to tell a story on celluloid. Regrettably, he has become the minority in Hollywood these days. Thematically, at least, Close Encounters tips its’ hat to two sci-fi classics without whom this intergalactic sojourn might never have existed: 1956’s Forbidden Planet (that sought to intellectualize laser beams and robots with its nod to Shakespeare’s The Tempest) and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick’s probing, explorative search for human truths in both outer and inner space).
Unabashedly optimistic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is of this rarefied ilk: a keenly observed demystification of the mysteries beyond our stratosphere, meant to satisfy – or, at the very least, ignite – our insatiable thirst for grasping at the infinite and unknown. In latter day reflections, Spielberg has acknowledged Close Encounters as ‘a young man’s dalliance with that ‘what if’ fantasy about alien life’. In retrospect, the movie is even more directly a precursor to Spielberg’s own E.T.; The Extra Terrestrial (1982). Yet, despite its’ superbly handled optical effects (completed in record time by Douglas Trumbull and Carlo Rambaldi, with impeccable production design by Joe Alves – Spielberg’s collaborator on Jaws), Close Encounters steadily evolves into a ‘discussion’ piece about humanity’s willingness to embrace its own place within a community of the cosmos.
In the summer of ’77, Close Encounters reaped the whirlwind of the public’s obsession with outer space; at $288 million in worldwide box office receipts, easily Columbia Pictures most successful movie of all time to date. Those too quick to dismiss Close Encounters as simply an expression of Spielberg’s own “benign, dreamy-eyed vision” for alien lifeforms were ignoring its rather transparent Judeo-Christian analogies – or perhaps, merely setting aside the fact that until Close Encounters, alien creatures in the movies were generally perceived as life-threatening intergalactic invaders, destined to do us harm. Far from imbuing his movie with pie-eyed optimism, Close Encounters is both Spielberg’s homage to the likes of such turn-of-the-century visionaries as Jules Verne and Georges Méliès, even as it has since attained the status of a cultural touchstone on par with its other relevant cinema contemporaries and made significant contributions to the wellspring of prolific writers like Carl Sagan and Ray Bradbury.
Like all truly inspired artistry, Close Encounters defies any superficial interpretations; its references – either accidental, or intended – leaning toward youthful spirituality, post-Cold War paranoia, and finally, our collective obsession for otherworldly contact; a premise foreshadowing Chris Carter’s small screen phenomenon, The X-File (1993-2003). Spielberg has since gone on record with hindsight as a husband and father, to say that if he were to remake the picture today, the film’s ‘hero’ – Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) would never be allowed to leave his fictional family for the ‘mothership’ from another world. And yet, it is this penultimate farewell, made after an arduous quest to make sense of an early ‘brief encounter’ of the first kind, that truly satisfies: Roy, arguably, never having belonged to the human world, suffocated in his traditional lower-middle class suburban existence, suddenly liberated by making the ultimate sacrifice for mankind. Such parting in ‘sweet sorrow’ has not lingered in the cinema firmament since Gene Kelly bid Van Johnson a spooky goodbye at the end of Brigadoon (1954) to escape into the ether of a mythical highland village with the raven-haired, 200 year old girl of his dreams – Cyd Charisse.
In its early stages, Close Encounters seemed destined either to be made as a documentary, consisting mostly of interviews with ‘real life’ alien abductees, or just another B-grade sci-fi thriller. Initially, it was pitched to 2oth Century-Fox. Barring their rejection, Columbia took up the slack with producers, Julia and Michael Phillips signing on almost immediately. Spielberg had wisely deduced no ‘legit’ sci-fi movie could be made for under $2.5 million. Throughout the many permutations that would follow, Close Encounters (under the working title, Project Blue Book) would be pitched to Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz: its’ premise, of flying saucers landing in West Hollywood, an idea that Katz particularly abhorred. Mercifully, Spielberg became embroiled with difficulties and setbacks while making Jaws (1974), his pipe dream repeated delayed, ostensibly ordained to fail. Kismet would afford Spielberg the opportunity to do Close Encounters his way; the mega success of Jaws catapulting his cache in Hollywood into the stratosphere. Meanwhile, in the interim, Spielberg had also commissioned another draft of the screenplay; this one by Paul Schrader – deemed unusable and completely thrown out. After another draft by John Hill, heavily edited, screenwriter, David Giler was brought in, with Spielberg’s friends, Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, adding to the convolution of plots, subplots and plot twists. U.S. military pilot, Allen Hynek was also hired to legitimize the more fantastic elements with credible UFO-documented experiences, putting his own career in the United States Air Force on the line, particularly after USAF and NASA put pressure on Hynek and the production to cease, vehemently declining all opportunities to partake in the exercise themselves.
From the start, Spielberg had endeavored to shoot the entire movie within the confines of the studio, a particularly impossible request, given the scope of the project. Eventually, he relented to lens the penultimate ‘contact’ at Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower; an ominous buttress of craggy, hanging rocks. As production advanced, Spielberg would wind up shooting apparently everywhere except from a home base; a few interiors in Burbank; also, inside two abandoned World War II airship hangars at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile and Fairhope, Alabama, as well as Louisville and Nashville Railroad depots in Bay Minette. To simulate the Gobi Desert Spielberg shot in Dumont Dunes, California. The logistics of pulling off such a feat in record time caused Spielberg to label Close Encounters as the most unwieldy, arduous and expensive shoot of his young directorial career. At the height of his exacerbations, Columbia Pictures, plagued by mounting debts incurred elsewhere in their film-making empire, balked at the ever-escalating costs incurred on Close Encounters. Original spit-balled by Spielberg at a cost of $2.7 million, Close Encounters’ budget would eventually balloon to well over $19.4 million. Somewhere in the middle of all this frenzy, Spielberg also had to contend with firing co-producer Julia Phillips due to a volatile cocaine addiction. Sometime later, she would write a fairly scathing tell-all account of this experience, blaming her ‘problem’ on Spielberg’s perfectionism.
Meanwhile, Spielberg and his editor, Michael Kahn lamented over the last 25 min. of the picture; their decisions brought to bear on Ralph McQuarrie and Greg Jein’s superbly crafted models of ‘the alien mothership’ a magnificent array of metal and plastic tubes deliberately designed to resemble the apocalyptic landscape of an inverted oil refinery and lit from within with hundreds of fiber optic lights. This impressive creation also contained the movie’s singular and deliberate ‘in joke’: an R2-D2 droid clinging to its undercarriage. Under the pressure of time constraints, much of this final sequence was shot, not by Close Encounters’ cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond (who had departed on another project), but John A. Alonzo, László Kovács, and Douglas Slocombe, all of them brought in to help Spielberg cobble together his finale. Meanwhile, composer, John Williams toiled on more than 300 five-tone leitmotifs to be used in the climactic ‘contact’ sequence before Spielberg signed off on the now iconic five chords. Spielberg had hoped to interpolate a few bars of ‘When You Wish upon a Star’ into this moment, but was ultimately vetoed the rights to this classic song by the very territorial regime helming Disney Inc. Undaunted, John Williams ever so slightly altered that classic song’s signature melody, clearly – if briefly – heard as Roy Neary prepares to board the mothership. After Close Encounters’ first preview, Spielberg would trim an additional 7 ½ minutes from the film to tighten the impact of these final moments. Interestingly, Williams’ score for Close Encounters lost the Oscar race to his other monumental contribution of that same year – Star Wars – while nevertheless, scooping up two Grammys for Best Original Film Score and Best Instrumental Composition.
Close Encounters opens with a cryptic array of sightings. In the Sonoran Desert, French scientist, Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) and his American interpreter/mapmaker, David Laughlin (Bob Balaban), along with other government-based scientific researchers discover Flight 19; a squadron of WWII Grumman TBM Avengers – intact and still operational – presumed to have vanished into thin air – literally – some thirty years before. Punctuated by the sound and fury of a raging sandstorm, the moment is fraught with menacing overtones as an old man claims to have witnessed an event where ‘the sun came out at night, and sang to him.’ Not long thereafter, Lacombe and his team unearth the remains of the S.S. Cotopaxi; a cargo ship thought to have been lost at sea, now restlessly moored in the middle of the Gobi Desert. In Indianapolis, air traffic controllers listen intently as two jumbo jets narrowly avoid a mid-air collision after each apparently witnesses a UFO. In Muncie, Indiana; an average child, Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey) is stirred from his slumber when electro-magnetic impulses from an unseen force cause his battery-operated toys to become animated on their own. Fascinated, he toddles from his bedroom down to the kitchen, discovering an unidentified ‘presence’ lurking near the fridge. Spielberg cleverly delays showing us the alien entity while feeding into the cliché of ill-omened events yet to follow. But almost immediately, he diffuses these presumptions by focusing on Barry’s reactions; an angelic smile as the boy playfully runs out the back porch and into the rural fields that surround, causing concerned single mother, Jillian (Melinda Dillon) to chase after him.
In the first of Close Encounters iconic moments, Spielberg shifts focus yet again; this time to Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrical lineman investigating a series of large-scale power outages in the boondocks of Indiana. Lost on an isolated county road in the middle of the night, Roy pauses a moment in his utility truck near a railway crossing to pull out his maps, quite unaware the approaching lights from behind – mimicking the headlamps of an off road truck - actually belong to an alien spacecraft. In the seconds that follow, Roy experiences a miraculous electromagnetic storm as the alien craft rises overhead in a dazzling ceremony of lights; its cast off radiation causing his skin to exhibit overexposure akin to bad sunburn. As the ship pulls away, power is restored to Neary’s vehicle. He immediately becomes aware from a cacophony of messages flooding his CB radio reporting ‘strange lights’ in the sky. Now, Neary races after his UFO. Nearby, three police cars are in hot pursuit. Along the isolated and winding highway, bystanders, including Barry and Gillian, have gathered. Roy narrowly avoids running Barry over; one of the police cruisers driving off the embankment in its desire to ‘apprehend’ or at least get a better look at the flying saucers playfully looming overhead.
For Roy, this moment becomes a watershed; his life’s ambitions completely consumed by the experience, much to the dismay of his rather impatient and highly skeptical wife, Ronnie (Terri Garr). As the neighborhood looks on, Roy becomes a veritable recluse in his home, spending the days in his pajamas, tears up his living room, carting buckets and wheelbarrows full of wet earth and plant life to build a replica of Devil’s Tower. Meanwhile, Jillian has begun to experience visions of the famed natural monument; the walls of her home covered in sketches of its unique-looking geological formation. Alas, not too long afterward, Jillian is terrorized by a more intimate alien encounter; the house shaken to its foundation and Barry kidnapped by these unseen forces. Barry’s abduction is the second seminal moment in the movie Spielberg calling upon all his creative fortitude to usher in an utterly spooky sequence, capped off by a frantic Jillian trying in vain to keep these alien visitors at bay. Once again, Spielberg taps into the ‘authentic self’ of childhood to provide a signpost to his audience that will do more than signify where this incredibly heart-palpitating sequence is headed. Unlike Jillian, who is reduced to a near state of catatonia, paralyzed with fear, Barry elation at seeing these otherworldly visitors return; even running to greet them while shouting ‘toys’, wholly unafraid of what lies beyond the menacing orange lights smoldering from under his front door, affords the audience their twinkling of contemplation. After all, how could any director allow an unsuspecting child to walk into his own death?
The middle act of Close Encounters is its weakest, which is not to suggest it is without merit. However, after building up the characters of Roy and Jillian, Spielberg momentarily loses himself in a return to Lacombe and Laughlin who, along with a rather large contingent of United Nations UFO ‘experts’, have launched a very aggressive investigation of these strange supernatural re-occurrences. From witnesses in Dharamsala, India, Lacombe and Laughlin learn the unidentified spacecraft made a distinctive five-tone musical phrase as they soared overhead. However, the scientists are baffled when their reciprocation of this same musical phrased, projected into outer space, return a meaningless series of numbers (104 44 30 40 36 10) back to them. With his background in cartography, Laughlin deduces these numeric signifiers are actually geographical coordinates, pointing to Devils’ Tower near Moorcroft, Wyoming. Now, Lacombe and a contingent of U.S. military and scientific personnel converge on the site, planting a false report in the media of a toxic train wreck forcing the evacuation of local residents. Inadvertently, the TV broadcast of this bogus news story causes Roy to realize his compulsion to build Devil’s Tower in his living room – a natural wonder he has never seen, and therefore knows not why he has become obsessed with it – results in him making an impromptu pilgrimage, despite the falsified reports of a devastating toxic nerve gas leak.
While most of the civilians inexplicably drawn to Devil’s Tower are eventually apprehended by military patrols, Roy manages a daring escape after being interrogated by Lacombe and Laughlin. Remembering Jillian from his first evening’s encounter Roy now takes her along as the two make their way secretly to the footprint of Devil’s Tower under the cover of a starry night. Creeping along the base of this imposing natural edifice, the pair discovers a massive communication outpost set up by the government to make contact with the alien mothership. As Roy and Jillian look on in awe, a portentous cloud encircles the apex of the tower; a mind-boggling array of lights emerging to form a spacecraft so titanic in size it dwarfs virtually everything in its path. Using a large electric billboard as a musical synthesizer, Lacombe and his scientists are able to form a very rudimentary bond of communication with the mothership.
It eventually hovers low to the ground, allowing its massive loading bay doors to open and release over a dozen adults and children from virtually all walks of life: farmers, soldiers, a little girl in pigtails, the missing pilots from WWII, the sailors from the Cotopaxi, and even, Barry, who is tearfully reunited with Jillian. Miraculously, none of these abductees has aged since the hour they were taken from the earth; some, missing more than fifty years. As a sort of trading experiment, the government puts forth their own contingent of viable candidates willing to return to the mothership. Ultimately, only Roy is selected by an alien mediator. The diminutive and waxen creature communicates with a smile and primitive hand gestures; Lacombe using Curwen hand signs to express himself. Roy willingly accepts his lot and boards the mother ship as it ascends into the galaxy – his future unknown.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is so patently Spielberg’s struggle to revisit the wonderment, sheer joy and excitement of his own youthful movie-going experiences; bringing the classical style of Hollywood’s narrative story-telling into the unlikeliest of genres, generally not noted for such sustainability. Close Encounters is by far a more richly satisfy and profound than George Lucas’ intergalactic soap opera, Star Wars (both movies premiered in this same year).Perhaps, comparisons are unfair, as Spielberg’s movie, if anything, remains the antithesis of those fantastical spheres in that other galaxy ‘far, far away’. Collecting his thoughts and hand picking his cast from an envious roster (including legendary filmmaker/author, Francois Truffaut), Spielberg ultimately was forced to cut a few corners to meet Columbia’s deadline for a Christmas release. While he would lament a few of the technical compromises, Columbia’s gamble inevitably paid off. Close Encounters was a colossal financial and critical success. Having pulled the beleaguered Columbia back from the brink, the studio rewarded Spielberg with the go-ahead to rethink these visuals three years later and a new re-release of Close Encounters: the Special Edition.
Alterations to the original movie ranged from excising scenes Spielberg felt had performed awkwardly the first time around (as example, gone is the sequence where Roy Neary digs up his entire front yard for raw materials to build his living room replica of Devil’s Tower), reinstating scenes originally shot in 1977, inexplicably left on the cutting room floor (the reinstatement of Gobi Desert sequence; also the moment where Neary rather violently confronts Lacombe and Laughlin with his psychic compulsion) and finally, the inclusion of brand new scenes for which cast and crew were reassembled three years later. Spielberg also endeavored to tighten the tempo of the picture with minor tweaks made throughout. Unfortunately for Spielberg, Columbia’s ‘free hand’, came with one stipulation. And Spielberg would soon consider it unforgiveable - the penultimate scene with Roy seen inside the mothership, observing its cathedral of pulsating lights, moments before the ship rises majestically into outer space. Finally, in 2007, Spielberg was given the chance to release yet another version of Close Encounters: this time with no strings attached. This third stab remains Spielberg’s preferred Director’s Cut; basically, excising the aforementioned sequence, while retaining all the other SFX updates and edits from the Special Edition. Regardless, in any of its three incarnations, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a qualified masterpiece.
We must sincerely doff our caps and give immeasurable thanks to Sony Home Entertainment for possessing both the fortitude and clairvoyance to include all three versions of Close Encounters of the Third Kind on Blu-Ray. I have seen far too many ‘revised’ versions of beloved movies make their way to hi-def with a complete thoughtlessness in executive logic to reissue ‘original versions’ and let the audience decide for themselves which they would prefer. The Star Wars franchise is undeniably the biggest transgressor here. Honestly, would it really kill Lucas/Fox, and, Disney Inc. to iron out a plan to release the first three movies without all the needlessly inserted CGI effects and grotesque alterations made to them in the mid-1990s?!? But we should also mention herein, with glaring disbelief and a modicum of contempt, the bastardized shorter version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), the extended cut of Amadeus (1984), and the reformatted to conform to 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Criterion release of The Last Emperor (1987, and originally projected in anamorphic 2:35:1) among the foolhardy gestures. Personally, I am not opposed to ‘director approved cuts and/or re-edits’, so long as we are given the option to re-experience these movies as they originally appeared inside our local movie houses. Because, ultimately, we fell in love with these movies as they were presented to us back then and not as any film-making perfectionist, or meddlesome tinkerer, toiling behind the camera would have preferred it, if both time and money had been abundantly at their disposal.
Sony’s Blu-Ray remastering of Close Encounters is, by far, one of the most exceptional preservation efforts yet achieved in hi-def. We should pay our respects here to Grover Crisp, whose custodianship of the old Columbia library is as commendable as it remains a peerless exemplar all rival studios ought to be following. Color fidelity on this disc is exceptional. Flesh tones appear quite natural. Optical shots retain a slightly degraded visual characteristic inherent in their indigenous matte and SFX processes. But the Blu-Ray manages to refine even these problematic effects shots while subtly masking their more obvious photographic tricks. Film grain has been retained with far greater consistency. The soundtrack on all three versions has been remastered in DTS – no small feat, considering how few original preservation elements had survived - and using the best possible source materials for an enigmatic 5.1 mix.
Extras are directly imported over from Columbia’s standard DVD release for Close Encounters’ 30th anniversary and include a comprehensive look back at the making of each edition, plus the upgrading and final restoration of this monumental chapter in American film history. We also get theatrical trailers for all three versions, as well as a special introduction from Steven Spielberg. At the beginning of this review, I asked the casual reader to name one movie among many likely to celebrate a 50th or 75th anniversary. Already well past its 30th, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is such a picture. Truly one for the ages and meant to enthrall – whether the viewer be nine or ninety-two. Bottom line: very highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)