Close Encounters of the Third Kind appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1; on this 4K UHD Disc. Very few concerns emerged during this terrific transfer.
Sharpness usually seemed to be excellent. A few wide shots presented some slight softness, but that was about it, and those tended to occur either due to effects or depth of field issues. The vast majority of the flick offered strong delineation and clarity, and the exceptions stemmed from the limits of the source material.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. I also found no source flaws. The source material could be grainy at times, but no artificial defects appeared. The grain actually seemed less distracting than I expected; CE3K is known as a grainy film, but I didn’t have any concerns about it presence at all.
Colors looked natural and distinct. The film didn’t feature a particular bright palette except for the hues generated by the alien crafts themselves, and I felt these tones appeared clear and vivid.
Black levels were dark and tight, and shadow detail seemed clean and nicely heavy without excessive opacity. The smattering of slightly soft shots created my only minor complaints here, and they weren’t enough to knock my grade below an “A-“. I felt very pleased with this transfer, as it usually looked exceptional.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack featured a surprisingly broad and engaging soundfield, as the front speakers offered a nice sense of ambience. In addition to John Williams’ score, they added a great deal of unique effects, all of which seemed to be well placed within the environment.
The elements also blended together neatly and smoothly. Some directional dialogue occurred, and while it could seem somewhat tentative at times, for the most part I felt that the speech appeared to come from the appropriate locations.
Surround usage generally sounded to be monaural, but a few instances of stereo usage clearly appeared. For instance, during a few scenes when alien ships zoomed past us, the audio provided unique information for the left and right rear channels.
Otherwise, I thought that the surrounds contributed very solid reinforcement for the track. They didn’t seem to present a great deal of sound that was clearly specific to them, but they bolstered the atmosphere throughout the movie. From the opening desert sandstorm scene to the ending with the Mothership, the rear speakers were fairly active participants that made this soundtrack compelling.
Audio quality was more erratic, and dialogue presented the most problems. While speech always seemed to be intelligible, I thought that some minor edginess affected the experience. Most lines appeared acceptably natural, but some came across as a bit brittle and rough.
Effects also showed some thinness and lacked tremendously natural qualities, though they matched up fine with most audio of the era. Without re-recorded stems, this was about as good as the effects were likely to sound.
Happily, they boasted some tremendous low-end at times. When the plane engines fired up during the opening desert sequence, the subwoofer kicked in with solid bass, and quite a few other scenes contributed excellent depth as well; as Roy experienced his first “close encounter”, I thought the hum of the ship was going to crack my house’s foundation!
John Williams’ score also presented nice dynamics, and the music appeared to be bright and vivid throughout the movie. Frankly, I really liked the soundtrack of CE3K; were it not for some of the edginess to speech and the thinness of the effects, it would have easily made it to “A” territory. As it stands, I felt it earned a solid “B+”.
How did this 4K UHD release compare to the Blu-ray from 2017? Audio was literally identical, as both versions included the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks.
Visuals became a different area, though, as the 4K offered obvious improvements in quality. It seemed tighter, with darker blacks and more vivid colors – though not overly perky.
Some have complained that UHD’s “high dynamic range” hues can be too bright and artificially lively, but that’s not the case here, so the tones appear rich but not “overcranked”. This was easily the best the film has ever looked on home video.
Expect all of the Blu-ray’s extras, as this package includes the same platter with supplements. One of this package’s selling points comes from the fact that it includes three versions of the film. Of course, they all appear on the 4K UHD disc.
The two-cent history here: due to a variety of pressures, Spielberg felt the 1977 theatrical release didn’t completely fulfill his vision of CE3K. Columbia gave him the money to do some reshoots for the SE with one caveat: he had to show viewers the interior of the Mothership at the film’s end.
Although this edition added new footage, it was a shorter film due to some judicious editing on the part of Spielberg. He cut 16 minutes of shots from the original, reinstated seven minutes of material filmed in 1977 but not used, and added six minutes of newly-made material.
The latter entries included the most controversial one: scenes from inside the Mothership at the end of the film. To get funding for the reshoot, Columbia wanted Spielberg to add these segments. As such, the SE of CE3K was a fairly different film than the one originally seen in 1977.
Spielberg reworked the movie again in 1998, and this 137-minute “Director’s Cut” combines different aspects of the 1977 and 1980 versions. Many think this is the best edition of the movie, and I might agree, but some good bits from the 1977 film fail to appear.
The introduction to the Nearys uses the scene from the 1980 cut, which is longer and the better way to meet them. Other 1980 snippets are integrated, such as “Roy’s shower” and the expedition to the Gobi Desert.
The 1998 version cuts some segments that appeared in both the 1977 and 1980 versions, and these are the least positive changes. For instance, we lose the cool scene in which Roy looks at a pillowcase and states, “That’s not right”.
We also don’t get some shots of Roy at the power plant; I liked these, but I can’t say they’re as painful to lose as the pillowcase. The alterations don’t hurt the movie terribly, but I wish Spielberg had kept these scenes in the movie.
When I consider the three versions, I find it hard to choose between the theatrical edition and the Director’s Cut. I strongly dislike the Special Edition, though, as its additions and changes mostly hurt the film, especially in terms of the horrible “inside the Mothership” ending. Never say never, I suppose, but I seriously doubt I’ll ever want to revisit the SE.
It’s a much closer call between the 1977 and 1998 versions. Actually, for a while, I preferred the Director’s Cut, primarily because I liked the Gobi Desert scene, maybe the only SE addition that worked for me.
However, the more I see that shot, the less I like it. Now it feels redundant to me, and it doesn’t advance the plot – it’s too similar to the scene in India, and that one works much better.
In addition, the fact that we get Lacombe’s sidekicks but no Lacombe makes it unnatural - Claude’s absence creates a distraction that almost takes me out of the movie. The film stock looks off, too – the Gobi scene doesn’t match the rest of the picture and looks like an outtake from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
So in the future, I expect I’ll go with the 1977 version, though I’ll miss the longer intro to the Nearys and the one with Roy in the shower. One could argue the latter is redundant and unnecessary, but I think it helps reinforce Roy’s disintegration and the effect on his family.
It’s one of the more touching in the film, really, as we see the pain reflected in his kids. Spielberg’s choice to deflate the drama with Roy’s comment about his watch is a mistake, though; the quick bit of comedy is funny but out of place.
The beauty of this package is that it allows us to have the choice of the different versions. I might prefer the 1977 theatrical rendition, but others who like the 1980 or 1998 cuts can have their faves as well. It’s a great way to allow us flexibility.
In addition to all three versions of the film, the 4K UHD disc includes View from Above. It offers an on-screen guide to the variations found in the different versions. For the SE and DC, icons tell you if a shot/scene failed to appear in the 1977 edition and if a scene appears in the 1977 cut alone.
For the 1977 edition, an icon relates that something is unique to it. This is a nice way to get a representation of the variations.
Another disc presents the three versions on a Blu-ray, and a third provides the bulk of the supplements. Most substantial of the bunch is The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a 1998 documentary.
This one-hour, 41-minute, 41-second program combines film clips, excellent shots from the set, and a slew of (circa 1997 interviews with participants. In addition to writer/director Steven Spielberg, we hear from actors Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, and Cary Guffey, composer John Williams, director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond, editor Michael Kahn, production designer Joe Alves, animation supervisor Robert Swarthe, chief model maker Gregory Jein, production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, special photographic effects person Douglas Trumbull, and Mothership photographer Dennis Muren.
Not surprisingly, Spielberg dominates the proceedings. Filmed from the set of Saving Private Ryan, he contributes lots of solid details about the project’s genesis and its production, though at times I’m not terribly sure how well we can trust his memory.
I also own the Criterion laserdisc CE3K set, and Spielberg alters some of the stories he told on that older set. None of the changes are major, but they exist; for example, when he discusses the ways in which he got little Cary Guffey to perform in the necessary manner, some of the details have changed. Nonetheless, the overall intent remained intact, so I don’t have too many concerns about Steve’s memory.
As for the rest of the crew, they chime in quite frequently and add a tremendous amount of solid information about the movie. It’s a fine mix of technical and creative, and the overall arc of the production is related in a succinct and entertaining manner.
The many outtakes and behind the scenes shots are also delightful; I especially enjoyed the alien test footage images. Put simply, this is an outstanding documentary that should be thoroughly compelling for fans of the film.
Watch the Skies is a five-minute, 54-second featurette that came out at the same time as CE3K itself. This is truly a promotional piece that acts as a variation on the disc’s “Original Theatrical Preview”, albeit a more interesting one.
“Skies” shows some decent shots from the set and also includes a brief comment from producer Julia Phillips. It remains an advertisement, but it’s a moderately enjoyable one.
For something newer, we get Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters. In this 21-minute, 21-second piece, we find a modern interview with Spielberg as he discusses the development of the story and the production, his thoughts about UFOs and research for the film, cast and performances, visual elements, sets and locations, how CE3K impacted his later flicks, editing, music, studio pressures and the flick’s release, the 1980 and 1998 versions, and some general thoughts.
“Years” acts as a good complement to the longer documentary. It mostly touches on subjects not addressed there, so it becomes a fresh experience.
Spielberg includes quite a few good stories; I especially like his observation that CE3K was a tough shoot but it seemed easy compared to the horrors of Jaws. I’d like a little more of a retrospective view of CE3K and what it meant to him, but this remains an informative piece.
Nine Deleted Scenes appear. These run a total of 18 minutes, 22 seconds and provide a nice collection of cut sequences.
Nothing particularly revelatory can be found, but all the clips are great to see for big fans. They’re a good addition to the Blu-ray. For reasons unknown, they don’t appear on the 2007 DVD, even though they were part of the 2001 release.
Storyboard Comparison lets us examine drawings and final film for five sequences. All together, they fill a total of 22 minutes, 10 seconds.
We also find Storyboard Galleries for “End Sequence 1” (79 frames) and “End Sequence 2” (123). Both of these are compelling, though I especially like “End Sequence 2” since it displays high quality art; instead of the standard cartoony boards, it boasts color paintings.
More stills show up elsewhere. Location Scouting Pictures (53) shows spots considered for the movie’s finale, while Mothership Drawings by Ralph McQuarrie (14) gives us a glimpse of design art. Behind the Scenes (277 across 16 areas) shows photos from the set, with an emphasis on Spielberg.
Production Team (32 across five sections) opens things up to pics of Vilmos Szigmond, Joe Alves, Doug Trumbull, Michael Kahn and John Williams as well. Portrait Gallery (54 across eight segments) shows more of Spielberg, Hynek and the cast, while Marketing: Original Theatrical Release (177 across four) delivers posters, trading cards and lobby cards.
Lastly, Special Edition (33 over two) follows similar lines. All are good, though I was startled to notice that the trading cards never showed Richard Dreyfuss; I guess he refused to license his likeness.
Under Trailers, we find two promos: “Original Version” and “Special Edition”. At six minutes, the “Original Version” is the most interesting, though even it isn’t particularly fascinating. The set drops an ad for the 1998 “Ultimate Edition”.
Two new to the 40th Anniversary release features follow.