Close Encounters of the Third Kind appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Very few concerns emerged during this terrific transfer.
Sharpness usually seemed to be excellent. A few wide shots presented some very slight softness, but that was about it. The vast majority of the flick offered strong delineation and clarity. 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. While the grain could become a minor distraction, I couldn’t fault the transfer itself, as it was obvious these concerns always existed.
Colors looked quite 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 occasionally looked a little too pale, but they usually appeared appropriately deep and dense, 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.
The soundtracks of Close Encounters displayed some minor problems but they nonetheless worked quite well for a film of this vintage. CE3K offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I clearly favored the DTS version.
As such, my comments about the movie’s soundtrack will solely address the DTS mix for the time being; a summary paragraph will then discuss the ways in which I felt the Dolby edition differed from it. The DTS track featured a surprisingly broad and engaging soundfield. 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 split-surround 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 strongly 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 quite compelling.
Audio quality was more erratic. 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 foundation!
John Williams’ score also presented nice dynamics, and the music appeared to be bright and vivid throughout the movie. Some hiss accompanied the track, and this defect seemed connected to the music; it only cropped up when the score became more prominent. However, the hiss was modest and didn’t create a terrible distraction. Frankly, I really liked the DTS 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+”.
For the most part, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack echoed the DTS mix. However, I thought that it showed a few more problems. In general, the DD affair seemed to present more obvious distortion; both effects and speech could sound rather harsh at times, whereas they appeared a bit smoother during the DTS track. While the DD mix offered some nice bass, the depth and tightness of the low end didn’t seem to be as solid; it presented a nice rumble at times, but it failed to deliver the same level of specificity. Also, the soundfield itself didn’t come across with the same broad and encompassing atmosphere; it appeared a little more sterile. Ultimately, the Dolby Digital track still appeared to be quite good for the film’s era, but I know that when I watch Close Encounters in the future, I’ll always select the DTS mix.
How did the picture and audio of this “30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition” compare to those of the original DVD from 2001? I thought both presented similar audio, but the UE offered some visual improvements. It seemed cleaner and a little tighter. The 2001 disc was very good, but this one was a bit better.
Note that for review purposes, I only screened the 1998 “Director’s Cut” of CE3K that appears on DVD Three. One of this package’s selling points comes from the fact that it includes all three versions of the film. DVD One presents the original 1977 theatrical cut, while DVD Two includes the 1980 “Special Edition”.
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 rather different film than the one originally seen in 1977.
Spielberg reworked the movie again in 1998. 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 more abrupt but it adds some nice exposition to the family, so it’s a draw. 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. 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.
I went with the Director’s Cut for review purposes so I could make “apples to apples” comparisons with the 2001 DVD. In the future, however, I expect that I’ll watch the 1977 cut for my own enjoyment.
Actually, 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. 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. In addition, the fact that we get Lacombe’s sidekicks but no Lacombe makes it sound out as unnatural; Claude’s absence creates a distraction that almost takes me out of the movie.
So in the future, I expect I’ll go with the 1977 version. The only scene I’ll probably miss is the one with Roy in the shower. One could argue it’s also 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 “30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition” 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.
Most of the extras repeat from the 2001 DVD. Most substantial of the bunch is The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a 1998 documentary. On the old disc, it ran as a single piece. To avoid the need for a fourth DVD, this UE splits the program across all three discs. Part One lasts 39 minutes, 15 seconds, Part Two goes for 47 minutes, 30 seconds, and Part Three fills 15 minutes, 29 seconds. That means a total of one hour, 42-minutes and 14-seconds of material.
This program combines film clips, excellent shots from the set, and a slew of contemporary (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. That’s a high-powered crew and their discussions added a lot of depth to my knowledge of the film.
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 was an outstanding documentary that should be thoroughly compelling for fans of the film.
With that we head to the smattering of extras on the individual discs. DVD One presents an Original Theatrical Preview that lasts for six minutes and two seconds. Issued to promote the film in 1977, the “Preview” touts all the talent in the film and then offers a recap of story elements. Spielberg, Dreyfuss, and UFO expert J. Allen Hynek also explain the different levels of “close encounters”. It’s a purely promotional piece that’s interesting for historical value and that’s about it.
On DVD Two, we get a Special Edition trailer. This 118-second clip existed to convince people to see CE3K again in its altered 1980 rendition.
Over on DVD Three, Watch the Skies is a five-minute and 55-second featurette that came out at the same time as CE3K itself. This is truly a promotional piece that acts as a variation on DVD One’s “Original Theatrical Preview”, albeit a more interesting one. It 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 interesting one.
For something new, we get Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters. In this 21-minute and 21-second piece, we find a new 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.
DVD Three also gives us a trailer for the “30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition”. Note that while the film’s 1977 trailer doesn’t pop up here, it doesn’t really go missing. That ad was essentially a shorter version of “Watch the Skies”, so it still sort of appears here.
A few paper materials flesh out the set. A double-sided poster features the movie’s original theatrical art on one side and a comparison between the three cuts of the film on the other. I like that chart as a good reference point.
We also find a 64-page Collector’s Book. It gathers many photos from the production as well as biographies on some cast and crew members and some notes from Spielberg. It’s a nice piece that adds value to the set.
My main disappointment with the UE: it fails to include the collection of deleted scenes from the 2001 DVD. Yes, a lot of those shots appear in the various versions of the film. For instance, the “inside the Mothership” segment from the SE showed up as a deleted scene, whereas now we can see it back in the movie.
I don’t think all of the old disc’s cut material pops up in the different editions of the films, though, so I believe we’re losing some deleted scenes. Even if all those clips do appear somewhere in the three editions of CE3K, it was very nice to have them collected in one place. Why not do that again here? This decision means that fans will probably want to keep the 2001 DVD.
While that omission is disappointing, the “30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition” of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is still a solid set. The movie itself remains a classic, as Spielberg tells an enchanting story of our first formal meeting with aliens. He utilizes a first-person point of view that makes the tale accessible and moving, and the entire project is fulfilled with beauty and style. The DVD provided excellent visuals as well as very good audio and extras.
Pursestrings time, and it’s a moderately tough call. I think the UE is the best version of CE3K and definitely the one for fans who own no DVD version of it. The nearly $40 price tag is a little steep, but you get good quality for the money. Double-dippers face more of a dilemma. The new set offers improved visuals, but the 2001 disc already looked pretty good, so the 2007 release doesn’t blow away its predecessor. Audio remains the same, and extras are essentially a tie.
The big draw here comes from the availability of the 1977 and 1980 versions of the film. The old DVD only provided the 1998 Director’s Cut, so it’s very nice to have the choice to watch any of the film’s three iterations. That’s likely to make the UE a must have for big CE3K fans, though I think more casual viewers will probably be perfectly happy with the old set and its 1998 cut. That’s a very satisfying version of the film, so it’s not a bad one to have. As someone with great fondness for CE3K, I really like the UE, but I recognize that it might fall into “version overkill” territory for some folks.
To rate this film visit the Collector's Edition review of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND