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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" on DVD

Spielberg's Wide-Eyed Dream

By Jim Bray

The "Other Big Sci-Fi/Special Effects film of 1977," Steven Spielberg's "CE3K" is a space nut's fantasy come true, but a film that, next to its contemporary "Star Wars," seems a mite dated in the 21st century.

Compared with George Lucas space adventure it's also a somewhat forgotten film, and that's a shame. It's a film that deserves a loving DVD treatment and, as is often the case, Columbia Tristar Home Video has come through with a delightful release.

Richard Dreyfuss is Roy Neary, the film's "everyman" hero. He's a power company employee who, when sent out to look into a blackout, has a close encounter of the second kind that not only leaves him sunburned, but which implants into his mind - well, we aren't sure until much later in the film.

All we know is that he becomes one strangely obsessed individual and it costs him his job and his family as he tries to find out what the heck it was that happened to him.

He isn't alone. Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) had an encounter as well - more than one, in fact, and one of them turned her life around as the aliens grab her toddler son right from her hands. Others have also shared the contact, though Guiler's appears to have been by far the most intense.

Meanwhile, UFO investigator Claude Lacombe (French director Francois Truffault), his interpreter (Bob Balaban) and their team are crossing the globe as strange things begin happening, like the return of a long disappeared air wing as well as musical notes raining down from the sky.

The story lines converge at Wyoming's Devil's Tower, a volcanic anomaly that provides a beautifully otherworldly location for what turns out to be an alien landing and visit. The government, naturally, doesn't want any witnesses to this interplanetary fete, and concoct a scheme to evacuate everyone within "eyeshot" of the Devil's Tower.

Despite that, Neary and Guiler find their ways to Wyoming, swimming upstream against the outward bound tide of people as if they were human salmon on their way to spawn. They eventually escape and evade the government forces and climb over the mountain to discover "The Dark Side of the Moon," the American base set up to facilitate and study the alien landing.

What follows is about half an hour of heart warming special effects sequence in which the aliens and humans meet and greet, and one special (and very lucky!) human is invited aboard the huge alien mothership to return with it to the stars.

Director Steven Spielberg's script is positive and hopeful, though a tad schmaltzy and more than a touch naïve in places, but on the whole the film still holds up quite well. There's a pervading and very welcome sense of awe and wonder that makes the film a very uplifting experience.

Dreyfuss does a fine job as "everyman," as does Teri Garr, as the wife who sees her husband falling into a pit of what she's afraid is something far more serious than a case of mental illness. Dillon does a good job of portraying the mother at her wit's end, and Balaban is fine as the interpreter. Truffault, not really an actor and no English speaker, is delightful as the French UFO investigator.

CE3K is a BIG movie. In fact, much of it, including the entire final sequence at the mountain base, was shot in a gigantic blimp hangar in Mobile, Alabama because there was no other place large enough to house the huge set. It was also, along with Star Wars, a breakthrough in special effects technology and yet another example of the quality of composer John Williams's musical scores.

The DVD brings together the best of the original film and the inferior "Special Edition" that was released a couple of years later. Apparently, Spielberg has been given the opportunity to have this DVD reflect the ultimate version of the film he envisioned. A couple of original scenes are gone (for instance, the part set in the power plant, where Neary is dispatched to the countryside), and a couple of "Special Edition" scenes are included (like the discovery of the ship in the Gobi desert). Gone, also - and fortunately - is the tacked on "Special Edition" scene inside the mothership.

The result is nothing short of the best version yet of "Close Encounters."

The THX edition DVD is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio features digitally remastered anamorphic video (16x9 compatible). The audio has been remixed into both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. Needless to say, the audio and video quality are, for the most part, excellent. There are a few shots that are grainier than others, sometimes the bass output is excessive (especially when the mothership appears) while other audio passages are a tad muddy, but on the whole this is a wonderful version of the film.

As if that weren't enough, a second disc has been included and it includes a full length retrospective documentary on the making of CE3K, featuring interviews with just about everyone connected with the movie. There's also a short featurette dating back to the film's 1977 release, filmographies of those involved, production notes, and trailers.

In case you miss the stuff that's been cut from this version, there are also 11 deleted scenes, including the mothership interior and a couple of other scenes that never made it into either theatrical version.

About the only quibble is the package, which is designed with a sleeve in which is the "flip up" two disc container. It's a tight combination that makes getting the discs back into the sleeve more difficult - and with an easy potential to damage this collector's item set.

Other than that, if you've gone through life with stars in your eyes, this may be the DVD for you.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
137 min, widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffault
Produced by Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips
Written and Directed by Steven Spielberg


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Updated May 13, 2006