"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" on DVD
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
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 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
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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