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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Highly Recommended)



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#1 of 52 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 17 2007 - 11:33 AM

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The Program

The adjective “ultimate” is tossed around with such ease nowadays that a consumer is bound to regard it with skepticism. However, if any DVD set is worthy of that designation, it is Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition. This set contains virtually everything that a fan of Close Encounters of the Third Kind could ask. For openers, it includes all three versions of the film – the original 1977 theatrical release, the 1980 Special Edition, and the 1998 Director’s Cut. My personal preference is for the Director’s Cut, but one of the beauties of this set is that you do not have to choose one over the other. All three versions are beautifully rendered in Blu-ray 1080p high definition. The set also contains a bonus disc full of supplementary materials and a 64-page “Collector’s Book.” The only thing which is missing is a director’s commentary, something which Steven Spielberg reportedly does not want to do for any of his films.

Spielberg regarded Close Encounters of the Third Kind as “science speculation” rather than science fiction. At the time he believed that alien beings had actually visited Earth during the 20th century, and the film is his vision of how an actual human encounter with aliens from outer space might play out. He approaches it through the prism of three parallel stories.

One plot thread focuses on phenomena which have attracted the attention of the government. U.S. Navy aircraft, missing since World War II, have inexplicably appeared in the Sonora Desert in Mexico. Air traffic controllers track an unidentified aircraft which nearly collides with a jetliner. A team led by Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) and David Laughlin (Bob Balaban) investigates, and mysterious radio transmissions convince them that intelligent alien life is trying to make contact with Earth.

The second thread involves Gillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), a single mother, and her young son Barry (Carry Guffey). Barry is awakened at night by strange noises and lights which lead him to wander away from the house. He sees something which has such a powerful attraction for him that he disappears into the darkness, filled with awe and delight rather than fright. One of the most iconic visions of Close Encounters of the Third Kind occurs when the aliens make a return visit to the Guiler home in order to abduct Barry.

At the same time Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a lineman for a power company, is called to work at night when the area’s electrical grid mysteriously goes down. After getting lost on a rural road, Roy has a terrifying encounter with a strange aircraft which hovers over his truck. Roy does not realize it at the time, but his close encounter will inexorably change his life.

It soon becomes apparent that all of the humans who have encountered the aliens – including Gillian and Roy - have been implanted with a compulsion which they do not understand. The government, predictably, denies that anything unusual has occurred, but Roy and Gillian know better. Roy becomes obsessed with sculpting a form which he does not recognize. He knows what it looks like, he even sees it in shaving cream and mashed potatoes, but he does not know what it represents. His family life deteriorates as his behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. His wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) has no understanding of or sympathy for Roy’s plight and his children are whiny brats. After Gillian’s son is abducted, she has visions of the same shape and she finds herself compelled to make drawings of it.

The three plot threads converge during the second half of the film, when Roy’s desire to understand what has happened to him and Gillian’s need to find her son come into conflict with the government’s determination to maintain secrecy. Ultimately, however, what happens to Roy and Gillian is subordinate to the real story, which is about Spielberg’s vision of how alien beings – if indeed they exist – would treat us if they came to Earth.

The performances are universally excellent. Richard Dreyfuss, who has over the course of his career displayed a penchant for overacting, is actually restrained here, remarkably so considering that his character is seemingly going to pieces. During the scene where Roy's outlandish behavior reaches its zenith, Dreyfuss somehow manages to project a sense that Roy really is sane and sensible. Melinda Dillon shows both strength and vulnerability as Gillian. When she meets up with Roy she leans on him, but she never falters in the face of the remarkable and disturbing things which have happened to her. Teri Garr is very effective as Roy’s wife, Ronnie. While it is clear that the magic is gone from their marriage, and she cannot comprehend what has happened to Roy, she never goes over the top with excessive shrillness.

No discussion about Close Encounters of the Third Kind would be complete with mentioning Douglas Trumbull's special effects. They are remarkably realistic, especially considering that they were created three decades ago. The spacecraft are seamlessly integrated into their surroundings, creating scenes which inspire awe and wonder.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a fascinating film which has garnered much praise. Roger Ebert calls it “one of the great moviegoing experiences.” David Thomson, the author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, writes “Close Encounters is as close to a mystical experience as a major film has come.” If you have not seen it, now is the time to do so. If you have seen it, now is the time to see it again. And again.

The Video

The 1080p Blu-ray widescreen transfer is extremely sharp, vivid and stable. Yes, there is some grain, which is fairly noticeable in some scenes and barely visible in others. As I understand it, the grain is there by design, as Spielberg is said to believe that some grain is desirable. In any event, the grain is mostly mild and not distracting unless one is looking for it. I have not done a direct comparison with the “Collector’s Edition” which was released in 2001, but I have been told that some of the scenes in that DVD lacked stability. That is not an issue with this release. The long shots of Devil’s Tower, which reportedly drew some complaints in 2001, look flawless to me.

The scenes of the alien spacecraft zooming through Indiana are awesome. The lights seem brighter and the colors are more vivid than I remember them to be. The appearance of the mother ship is nothing less than spectacular. The famous scene where young Barry opens the door to dazzling light is absolutely breathtaking. Shadow detail is excellent. Much of the action takes place at night, but I never felt that there was anything significant on the screen which I could not clearly see.

The quality of this set is all the more remarkable when you consider that all three versions of the film are on a single disc. It is a testament to the enormous storage capacity of Blu-ray discs and the care which has been taken with these transfers.

The Audio

The viewer has the choice of listening to the three versions of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in either Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 or DTS HD 5.1. I toggled back and forth, but my ears did not detect any significant differences. The surround sound is not as enveloping as we have come to expect from more recent films, but there is still plenty of punch when the spacecraft zip through the night sky and when helicopters take flight at Devil’s Tower. Viewers with large subwoofers should be impressed by the bass.

The musical score by John Williams sounded a bit harsh to me, but that is likely a factor of the age of the recording. I would like to hear an uncompressed recording of the score to see if there is any difference. Incidentally, for the 1980 Special Edition elements of the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” were added to the music over the closing credits. The Director’s Cut has restored the original music.

The Supplements

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition is packed with special features.

Aficionados of this film will appreciate “View From Above,” a feature which can be activated for all three versions. When it is activated, an icon appears on the screen for scenes which fall into the following categories:

1.A scene which did not appear in the original version.

2.A scene which appeared in the original version but does not appear in the version currently being viewed.

3.A scene which is unique to the version of the film currently being viewed.

There is also a mini-poster insert which contains the same information. The “View From Above” feature is particularly helpful because some scenes from the original version were omitted from the Special Edition, only to be restored for the Director’s Cut. In addition, two scenes which were added to the Special Edition have been removed for the Director’s Cut. The “View From Above” feature helps the viewer to easily identify the changes from version to version.

The bonus disc contains a 21-minute featurette about the director called “Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters.” It includes an interview in which Spielberg discusses the making of the film and his feelings about it. While most viewers would probably prefer a commentary track, this seems to be as far in that direction as Spielberg is presently willing to go.

Also included is a feature-length documentary, The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was directed by Laurent Bouzereau. I have not had the opportunity to do more than skim through it, but many of the cast and crew are featured. It looks to be extremely informative and I look forward to watching it in its entirety. It is shown full-screen.

Do you want more? There are stills and storyboards, including storyboard comparisons, shown here as montages which could keep the viewer occupied for a considerable period of time. High-definition trailers for all three versions of the film are also available. The trailer for the 1977 theatrical release runs for nearly six minutes.

A six-minute promotional featurette called “Watch the Skies,” which is similar in content to the trailer for the original release, also is on the bonus disc. This is the same featurette which is identified as “Watching the Skies” on the box of the 2001 Collector’s Edition.

You will also find nine deleted scenes on Disc 2. The deleted scenes are shown in non-anamorphic widescreen and do not appear in any of the three released version of the film. One of the deleted scenes, which shows Roy at the power plant during the blackout, helps to explain why he got into trouble with his employer, a plot turn which always struck me as abrupt and lacking foundation. However, the scene drags on and includes extraneous information and characters, so I can understand why it was cut.

As noted above, the set also includes a foldout which has a reproduction of a Close Encounters poster on one side and an explanation of the differences among the three versions of the film on the other. The aforementioned “Collector’s Book” contains brief biographies of Spielberg, the major actors, composer John Williams, and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. The booklet also contains dozens of black and white photographs taken during the production of the film.

Other Features

As noted, all three version of the feature can be found on Disc One, which makes it easy for the viewer to compare them. The supplementary materials are on Disc Two. All three versions are divided into twenty chapters.

The pop-up menu allows the viewer to change audio selections, turn sub-titles on and off, and turn the “View From Above” feature on and off while the film continues to play.

The Packaging

The two discs come in a fold-out case which has a sleeve for the mini-poster. This case fits into a cardboard slipcase, which also contains the “Collector’s Book.” The slipcase is marginally taller than a standard high-definition slipcase, so it should easily fit in with your other Blu-ray and HD DVD discs.

The Final Analysis

This may be the no-brainer of the year. Close Encounters of the Third Kind has never looked better. When one factors in the ability to see all three versions of the film, and add to that the plethora of bonus materials, this set is bound to be on most lists of the best DVDs of the year.

This DVD might actually convince you that We Are Not Alone!

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD10A DVD Player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: November 13, 2007


Rich Gallagher

#2 of 52 OFFLINE   don monteith

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Posted November 18 2007 - 01:43 AM

Thanks for the review. I agree with you totally. I thought the Video was amazing, especially for the age of the film. I thought the audio was a bit harsh though. I had to keep turning the volume up and down. Some parts were too low and some were too loud. And yes, my sub did get a work out.Posted Image

#3 of 52 OFFLINE   Shane Martin

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Posted November 18 2007 - 07:20 AM

I don't know if WM is different but mine included the motion picture soundtrack. A great set for $34.99

#4 of 52 OFFLINE   Rachael B

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Posted November 18 2007 - 11:17 AM

I watched the Director's Cut which I had never seen. It was, "an event socioligue". I liked it more than the other two versions which I've seen more times than I can count. I didn't need the visual aids to know when I was seeing new footage.

I played the Dolby True audio...is it not loseless? It sure was good for an elder film, I thought.
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#5 of 52 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted November 18 2007 - 11:58 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shane Martin
I don't know if WM is different but mine included the motion picture soundtrack. A great set for $34.99
On a third disc? If so, then it's different. I only got two discs on mine [after my odd need to exchange, see the other CE3K thread if you're interested], but I haven't had a chance to watch it yet.

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#6 of 52 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted November 18 2007 - 12:08 PM

Rachael, Dolby True HD is lossless. Some on here have expressed concern about the fact that dialnorm is automatically used unless disabled by mastering tech, but that shouldn't be an issue here, since Sony has indicated that all True HD releases coming from them will have dialnorm turned off.
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#7 of 52 OFFLINE   Shane Martin

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Posted November 18 2007 - 12:55 PM

Quote:
On a third disc? If so, then it's different.
Yes, a 3rd disc.

#8 of 52 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted November 18 2007 - 01:16 PM

Ugh, sucks that WM got a different version. I'm morally opposed to shopping there. Okay, and the fact that there isn't one within 20 miles [and in Los Angeles traffic that can be 45 minutes to an hour and a half in traffic!] plays a part... Posted Image

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#9 of 52 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted November 18 2007 - 01:19 PM

I find it rather sad that defensive language is used to describe the presence of grain, as if that's some great evil or flaw. Quite the contrary, any time film grain is preserved, the studio is to be congratulated.

#10 of 52 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted November 18 2007 - 04:19 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher

The Video

The 1080p Blu-ray widescreen transfer is extremely sharp, vivid and stable. Yes, there is some grain, which is fairly noticeable in some scenes and barely visible in others. As I understand it, the grain is there by design, as Spielberg is said to believe that some grain is desirable.


I find this statement interesting, because when I first became interested in filmmaking and Spielberg in particular (this was around 77) I read several interviews where specifically stated that he didn't like to see grain on the screen. He must have changed his mind somewhere along the way.

Having said that I have just had the chance to watch the blu-ray of Close Encounters and I think the film looks quite natural and not overly grainy at all. A few of the effects shots have more pronounced grain. Particularly the shot where all the people have gathered at the hill top, think they see UFOs coming, and it turns out to be helicopters. This shot has very heavy grain, but only in the area where the lights of the helicopters are, the rest of the shot looks normal.

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#11 of 52 OFFLINE   Jari K

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Posted November 18 2007 - 10:21 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Carlo Medina
Ugh, sucks that WM got a different version.

What is WM? It has exclusive Blu-ray-version with ST CD?

#12 of 52 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted November 19 2007 - 02:10 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jari K
What is WM? It has exclusive Blu-ray-version with ST CD?
Jari, WM = W*lm*rt. (I can't remember if there's rules about posting an exact name, might only be for pre-sales, but better safe than sorry).

And apparently, according to what Shane experienced, yes.

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#13 of 52 OFFLINE   BrettB

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Posted November 19 2007 - 04:02 AM

Thanks for the review.

Everything about this set is first class. Props to everyone involved in the release. I watched the Theatrical version and got more emotional than I can ever recall on previous viewings. Perhaps the top-notch AV at work. Posted Image

#14 of 52 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 19 2007 - 03:08 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertR
I find it rather sad that defensive language is used to describe the presence of grain, as if that's some great evil or flaw. Quite the contrary, any time film grain is preserved, the studio is to be congratulated.

Just to clarify, I wasn't complaining about the grain. However, I've seen it mentioned in other threads, at times by people who don't like it, so I felt that it was important to point out that there is some grain.
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#15 of 52 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 19 2007 - 03:14 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Douglas Monce
I find this statement interesting, because when I first became interested in filmmaking and Spielberg in particular (this was around 77) I read several interviews where specifically stated that he didn't like to see grain on the screen. He must have changed his mind somewhere along the way.

I recently read this, from an article about the making of the new Indiana Jones movie:

Producer and friend George Lucas tried at length to convince
Spielberg to film the movie digitally but Steven resisted. He joked
that he is the last person in Hollywood still cutting the film
negatives, and that he learned from the greats and they all worked
that way. He says that he has still never used an Avid to edit, and
won't do so until Tintin."

"Steven gushed about how a film frame is alive with movement and film
grain and that digital video is "too perfect." Lucas tried to convince
Steven that they could add the film grain to the digital image, which
Spielberg found totally amusing because doesn't that defeat the whole
purpose? And wouldn't it just be easier to shoot the whole thing on
film?"

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#16 of 52 OFFLINE   JamesTLewis

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Posted November 20 2007 - 10:45 AM

This, along with Blade Runner is why I am going for Blu Ray. I adore CE3K, and cannot wait to see it in HD.
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#17 of 52 OFFLINE   Jordan_E

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Posted November 20 2007 - 12:46 PM

I can't believe it, but CE3K is one of the few movies that still evokes an emotional response from me after all these years. Seeing Roy look back before going up the ramp just gets to me, and John Williams fantastic score at that point is simply perfect.
And you believe, at heart, everyone's a killer...

#18 of 52 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 23 2007 - 09:52 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachael B
I played the Dolby True audio...is it not loseless? It sure was good for an elder film, I thought.

Yes, it's loseless, but it still sounded a tad harsh to me. That's why I'd like to compare it to an LP of the original soundtrack to see if there is any difference.

Not a big deal, though.
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#19 of 52 OFFLINE   Sanjay Gupta

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Posted November 23 2007 - 04:43 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher
When one factors in the ability to see all three versions of the film, and add to that the plethora of bonus materials, this set is bound to be on most lists of the best DVDs of the year.

This DVD might actually convince you that We Are Not Alone!

Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD10A DVD Player

Pardon the off topic post, but I really don't understand the logic behind using the acronym DVD attached to Blu-Ray or instead of 'BD'. Blu-Ray Discs are Blu-Ray discs and DVDs are DVDs, both are technically & legally different products/formats. I could to some extent understand the average person using the term Blu-Ray DVDs out of naivety, but I would think more can be expected from this forum and that too in a 'BD' review thread.
Thanks.

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#20 of 52 OFFLINE   Jefferson Morris

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Posted November 24 2007 - 07:30 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesTLewis
This, along with Blade Runner is why I am going for Blu Ray.
FYI, the upcoming Blade Runner final cut will be available in both high-def formats.

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