One of the two films released in 1977 that ushered in the age of effects films ("Star Wars", being the other), Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters Of The 3rd Kind" also seems to be one of the few films where aliens are not trying to either blow us up or take over Earth (or, as I almost forgot, part of a government conspiracy). Only a few films have been somewhat similar in the years since - James Cameron's "The Abyss", or Robert Zemeckis' "Contact".
Richard Dreyfuss stars as Roy Neary, an average working man who lives in Indiana with wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) and his children. There's nothing particularly wrong with his life, but there's really nothing going on, either. One night, he's visited by aliens as he's driving in his truck to investigate a power failure. He grabs his family to show them - "it's better than goofy golf!" he shouts, in one of the movie's best lines. But, they've already left - still, he begins to find himself obsessed with the visitors.
Roy begins to have visions of a mountain, but he doesn't know the details. His family thinks he's nuts, but there's people elsewhere who share his vision. Elsewhere, a mother has just seen her child kidnapped by the alilens. Of course, the scientists are aware, and launch plans to clear out the area where the encounters are happening. It all leads up to the third act, where the aliens and the group of characters have their big meeting where the intentions of the aliens are revealed. It's not about "bad guys" or "villians" really, but Spielberg is a master at tension, and scenes like the abduction of the child are terrifying. The only scenes that really didn't work for me is the drama between Garr and Dreyfuss when she begins to get fed up with his "visions".
It's an excellent film overall though, with terrific performances from the leads, especially Dreyfuss, who is in top form here. Spielberg both wrote and directed the film, and excells in both parts - unlike many bigger effects pictures, the dialogue is intelligent and well-written.
The film still stands up well, if not completely, to today's films. Some of the special effects are wonderfully done, including one with clouds that was similar to an effect "Independence Day" used year later. Browsing the crew list, you can see the Spielberg had quite a few talented artists who had already went on to show talents in future films, or had already gained a reputation. Hoyt Yeatman was a "project assistant" on the film, but has gone on to be one of the top visual effects supervisors in film today ("Armageddon", "Mighty Joe Young"). Famed cinematographers László Kovács("My Best Friends Wedding"), John Alonzo ("Star Trek: Generations") and Allen Daviau (who later went on to become Spielberg's cinematographer for films like "E.T.") provided additional photography, while main cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond won an Oscar for best cinematography.
While there seems to be a few versions of the film out there, the version of the film included on this DVD release is the 137 minute one.
VIDEO: "Close Encounters" is presented in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio - although the image quality of the film wasn't jaw-dropping, it was still very good and often, better than I'd expected from a film of its age. Sharpness and detail usually appeared satisfying if not excellent; a couple of dimly lit night scenes in particular seemed a little bit murky.
The film has obviously been cared for and kept in fine condition over the years. A couple of minor print flaws appeared in the form of a speckle or two, but there certainly wasn't anything more than that. There's some minor grain at times throughout the movie, but the film has always displayed some grain, so that wasn't really much of a concern.
Colors were generally natural, not showing any particularly bold colors or a very wide variety. Still, colors appeared accurate and well-rendered, with no flaws or problems that I noticed. This is a great, but not quite fantastic transfer from Tristar. Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai.
SOUND: "Close Encounters" is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 for this release. It's not normal for a Tristar title to be presented in DTS audio, but as Spielberg is apparently part owner in DTS (one of his best decisions, in my opinion), this title probably would not have been released if the studio hadn't included DTS (see also Tristar's "Men In Black").
Audio quality was a mixed bag. Dialogue seemed a bit thin at times, but never became shrill or uncomfortable to listen to. Some of the sound effects displayed similar concerns, but was less problematic overall than the dialogue. Suprisingly, there is some fairly strong low bass apparent in some of the most intense scenes of the picture. The DTS presentation generally didn't present too many differences in comparison to the Dolby version, but the "thin" nature of some of the film's sound seemed slightly less so on the DTS version.
There was some surround activity throughout the picture, especially during the "action" sequences, but the film as a whole wasn't heavily agressive - most of the audio came from the front speakers. The DTS version wasn't enormously better than the Dolby version, but it still presented some improvements that helped to make the experience more enjoyable.
MENUS:: The main menus are both animated, with the score in the background as well as clips of various scenes from the movie. As for the packaging, it's sort of a variation on the packaging we saw for the "Fight Club" DVD - the case slips out of a nicely decorated cardboard holder. Open it up and you see production notes. Lift up the notes, and you'll find both discs. It works for me - I'm happy as long as nobody uses the same method as Warner Brothers used for the Oliver Stone two-disc editions - offering the second disc in a little, flimsy paper envelope.
EXTRAS: Although director Spielberg still hasn't provided a commentary track (although possibly this time he wasn't able to do it due to work on his upcoming film "A.I."), there still are some great features on the second disc of this set.
Documentary: This is a 102 minute ("feature-length", I'd say) documentary that combines both images from behind-the-scenes during the 1977 production, interviews, clips from the other movie, and other elements to provide a very in-depth look at the making of the film. Spielberg, for example, is interviewed on the set of "Saving Private Ryan", providing his thoughts not only on the true story that inspired him, but details on the production and thoughts on the film in general.
Spielberg does most of the talking, and as I saw for the "Directors" DVD that highlighted his work over the years, he's an intelligent, warm and engaging speaker and he's able to recall a great deal of the history behind the production as well as some stories from the set. Dreyfuss and a great deal of the other actors also contribute their thoughts. Dreyfuss is both funny and informative, but the other actors have a great deal to discuss, as well. An entire section of the documentary is devoted to production stories - some of which are quite amazing. It's an excellent documentary - both entertaining and insightful - it stands out as one of the better features of its kind that I've reviewed in recent memory.
Deleted Scenes: 11 deleted scenes are included. I would have liked to have heard more about why these scenes were deleted from the picture, but I can only guess that it's simply for reasons of running time. Some of the scenes are less than interesting, but a couple are quite fascinating, including a scene inside the spaceship - called..."In The Spaceship".
Trailers: Trailers for "Close Encounters" and "Close Encounters: Special Edition".
Also: Production notes (on the nifty fold-out box), filmographies and short "Watch The Skies" featurette.
Final Thoughts: "Close Encounters" is an excellent film and easily one of Spielberg's best efforts. Tristar's DVD doesn't break the chain of discs without a commentary from Spielberg himself, but it does provide very good audio/video quality and high quality extra features. Highly recommended.