Release Date(s)1977-2001 (September 19, 2017)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
- Overall Grade: A
Film Ratings (Original/Special Edition/Director’s Cut): A/B+/A+
Close Encounters is a film I’ll always remember fondly, if for no other reason than because it was one of the first experiences I ever had in a movie theater with a film that concerned itself with – and fully embraced – high concept ideas. I was eleven years old back in the fall of 1977, and I was still coming down off the high of seeing Star Wars that summer. As such, I was hypersensitive to the storytelling possibilities of film – to the power of the cinema to open your eyes to greater possibilities. And growing up in North Dakota in the 1970s, damn near everything had greater potential compared to my decidedly humdrum reality. So I liken my first viewing of CE3K to the kind of experience older audiences had nearly a decade earlier with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – a film I still wouldn’t see for a couple of years yet.
What I love most about Close Encounters is that while director Steven Spielberg was really beginning to show his full talent as a filmmaker, he was still young and brash enough to be unconcerned with the business realities of film. He also wasn’t yet changed by family concerns and age, so he was still open to possibility. As such, I think Close Encounters represents Spielberg during his purist and most brash period of storytelling. The film is utterly uncompromising. Its protagonist, Roy Neary (a terrific early performance by Richard Dreyfuss) sees something he doesn’t understand... something alien... and becomes completely obsessed with trying to understand it, even to the point of giving up his own family to do so. He doesn’t do this for lack of love, he does it because he must. The sheer, raw honestly of that I find very rare and refreshing in a film.
I walked out of the theater thoroughly dazzled back in ‘77, and the first thing I did was to look up at the night sky with my imagination racing. Then a funny thing happened... as I got older, the film got better. A few years later, the Special Edition version came back to theaters and I went again, eager to see new scenes and moments. Better still, I eventually learned that one of the film’s major character was played by François Truffaut, who was himself a filmmaker. So when I got my first job in college, as a projectionist at the University of Wisconsin’s film department, I devoured Truffaut’s work – The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, Day for Night. Soon, I moved on to the work of Kurosawa and Kubrick, Leone and Eisenstein, and so many others. The long and the short of it is, Close Encounters was the film that first opened that door for me to the French New Wave and the wider world of cinema. And like little Barry in CE3K, who opens the door to his home as UFOs surround it, I was only too eager to walk through.
As for the rest of it, you all know what Close Encounters is about by now. If you don’t, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Close Encounters is a great film experience. Every time I see it, it brings me back to the first time I saw it in a theater. And I’m happy to say, Sony’s new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray recaptures the theatrical experience perfectly.
As most of you will already be aware, Close Encounters was shot on 35mm photochemical film (and 65mm for the visual effects). Those original elements have been scanned in full native 4K (2160p), digitally restored, and have been given an HDR color grade (HDR 10). The result is presented here on 4K Ultra HD at the proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. All three versions of the film are included in full 4K (Theatrical, Special Edition, and Director’s Cut) and you can activate the same A View from Above viewing mode that was present on the previous Blu-ray edition, which allows you to see onscreen indicators of the various version differences as you watch.
Right off the bat, the image is pretty impressive here. The first thing that should be noted is that this looks like a vintage film. You’re going to see grain, sometimes light to moderate and sometimes stronger; the film’s grain structure has always varied a bit from scene to scene. You’re also going to see optical softness on the edges of the frame occasionally, and the overall color palette is very much in keeping with Kodak Eastman film stock of the period (5247, I believe), with a slightly muted yet high contrast look. The 70s production design and costumes further add to the film’s warm and vintage look, with plenty of reds, yellows, greens, and brown earth tones. The new 4K scan produces a significant improvement in overall image detail. While watching it, I found my eye drawn to hundreds of tiny little details I’d never really noticed before: The now-readable notes on the dash of Roy’s truck, the text of various newspaper clippings, the old Grumman logos on the sides of the vintage “Flight 19” aircraft, the texture of various surfaces, the fine lines of maps, and the like. What’s more, the added contrast of the HDR provides the image with true, deep blacks, yet brings out surprising shadow detail I wouldn’t have expected in the neg. And the brightest areas of the image are truly bright now, yet still hold a bit of detail. That brightness really dazzles when the various alien craft show up throughout the film. When Roy’s truck is blasted with light from above, the HDR makes the scene so much more intense. And the color that’s there is incredibly vibrant – the deep red of Roy’s shirt, the yellow paint of his truck, all the incredible colors in the Mothership. This is not a reference presentation is the sense that it can compare to a 4K title like The Revenant, but it’s an extraordinary presentation of this film. I can’t image it ever looking better than it does here, and the experience of watching this disc is incredibly cinematic, in a lovely, vintage 1970s way.
The 4K presentation offers audio in the same lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that was included on the 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (see my review here). The mix is smooth and enveloping, with subtle and nuanced staging and placement. The dynamic range is impressive too, with thunderous LFE support when the visuals call for it. The rumble of energy when Roy has his first encounter out on a dark country road is just as intense as you’d expect, and the blast of the Mothership’s “light and sound” signals at the end of the film is deep and eerily disturbing – just as it should be. I suppose a new object-based audio mix could have added something to the surround experience here, but I’m not sure how much. Additional audio mixes are available in French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as Portuguese Dolby 2.0 Surround. Optional subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, Romanian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish. [Note that Lacombe’s subtitles are now player-generated – they’re not burned into the film image itself, like the location titles are.]
In terms of extras, Sony’s 4K disc is movie-only, but the set also includes all three films on Blu-ray (Region ABC – again with A View from Above) and a second Blu-ray Disc with bonus features. First a note about the Blu-ray version of the films: This is definitely a new 1080p encode using the same 4K scan that produced the UHD presentation. The original Blu-ray had a bit of edge enhancement baked into it, and that’s now gone. It also had notably more coarse grain, so it appears that there’s been just a bit of grain reduction this time around (it’s still there, it’s just more tightly controlled – not quite as noisy-looking as before). This image has improved contrast too and the color grading is a bit different than it was before; it’s a bit more natural now, more like the 4K presentation. I quite like it, but your own mileage may vary. Few people are likely buying the 4K Ultra HD version for the regular Blu-ray presentation, but before you get rid of your 30th Anniversary Edition BD, you may wish to compare them yourself. I’m keeping them both, because why the hell not?
The special features Blu-ray in this package offers two new extras produced specifically for this edition:
- Three Kinds of Close Encounters featurette (HD – 22:02)
- Steven’s Home Movies & Outtakes featurette (HD – 5:25)
The former includes new interviews with Spielberg, as well as directors J.J. Abrams and Denis Villeneuve, as they all separately look back at the film. The latter is a look at Super 8 material shot by Spielberg himself on the set during the making of the film, as well as a bit of outtake footage. It’s pretty cute. The disc also carries over all of the previous BD special features, including Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent documentary. The complete list of legacy extras is as follows:
- The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind documentary (SD – 101:41)
- Watch the Skies vintage 1977 featurette (HD – 5:54)
- Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters featurette (HD – 21:21)
- Deleted Scenes (9 scenes – SD – 18:23 in all)
- Storyboard to Film Comparisons (5 comparisons – HD – 22:10 in all)
- Extensive Photo Gallery (many individual galleries, all in HD)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD – 6:01)
- Special Edition Trailer (HD – 1:57)
Sony’s regular 4K Ultra HD edition contains the 4K disc, the two BD discs, and a Digital Copy code via paper insert, all in standard keepcase packaging. Their Gift Set version includes all this, along with a collectible softcover photo essay book (a different one than was included with the 30th Anniversary Edition BD).
All of this is enclosed in a 2-piece slipcase with a lenticular hologram of the aliens emerging from the Mothership on front. If you push a little button on the side of the box, the hologram actually lights up and you hear the infamous “five tones” from the film as well as the Mothership’s response. It’s a nice touch. You can see the Gift Set packaging to the left and also opened below.
For my money, Close Encounters remains Steven Spielberg’s most interesting and personal work. It’s certainly my favorite of his many films. As such, it’s incredibly satisfying to see it presented in such high quality on Ultra HD, and to see all of the previous extras carried over too. The previous Blu-ray edition was worth every penny. Even so, if you’re a serious fan of this film, the new 4K Ultra HD is well worth the upgrade. The added detail and HDR makes an already wondrous film just that much more immediate and intense. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt