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Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 26, 2007
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition

Once upon a time--1977 to be precise--there was a movie called Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Then, a couple of years later, there was Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition, which featured the inclusion of scenes deleted from the initial release and some all-new footage (most notably, a steamer,vanished in 1925, that fetches up in the Gobi desert, and a glimpse of the interior of the vast Mother Ship), as well as some trims to make way for the new material.

And, in 2001, to celebrate the film's initial release on DVD, there was the two-disc Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Collector's Edition, followed by the 2002 version of the same thing in wide-screen presentation; that edition is retitled here as The Director's Cut, which is appropriate because Spielberg took the opportunity to drop a little bit here and there (no more Mother Ship interior) and restore some stuff taken out of the Special Edition, in order to make the movie just the way he liked it.

Now, at the tag end of 2007, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition arrives. Is it yet another re-cut?

Breathe easy, fanboys, and don't succumb to palpitations at the very thought of it. The Ultimate Edition does not bring anything new into the mix; rather, it packages up all three of the existing editions into one box set, with the original version, the Special Edition, and the Collectors' Edition each getting a disc of their own.

This is great for the film scholar or the serious CE3K connoisseur who gets a kick from feverishly comparing the different versions on a frame-by-frame basis. Everyone else will probably just want to watch one of the three versions.

All three versions are digitally remastered so that the picture and the colors are clear and bright; too much so sometimes: in 1977, of course, CGI was not part of film-making's active vocabulary, and practical effects like models, blue screen and matte effects, and, in the case of this film, early use of computers to allow the camera to move around while capturing one part of the picture and then re-set and follow the exact same movements in order to capture some other part of the final image. The result is that the special effects still look pretty good, but there are shots where you can see the seams.

For most folks, it boils down to a question of whether or not you liked seeing Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) have a gander around the inside of the alien Mother Ship. If you can't live with the versions that don't follow Neary in, then stick with the Special Edition; if you don't care about that scene, or, like Spielberg, feel it's one toe over the line, then you're probably best served by the Collector's Edition. You can buy all three in the Ultimate Edition and just watch the one DVD, or you can go find the earlier DVD release, which includes intriguing deleted scenes not found on the Special Features here.

Really, all they do have for Special Features on this release are documentaies about the making of the film in its every aspect. There's a doc from 1977; one from 1997; and a new interview with Speilberg exclusive to this box set.

The docs are actually pretty entertaining. The longest, a "Making Of," is nearly feature-length in itself, and is split into three parts, with some material appearing on each disc. You hear some great stories about how Spielberg got his reaction shots from a young Carey Guffey (on film the kid looks scared, or wildly excited; Spielberg relied on tricks like dressing up crew like clowns and gorillas to stand off-camera, or else the director would unwrap presents for the kid while the camera caught his happy look and, in one case, exclamation of, "Toys!"), and you hear all about the challenges to making the movie (looking for more alien-looking aliens, Spielberg tried dressing up an orang-utan in alien gear and putting the animal on roller skates: this didn't work out so well). It's well worth getting all three discs out of the box and into the player just to see the whole program.

The other docs are useful in their own respects. "watch the Skies," the 1977 featurette, is a breathless piece of Hollywood product; the "30 Years of Close Encounters" interview with Spielberg rehashes some points made int he "Making Of" doc, but it's fascinating to hear Spielberg look back on the project with a coldly assessing eye.

The box set also comes with a movie poster, handily including details on the back about what scenes are added and dropped from the various versions. There's a booklet, too, stuffed with vintage photos and quotes from the cast and crew.

Will you get your money's worth from this three-disc extravaganza? Well, it's a complete history of the film's permutations over the years, and it looks and sounds great; the special features, though, feel incomplete and a bit repetitious, and while the detailed "Making of" documentary is engaging, it probably belongs as a single piece on a separate disc, perhaps with the deleted scenes that added so much to the Collector's Edition. Completists will find it a good value, while those who are happy to stick with only one version may wish to pick it up secondhand.

- Three part "The Making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind" documentary
- Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters
- "Watch the Skies" vintage documentary
- Theatrical trailers
- 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition Trailer

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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