Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 40th Anniversary Edition

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 22, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 40th Anniversary Edition

Steven Speilberg's seminal sci-fi classic "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" almost rivals "Blade Runner" for the number of different versions that exist. The original theatrical version from 1977 was such a success that Spielberg was granted the extra money he lacked the first time around to add a few extras and create the Special Edition, which was released in 1980. However, Columbia Pictures had a caveat: Studio bosses wanted Spielberg to take the audience into the huge alien mother ship, a realm Spielberg felt should be more properly left to the viewers' imaginations. Thus, in 1997, when Spielberg created his Director's Cut edition, he left in the tweaks and additional scenes he'd created for the Special Edition but took out the scene set in the ship's interior.

A quick plot synopsis for those who somehow have never seen the film: Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrical worker who lives with his family in Gary, Indiana, is a regular guy until the night he witnesses UFO activity. Suddenly possessed by a vision he can't quite bring into focus, Neary obsessively sculpts a shape over and over again in anything he can get hold of: Clay, mud, mashed potatoes. On the verge of losing his family, Neary presses on and joins forces with a single mother named Jillian (Melinda Dillard) whose young son has been taken by aliens (in one of the most chilling and suspenseful alien abduction sequences ever created).

Meantime, Claude Lacombe, a French UFO researcher (played by legendary director Francois Truffaut) tracks the mysterious reappearances of a fleet of World War II-era fighter planes and a seafaring cargo vessel, both appearing -- perfectly intact -- in remote deserts. Lacombe and his interpreter (Bob Balaban) clash with government officials as they continue their work, investigating sightings and strange radio signals and finally realizing that aliens have issued an invitation for the people of Earth to meet them in a historic first contact at an enigmatic rock formation in Wyoming -- a place called Devil's Tower, where Neary and Jillian, too, are bound.

All three versions of the movie were released in a single box set for the film's 30th Anniversary. Now, a decade later, all three versions are available once more in a fresh new Blu-ray release, the 40th Anniversary Edition, which puts the three different versions onto a single Blu-ray disc while the extras are given a second disc of their own. The transfer preserves the film's striking effects work (though the seams are sometimes visible) and vibrant color palette. The movie has always been thrilling, but it's a wonder to behold in this hi-def home edition. (For even better resolution, a 4K Ultra edition is also available.)

Fans who added the 2007 box set to their DVD collections will find that edition's special features ported over here -- including the feature-length "Making Of" featurette from the 20th Anniversary home release. There's not a lot left to scrape from the barrel for the 40th Anniversary edition, but what new stuff there is turns out to be worth inclusion: A five and a half minute featurette titled "Steven's Home Movies & Outtakes" documents the movie's creation behind the scenes, and a newly produced 20-minute featurette combines interviews with Spielberg, JJ Abrams (who has made a name for himself with the "Mission Impossible" and rebooted "Star Trek" movies, as well as having directed "Star Wars - The Force Awakens"), and Denis Villeneuve (director of "Arrival" and the upping "Blade Runner 2049"). Abrams and Villeneuve give "Close Encounters" major credit for influencing their careers and work; the admiration flows both ways, with Spielberg opining that Villeneuve's "Arrival" is the only worthy successor to "Close Encounters."

Other extras include Spielberg's interview from the 30th Anniversary edition, deleted scenes, storyboards (compared with the scenes as shot), a photo gallery, trailers, and the quaint, documentary-isn "Watch the Skies" promotional featurette from the original version's 1977 marketing campaign.

Should you rush right out and buy this edition? Yes! Even if you already have the previous DVD box set of all three versions? Are you kidding? Absolutely! Of Spielberg's many fine films, "Close Encounters" is the jewel in his crown, and an American classic not only of the genre but of dramatic filmmaking. even in an age of streaming video and cloud storage of your favorite entertainment, some films still deserve a physical presence on your shelf, in the best possible edition. This is one such film, and this is the edition to own.

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 40th Anniversary Edition"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.