Release: 9th October 2017
Format: BR / DGTL
Science fiction adventure about a group of people who attempt to contact alien intelligence. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) witnesses an unidentified flying object, and even has a “sunburn” from its bright lights to prove it. Roy refuses to accept an explanation for what he saw and is prepared to give up his life to pursue the truth about UFOs.
Close Encounter of the Third Kind has never been this critic’s top choice in Spielberg’s canon of work. It may well have all the grandeur and whimsy of a Spielberg joint, but it always felt a little uneven – a glacial depiction of one man’s journey to a mountain in order to find aliens and escape his nagging wife. It will come as no surprise then, that until now, it was only the ‘Special Edition’ that I had seen. The Director’s Cut (featured here along side the aforementioned Special Edition and Theatrical Cut), is a different animal all together.
The evident conclusion from digesting Spielberg’s personal vision of the film is that this is less a straight up science fiction film, or even an out and out conspiracy thriller. It is instead a domestic drama about the turmoil and unease surrounding the disbanding of a family unit. Roy Neary, no matter how you look at it, ultimately abandons his family to pursue other interests. He spends 99% of the film slowly moving away from a wife who seems desperate to form a meaningful domesticity; and abandons his duties as a father on multiple occasions. The tragic undercurrent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is, purposefully or not, a direct continuation of the themes from Jaws (albeit the novelization, not so much the film). Spielberg’s cut of the film appropriately plays out the marital breakdown in such a way as to be genuinely affecting, yet ultimately bittersweet. There is an undeniable resolution to the journey of the Neary family, and like it or not, it is the one that makes most sense. In this version of the film, both parties are the perpetrator and the victim. There are ups, downs and all the uneasy nuances in-between. Then, in the final moments, as Ronnie resignedly nods farewell to a man she once loved, and little Barry says “bye, bye”, not just to the extraterrestrials who briefly visited his world, but also to the father he will potentially never see again; you feel as though your heart might bloody well break beyond repair.
Interwoven in to the theme of divorce is also a timeless sense of distrust between the American people and the government that ‘protects’ them from the truths beyond tolerable consumption. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is dripping with Watergate paranoia, and is no doubt every conspiracy theorist’s blueprint, but is it also a fitting parable for Trump era culture. For a time, America seemed to have a decent relationship with the White House, but since the great orange one has taken his seat at the throne, airs of Nixon are ever present once more.
All three versions of the film are restored here in a crisp 4K transfer, and for a film that has just turned 40; Close Encounters still looks pretty sexy. Colours pop, and that signature lensing really benefits for a good polish. One might argue that skin tones seem a little exaggerated, but this is like a creative choice rather than any form of oversight. In short, this is possibly the best version of the film one will ever need to experience.
So, in short, Close Encounters has remained relevant even after all these years. Stylistically, it is a calling called for Spielberg and carries all of his trademark flourishes. It still might be a way away from my favourites, but the Director’s Cut is easily a huge improvement that is well worth keeping / revisiting in the gorgeous transfer.
Film Grade: B+
There really are a ridiculous abundance of features on offer here. The addition of some interviews with Spielberg, J.J Abrams and Denis Villeneuve add little to the overall package, but it is tremendous. Spielberg’s behind the scenes home movie are pretty fun to watch too.
Special Features Grade: A-
For some, this is definitive Spielberg. For others, not so much. But what you cannot argue is that the film has never looked better, and the special features on offer make this a celebration worth having. Happy 40th Close Encounters!
Overall Grade: B+