The closest Judge Ryan Keefer got in mashed potato building was Evel Knievel's attempt to clear Snake River Canyon, though sadly he never could find enough boxed potato flakes to finish the job.
Our review of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, published June 12th, 2001, is also available.
If you think you've seen it, you haven't.
Wow…30 years since the theatrical release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Many people tend to speculate on what would have happened if Steven Spielberg, hot on the heels of his success with Jaws, was able to release this film ahead of Star Wars, and beat director and friend George Lucas to the punch. Well, such is life I guess. But after a pretty decent release a few years back, this "Ultimate Edition" has now been released to commemorate the anniversary. Howzit look?
Facts of the Case
Spielberg was credited for writing the script (several others, including Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver lore, also contributed) and directing the film which focuses on a couple of storylines. Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows) and his American translator David Laughlin (Bob Balaban, Gosford Park) are scouring the earth and following strange unexplained phenomena. Ancient World War II fighter planes suddenly reappear unscathed, a group of villagers in India discover a series of tones sung by the stars. Very X-Files stuff. Then on a more local level, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Down and Out in Beverly Hills) and his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr, Tootsie) are comfortably living in the Indiana suburbs where Roy works as an electrician. He witnesses a series of lights one night, during an outage he's reporting to, as do a group of others, including Jillian (Melinda Dillon, Magnolia), who loses her son in the midst of the chaos. The unexplained circumstances mean something, but what?
As is the case with a lot of films released before I was really cognizant of them, I lean on some reference books that cover the period, in this case Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. And so what if Lucas did beat Spielberg to the punch and released Star Wars months ahead of Close Encounters? So what if Spielberg told Lucas that George made the crossover sci-fi film, where Spielberg made the esoteric one? So what if Zsigmond and Truffaut were noted to be disappointed with their work in, or clashed with Spielberg during the production? What's important is the path that's taken by all involved to get to Devil's Tower.
Truffaut and Balaban's trip to the mountain is understandable, as to a lesser extent is Dillon's, but it's Dreyfuss' trip that becomes the most interesting. After his brush with the mysterious UFO, he starts to become preoccupied with drawings, creations, and constructions of some mountain, but can never seem to get them right. The dinner table scene, known more for the mashed potato sequence than anything else, contains another more powerful shot: Dreyfuss is crying, because he is clearly plagued by this thing that is outside of his comprehension, and he wants to be rid of it. When Neary confronts Lacombe and Laughlin later, it's less about a man who wants to know the truth and more about why he knows the things he knows, because they are now wreaking havoc with his once comfortable life. With some periodic touches of adult fascination and wonder with what is out there, something that Spielberg certainly is well-versed in doing, he elevated Close Encounters from a film about a guy fascinated with martians into one that captures all of our imaginations, and remains arguably the brightest star in an impressive galaxy of work by the director.
The way the discs are laid out is pretty simple; the first disc has all three versions of the film, the 135 minute theatrical cut, the 137 minute Director's Cut, and a 132 minute Special Edition. There is a feature on the first disc entitled "View From Above," which lets you watch one version while seeing what was added or deleted from the other versions using a color coded system. It's admittedly easy to miss, so that's why there is a poster included in the disc packaging which lists the changes for all of the films, and serves as a handy reference guide. And all of the film's versions have DTS HD and TrueHD sound options to boot. The sound is reproduced well and with a lot of clarity, and I was surprised to get some subwoofer love during some of the ship sequences. If there was something I could put my finger on with the soundtrack, it's that it might not have had as much surround activity as I was expecting, but you're not liable to find any older titles on either Blu-ray or HD DVD that sound as good, or come close. And the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation, regardless of version (they're all encoded with the AVC MPEG-4 love and attention), looks great. You see fine detail in the closeup shots of Dreyfuss and Garr, the sunburn from the satellites is a lot more noticeable, and the background depth has a lot of clarity as well. Vilmos Zsigmond won the Best Cinematography Oscar for a reason, as this is easily one of the best catalog titles I've seen to date on either format.
Before I get to the second disc, let me mention that there's a more tangible extra within the set itself, and that's a sixty page booklet with pictures and interview quotes taken at the time of the production. There's a paragraph of biographical information on the stars in the cast and crew and a host of on-set pictures to pore over. From there, the disc's extras are mainly held over from the two-disc release in 2001, starting with the "Encounters" section that holds three semi-extended looks at the production. First off is "Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters," a new interview recorded for this version of the disc, running a little over twenty minutes long. Spielberg talks about where the film was in his life and what inspired him to make it. He discusses how he got the Devil's Tower location and some other key points in the film, and also talks about the crew, who wasn't interviewed for the piece (they are well represented in subsequent material). It's probably nothing more than a new extra to justify a double dip. The "Watch the Skies" featurette is a five minute on-set look at the film and its then-pending release to theaters, with quick interviews from the cast. The big piece is the feature-length documentary "Making of Close Encounters." The piece includes a ton of participation by Spielberg and includes recent interviews with the surviving cast and crew. Clearly it was done for a 20th or 25th anniversary edition, as Spielberg is on location with the Saving Private Ryan film, as he discusses the early origins and inspiration for the film. He talks about how the film came together, saying that Steve McQueen almost played the Roy Neary role, and other casting decisions for the picture. And members of the crew, like Zsigmond, Effects Supervisor Douglas Turnbull and John Williams discuss their respective components of the film, along with explaining some scenes and some parts of the story. It's a leisurely stroll with a memorable look at the picture. The "Deleted Scenes" section has nine scenes that total about twenty minutes in length. Most are pretty forgettable, except for one where there's a shot of Roy at work before discovering the lights for the first time that kind of drags things down, although another sequence where Laughlin and Lacombe follow one of the planes that was involved in the near miss with the ship is a little bit better. The "Explorations" section holds the nitty and the gritty, with a fairly extensive storyboard to film comparison section for five key scenes in the film, a Blu-ray exclusive. Then there are two storyboard galleries, followed by some pictures of location scouting trips. Drawings of the mothership by Ralph McQuarrie are next, along with a stills gallery section of on-set photos in over a dozen different areas that is quite extensive. The production team has its own dedicated set of stills, and some candid stills of the cast are next. From there, a stills gallery of one sheet posters, theatrical movie posters and lobby cards for the theatrical and special editions round out the section. Trailers for each edition of the film complete the second disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The release of Close Encounters was certainly eventful to say the least. Please to allow for a little bit of an explained timeframe: early in 2007, Universal was loudly hyping the pending release of Spielberg films like Jaws and Jurassic Park to HD DVD as the first Spielberg films coming to the next generation video formats. The Spielberg camp said essentially, "Wait. What?," and spoke to Universal behind the scenes for a second, which prompted Universal to issue a mea culpa on the whole matter. Whether to spite Universal or not remains to be seen, but several months later, the announcement of Close Encounters was made as a Blu-ray exclusive title through Sony. So yeah, all of this is pretty childish and immature, but in the war between Blu-ray and HD DVD, childish and immature has been the norm, rather than the exception. Hopefully future shenanigans will diminish and one definitive format can be adopted for universal acceptance.
For good reason, Close Encounters of the Third Kind has captured and held our imaginations, and remains one of the best works of a talented director. The supplemental material is extensive, with a lack of a Spielberg commentary aside, and the technical qualities of the disc are more than enough reason to pick this up if you've got a Blu-ray player.
The court and Roy Neary are going into the Mothership and not coming out for awhile.
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