Updated: Sep 5, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Three-year-old Barry (Cary Guffey) opens the front door and brilliant orange light from the alien craft penetrates the house.
"CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital HD copy; 1977; PG for profanity and mild thematic elements; streaming via Amazon Video, Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: New featurette "Three Kinds of Close Encounters"
FIVE MUSICAL notes were all Steven Spielberg needed to say "hello" in his 1977 masterpiece, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
For weeks, the director and composer John Williams ("Jaws," "Star Wars") struggled with hundreds of combinations to find the perfect language aliens and humans could use to communicate with. "I told Steven I could do it with seven or eight notes," says Williams in an archived documentary on the enclosed Blu-ray. But Spielberg wanted fewer notes. Eventually, they hit upon the trademark signal. "The score is not only a perfect dance within the storytelling, it's more. It's a language," says director Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival," "Blade Runner 2049"), one of Spielberg's biggest fans in the new featurette, "Three Kinds of Close Encounters."
Spielberg was shocked that Williams, who had just composed the score for "Star Wars," still had something in his "reserve tanks" for "Close Encounters." When Williams began conducting during the first day of recording, Spielberg started to weep. "I cried because it was right for the film, and it was right for the moments," he says.
This enchanting sci-fi classic found its genesis in Spielberg's childhood, when a trip with his father to see a meteor shower took the youngster to a world beyond Earth. Richard Dreyfuss, who won the part over Spielberg's preference for Steve McQueen, plays childlike everyman Roy Neary, driven to insane extremes to unravel the mystery he finds soaring through the sky.
Director J.J. Abrams ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens") recalls his first encounter with the film. He was 10-years-old and on vacation with his parents in Palm Springs. "It was a mind-blowing year to get the one-two punch of "Star Wars" and then "Close Encounters."
Spielberg never intended it to be a sci-fi film. "I really believed there was something up there. And I still believe we're not alone in the universe. I believe it," he says. He credits the success of "Jaws" as his ticket to getting "Close Encounters," his passion project, made. "Without 'Jaws,' nobody would have given me the budget."
"Close Encounters" was the first collaboration between Spielberg and editor Michael Kahn, who received an Oscar nomination for the film. He would go on to win three Oscars for Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan."
There are there different versions of "Close Encounters" in Sony Picture's package: the original Theatrical cut, which Spielberg rushed and was never satisfied with. It was first released in two exclusive theaters in New York City and Los Angeles before going nationwide. Three years later, he convinced Columbia to let him reedit. "The Special Edition" (1980) got the scenes he wanted except for one; the studio demanded to see Dreyfuss inside the alien spacecraft. He also added an iconic Disney melody to Williams' score. Finally, the 20th Anniversary Spielberg allowed him his ultimate "Director's Cut" (1998) eliminating Dreyfuss in the spacecraft, and making a few final tweaks.
Sony provides the "View from Above" option with in-movie pop-up graphics and factoids that highlight the differences in the three versions while watching any version selected.
From the opening frames, we know we're in for an extraordinary 4K viewing experience. Sharpness and clarity are fully cinematic as a group of scientists led by Claude Lacombe, played by French director Françios Truffant, arrive at a Mexican outpost in the Sonoran Desert. There they discover a squadron of Navy WWII planes that had gone missing off the coast of Florida in 1945. "It opens like an opera," Villeneuve says. "The curtain opens and the sandstorm creates cinematic tension." Spielberg and Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond put us right into the action using remarkable wide-angle photography.
The original 35mm camera negative (2.40:1 aspect ratio) was scanned in 4K and mastered in the higher resolution, extracting the finest detail missing from previous editions. Film grain is precise and natural and most evident on the 4K, providing an incredible level of sharpness. It's simple math: There's over 6.2 million more pixels with each frame. The smallest of details are now visible: zippers on jackets, the grill pattern on an approaching vehicle, imperfect teeth, and moles on actor's faces. The crowds running along a hillside in India become a rush of individuals through the panoramic view of Zsigmond's camera. The scene is reminiscent of David Lean's epic "Lawrence of Arabia," which Spielberg re-watches before every film project. The composite special effects photography from Devil's Tower is slightly softer and more grainy - the result of sandwiching two images together in old-school filmmaking.
Surprisingly, the HDR toning gives the 4K imagery an overall brighter appearance resulting in a snappier pop from shadows to highlights. The color gamut is also richer in 4K – especially when three-year-old Barry (Cary Guffey) opens the front door and brilliant orange light from the alien craft penetrates the house.
The 4K and Blu-ray both are each encoded with an excellent DTS-HD eight-channel soundtrack, pushing the dialogue front and center, and delivering thundering bass during Roy's first encounter at the railroad crossing. Special Achievement Oscar sound effects bounce from speaker to speaker. Williams' astonishing score fills every inch of the room. Still, as good as it is, it's surprising there's no DTS:X or Dolby Atmos soundtrack for height speakers.
A second Blu-ray disc houses three-hours of extras including three featurettes, Spielberg's home videos made during the production, and a nearly two-hour standard-def making-of documentary produced in 1997.
"This film, in many ways, uplifted all of us and made us all feel that we were telling the story of all of our collective dreams," Spielberg says.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
40th Anniversary Edition Trailer