- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2017

In a sci-fi cinema history overloaded with dangerous aliens bent on taking over or destroying earth, it was a pleasant respite when in the late 1970s and early 1980s Steven Spielberg delivered a pair of friendly extraterrestrial films.

A good reason now arrives for families to jump aboard the 4K bandwagon through the celebration of one of those classics with the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 40th Anniversary Edition (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, rated PG, 137 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $30.99), to the ultra high-definition format.

The story offers a mysterious extraterrestrial race using odd and slightly scary methods to contact earthlings to set up an epic face-to-face meeting in the remote location of Wyoming’s Devils Tower.

After a group of UFO researchers investigate aircraft that have suddenly appeared in a desert, they tie together other odd phenomena happening around the world and realize beings are starting a dialogue, and contact is imminent.

Humans do suffer in the process as the aliens prepare and emerge. Especially affected is electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) who while trying to bring his odd visions of a close encounter to artistic life, threatens the harmony of his family.

Also, a young child named Barry (Cary Guffey) is taken by the aliens with a frantic mother (Melinda Dillon) going on a journey to get him back.

What ensues is plenty of government intrigue to hide the aliens’ arrival, hints about the visitors’ ultimate intent and an epic final meeting with the extraterrestrials as they attempt to communicate using visual and those legendary five, musical cues.

Beside the above-mentioned cast, viewers will enjoy fantastic performances from François Truffaut as French scientist Claude Lacombe, Bob Balaban as Lacombe ‘s assistant David Laughlin (a cartographer turned interpreter), Teri Garr as Roy’s frantic wife and that wonderful score from John Williams (equally a co-star).

The entire creative package from Mr. Spielberg’s makes “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” a truly fun and wonderfully uplifting film for the entire family.

Best extras: On both the 4K and Blu-ray discs, owners get three versions of the film — the original theatrical release (1978), the Special Edition (from 1980, containing scenes inside the alien ship) and the Director’s Cut (from 1998).

A welcomed, optional interactive called “View From Above” will actually point out the difference in the cuts through onscreen icon references (and an occasional description) for amateur cinema historians in the family.

I focused on the Director’s Cut because, as Mr. Spielberg explains in the extras, it is his final vision for the film and does not include the spaceship interior scenes. He felt those moments should have been left to a viewer’s imagination.

Brand new to extras (on a separate Blu-ray disc) is the 22-minute-long “Three Kinds of Close Encounters” featurette. It offers current interviews with Mr. Spielberg (he has still not seen a UFO but believes in life on other planets); “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” director J.J. Abrams (who considers the film still grounded and dramatic); and “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” director Denis Villeneuve (who loved the film as a 12-year-old and believes civilizations linked by art is a powerful idea).

Also new are 5-minutes of rare home videos from Mr. Spielberg as he interviews staff members with Joe Alves, Michael Kahn editor, and shows off some of the kitchen scene practical effects.

Archival material from previously releases includes an in-depth interview with Mr. Spielberg recorded during the 30th year anniversary of the film as he call his masterpiece “science-speculation,” and explains the genesis of the Special Edition.

Perhaps best of the bunch is the return of the 102-minute long ultimate documentary about “Close Encounters” from filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau that was originally included on the 1997 laserdisc release of the movie.

The standard definition release comes loaded with vintage interviews including Mr. Spielberg, an endlessly amusing Mr. Dreyfus (who talked the director through the film story while shooting “Jaws”), Mr. Balabon (who had to learn to speak French very quickly), a grown up Mr. Guffey, Miss Dillion and Miss Garr.

Priceless memories explained from the director include trying to convince Steve McQueen to play the role of Roy Neary, attempting to a use a costumed orangutan on roller skates as the lead extraterrestrial (it failed) and having crew members dressed in a gorilla and clown costume off camera coaxing a 4-year old Mr. Guffey to elicit specific reactions.

Plenty of Interviews with key production personnel such as John Williams (on creating the right tones), effects maestros Douglas Trumbull and Dennis Muren and legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie round out the infinitely informative documentary.

4K UHD in action: Sony technical artisans went back and digitally scanned as well as computer color corrected all of the original camera negatives for a full restoration of all three cuts of the film now presented in the ultra high-definition format with added high dynamic range, and all under the approval of Mr. Spielberg.

The result is a fairly stunning look at a movie originally shot in 35mm (and 65mm for the special effects) and willing to often embrace its source photography roots.

Specifically, the restored scan often presents the film’s natural grain and occasional soft focus evident in nighttime scenes. For the normal viewer, when compared to modern movies in the age of digital cinema, it may seem quite jarring.

Still, the clarity and color saturation upgrades are very much apparent especially during a scene in the Gobi Desert that looks much sharper and alive with hardly noticeable grain as the scientists examine a massive, sand docked cargo ship, the SS Cotopaxi.

More examples of exquisite clarity include reading the “Trade Wind Bar” calendar from Pensacola Florida in a vintage fighter plane, the dust granules on a Philco radio in Roy’s truck, chipped paint on a screw holding in a floor vent and the sweat beads dripping off of Roy’s brow.

The many spaceships’ array of colors shine especially when Barry and his mother attempt to hide from the aliens in their kitchen and as Barry opens a door and oranges and blues pour into the room.

Of course, the final seen at Devil’s Tower truly highlights the restoration through the rock terrain detail and the arrival of the mother ship with its gunmetal structures as well as lightening that looking like multi-colored solar flares exploding from the screen.

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