To this day, I’m always kind of shocked by the scenes filmed in India in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, mostly because they are so different than anything else in the movie. When we think about Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters, the first image that jumps into our heads is probably one of Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary trying to make a scale model of Devil’s Tower out of his mashed potatoes. But with the release of the new 40th anniversary 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, for me, that’s changed – because, now, watching in 4K, those scenes in India pop off the screen to the point I audibly said out loud, “Oh my.” One scene in particular, of Lacombe (we don’t talk enough about the fact that François Truffaut is in this movie) and Laughlin (we don’t talk enough about the fact that François Truffaut and Bob Balaban basically made a buddy movie together) in the foreground, and hundreds of Indian extras in the background just comes alive in a way that almost tricked me into believing I was there. Every single detail of everyone on screen looks impeccable. This is why I invested in 4K.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago, that I went back to buying physical media for a whole host of reasons: two reasons being that there’s more selection and, strangely, the price of a Blu-ray has gotten pretty inexpensive – often being less expensive than buying its streaming counterpart. But, mostly, it’s quality. Streaming can look pretty great, but nothing can top the look of physical media, if that’s something that a person cares about. And there’s something fun about it again. Watching a new 4K disc like Close Encounters of the Third Kind feels like an event because there are so few older movies available in the format yet and the whole things feels niche. It’s kind of reminiscent of the way LaserDiscs used to be. I don’t get to be a snob about a lot of things, but I do like being a snob about what my movies look like when I watch them at home. I see now why people enjoy being snobby about things. It’s fun to feel superior about one specific thing that no one else really cares that much about, while also alienating friends and family. I can’t recommend it enough.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a movie that’s known in “the industry” as “a good movie,” and one you’ve most likely scene quite a few times so rehashing the plot seems like a waste of time. Though, this is one of those films that can get confusing because there are quite a few versions floating around. (If it weren’t for Blade Runner, Close Encounters would probably be the punchline of a few more jokes in this regard.) This new 40th anniversary set comes with three versions: “The Theatrical Cut,” “The Special Edition” (a.k.a.: the one in which you get to see the inside of the mother ship), and “The Director’s Cut” from 1998. I chose to watch The Director’s Cut because this seems to be the established “true” version of the film these days, but this can always change in the future. (And don’t always be fooled by the Director’s Cut being the best cut: Alien is a prime example of the Theatrical Cut being far superior.) I just can’t get over how beautiful the whole movie looks. And with the picture so clear, for the first time I really noticed how young everyone looks. At one point Roy mentions he was born in 1944, when in reality Richard Dreyfuss was born in 1947 – so he’s actually playing older here and in the crisp 4K, he starts too look like someone who is 29. And the same goes for Melinda Dillon and Teri Garr (and we really don’t talk near enough about what we lost when Teri Garr, who is battling MS, had to take a step back from public life; she is deeply missed).
The packaging is neat, but is maybe there to distract us from the low amount of new bonus features. On the box, there’s a button and when it’s pressed, the packaging lights up and plays the famous Close Encounters theme.
Okay, I love this, it plays the song. pic.twitter.com/6Zt5NvHNbz
— Mike Ryan (@mikeryan) September 16, 2017
It’s actually pretty nifty. But, yes, the bonus features are a little lacking. To be fair, the documentary about the film that was made for the 30th anniversary (which is still included) is pretty good and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to make another one. There is an updated feature that includes a new interview with Spielberg, as well as J.J. Abrams and Denis Villeneuve explaining why Close Encounters of the Third Kind is so meaningful to both of them. There are no Earth-shattering revelations (Abrams does not reveal that he, too, was once abducted by aliens and that’s why he felt compelled to make Super 8), but it’s nice enough and at least there’s something new. Also new is something called “Steven Spielberg’s Home Movies,” which consists of Spielberg’s own personal video diary from the making of the film. This is pretty good! And there’s no narration, just the raw video and a few cues to let the viewer know who these people are, and it plays out as its own little narrative. The only problem is that, clocking in at just barely over five minutes, it’s very short.
But, again, the main attraction is Close Encounters of the Third Kind looking better than it ever has before and this is yet another big swing for the faction out there trying to keep physical media alive. And if you’re on the fence about investing in a 4K television, this new Close Encounters is the kind of release that should finally help you make up your mind.
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