Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Collector's Edition

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer - City
Menu Audio
Featurette - The Making Of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Featurette - 1977 Featurette
Deleted Scenes
Cast & Crew Filmographies
Theatrical Trailers (2)
Rating pg.gif (1010 bytes)
Year Released 1977
Running Time 131:38 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper Disc One: RSDL (72:40)
Disc Two: RSDL (66:42 during The Making Of...)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2, 4 Director Steven Spielberg
Columbia.gif (3109 bytes)
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Starring Richard Dreyfuss
François Truffaut
Teri Garr
Melinda Dillon
Bob Balaban
J. Patrick McNamara
Warren J. Kemmerling
Case Dual Transparent Soft Brackley
RPI $36.95 Music John Williams
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
English (DTS 5.1)
English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement Placement: Yes
Annoying: No
Action In or After Credits Yes, the alien mothership is shown departing during most of the credits

Plot Synopsis

    "Dad, after this, can we throw dirt in my window?"

    In the year 1977, one film in particular utterly dominated the box-office and the subsequent merchandising trade. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind was not that film, but it scores a lot of points in my book for being the first of the two to arrive on our beloved format, while the other has the dubious honour of being the most hotly-demanded and most annoyingly delayed release to date. This is to say nothing of the fact that Close Encounters Of The Third Kind features direction by Steven Spielberg, hot off his success with Jaws, and composer John Williams, who is, well, John Williams. Of course, it helps a lot that this film is owned by Columbia Pictures, which ensures the best possible quality in presentation terms to boot.

    The story, inelegant though it may be, revolves around Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), who works as a maintenance man for a power company and lives the general suburban lifestyle in Indiana with a family and a mortgage. However, in this area and many others across the world, some extremely strange events are taking place, with planes that disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle in the late 1940s appearing in Mexico, while Hindus in India have begun singing words they have heard from mysterious objects in the sky. After experiencing what is referred to in one of the featurettes as a close encounter of the first kind, Roy becomes obsessed in a subliminal sort of way with a geological feature in Wyoming called Devil's Tower, making sculptures of it out of clay, potatoes, and even household garbage, while his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) is increasingly convinced that he is coming apart mentally.

    As the town's people attempt to make sense of the flashing lights that are appearing above their homes with increasing regularity, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her three-year-old son, Barry (Cary Guffey) are paid a visit by these unidentified flying objects. Barry is suddenly taken away by forces unknown, leaving a distraught Jillian hungry for answers and unwilling to believe in the answers provided by the authorities. While these authorities try to perform the tasks of keeping the public from going into a panic and getting to the bottom of the unexplained phenomena, they eventually hit upon the idea of concocting a chemical spill in order to clear the area around Devil's Tower. Roy and Jillian, who are both the worse for wear from their UFO experiences, aren't ready to have a bar of the chemical spill story, and attempt to break into the Devil's Tower area.

    The usual recurring themes familiar to many Steven Spielberg films are all present and accounted for here, with the usual portrayal of fathers as being absent or completely flaky, and a rousing score from John Williams that almost becomes a proxy for any story development. What makes this film truly astounding is the fluid realism of its special effects in spite of the limitations that technology posed at the time, not to mention the underlying themes of the story. Indeed, what makes Close Encounters Of The Third Kind so unique amongst films that depict extra-terrestrial life is that there is no violence or antagonism between the species shown at all. Life on other planets may or may not exist, but after this film, you'll almost be wishing that those weird little grey guys would drop around to your home for a cuppa. Keep your eyes peeled for the cameo appearances by Lance Henriksen and Carl Weathers, and imagine how they'd do these effects if they were making the movie today.

Transfer Quality


    The first thing that will strike you about this transfer is the inclusion of the very old Columbia logo, which really does look like it could have been drawn on an old TRS-80, it's that inelegant. This is how I feel about the transfer on this disc - it is quite serviceable and well executed, but it doesn't have the elegance I've become used to seeing in transfers from this distributor. I suspect, however, that most of this can be blamed upon the conditions the film was shot in, and also the manner in which it was processed.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. Words cannot begin to describe the difference it makes to see this film in its proper aspect ratio, and even someone who's only seen parts of the film before on television can tell how much of an improvement this is.

    The transfer itself is very sharp most of the time, but the numerous special effects shots have a tendency to take on an unreal sheen, with some grain being evident into the bargain. This is explained in the making-of featurette as being the result of the special effects sequences having been shot on seventy-millimeter film, composited, and then reduced to thirty-five millimeter before being edited back into the finished film. It is an unavoidable problem with the way the special effects were captured in this film, and thus gives the transfer a few hassles that you don't see in modern special effects extravaganzas. The shadow detail is generally average, in that it is adequate to fully discern what is going on in the night-time sequences, but there are no subtle details on offer. Low level noise is no problem in this transfer.

    The colours in this film are also slightly unnatural during the sequences where UFOs are sighted, thanks in part to the wild lighting scheme these vessels have. The saturation of the colours tends to become somewhat unbalanced during these shots, but otherwise, there are no real problems to speak of. The rest of the colour scheme is so naturally balanced, although tending towards the muted side at times, that it is possible to see where the makeup trying to convey Richard Dreyfuss' partially "sunburned" state disappears in one shot. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but this wasn't possible with any other format I've seen this film in.

    MPEG artefacts are not a problem in this transfer, although there were moments when I thought a touch of posterization was on the verge of breaking out. Given the quality of the source material, I suppose we should be rather grateful that the compression is as transparent as it really appears to be. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of occasional minor telecine wobble, mostly in the opening credits although there was one slightly more distracting example at 127:36, and some truly trivial instances of aliasing that you'd have to be going over the picture with a magnifying glass to be distracted by. Film artefacts pepper this transfer in generally liberal amounts, but most of them were so small that they can be considered acceptable for a film of this age, and one with such problematic special effects shots at that.

    Interestingly, the subtitles that were burned into the picture during the moments where characters speak to one another in French without later being translated still remain. They are quite small and hard to read from a distance unless you have a large rear-projection display unit.

    The movie is spread out over both layers of an RSDL disc, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 12 and 13, at 72:40. This is just after Richard Dreyfuss crawls into the kitchen window, and probably the best place for the brief but slightly noticeable layer change.


    In a somewhat interesting move on Columbia Tristar's part, they have put an additional Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix on the disc rather than simply optimize the 5.1 soundtrack for downconversion into stereo or other such formats.

    There are a total of three soundtracks on this DVD, all of them being different versions of the original English dialogue. Somewhat unusually for a Columbia Tristar disc, there are no foreign dubs of any kind. The first soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, the second is a DTS mix with a bitrate we were unable to measure, and the last soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded mix with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. Given that the bitrate of the DTS soundtrack on the Region 1 version of the disc is the lower-performance 754 kilobits per second, I think it is safe to assume we got the same deal on our version of the disc. I listened to the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, while briefly sampling the surround-encoded soundtrack.

    The dialogue is generally quite clear and easy to understand, although some sequences such as the sandstorm in Mexico will have most listeners straining to follow the conversation. If anything, the dialogue is somewhat recessed during these sequences because that was the way they were intended to sound, and it certainly gives the dialogue a more realistic feel. Occasionally, one or two words were hard to make out, especially from the numerous child actors who make an appearance, but this was a relatively minor problem. There were no discernible problems with audio sync, save for some marginal synchronization between the lights at the air field and the music being played during that infamous sequence.

    The score music in this film is credited to the one and only John Williams. That should be all I need to say about its quality, but for those who have no idea who the man is (yes, all the half-dozen of you out there), the featurette on disc two will explain more. One of the more challenging tasks he was assigned by director Steven Spielberg for this film was to create a five-note musical "phrase" (for want of a better word) which could act as a proxy for words when the humans and the aliens communicate. After several hundred attempts, he called a mathematician friend to work out how many musical phrases were actually possible in one octave using only five notes. The answer was over a hundred thousand, so it is a definite credit to Williams that not only did he pick the right one (eventually), but he also didn't let this task get in the way of the rest of the scoring process.

    The surround channels are utilized during numerous sequences to support the sounds of swirling winds, passing UFOs, passing cars, and of course, that score music. As you'd expect from a film of this age, the sound field lapses into stereo occasionally, generally during the dialogue sequences, but the fidelity of the overall soundtrack remained the same, so I can't really complain there. There are no especially noteworthy instances of surround channel usage like I've been reporting in the past few discs I've looked at, so don't bother looking for them, but the channel separation does make this the best presentation that Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is likely to receive in the home for some time.

    The subwoofer was used to support such sequences as the arrival of the UFOs, and it kept the floor vibrating all through these points of the film. It did strike me as being somewhat conspicuous when it was used, but this is partly to be expected. Overall, the subwoofer was as well-integrated into the overall film as you could reasonably expect with a film of this age.

Audio - Dolby Digital versus DTS

    As the DTS official site says, their amazing sound format was introduced in theatres with Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Jurassic Park, and the usage of multi-channel digital sound hasn't been the same since. Indeed, the emphasis on fidelity and more efficient storage of sound information is quite evident in the DTS soundtrack included with this film. Although we don't know this for certain, I am basing this comparison on the assumption that we, like our fellow enthusiasts in America, got the lower-performance DTS codec on this film.

    The first thing that struck me about the DTS soundtrack is that the surround channels seem to be a little more active in the overall sound field, although only marginally so. The DTS soundtrack is also a great deal louder overall, which will have some viewers turning down their volume a couple of notches to stop their speakers from rattling. Overall, both soundtracks perform equally well, although the DTS soundtrack wins by a nose because subtle effects such as frogs croaking or musical tones have more presence.


Disc One


    The menu features a mood-setting introduction, extensive animation, and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Navigation is very straightforward, as is the overall design of the menu, although the options are somewhat hard to read.

Dolby Digital Trailer - City

    Adding insult to injury is that this trailer is played even when the DTS soundtrack is selected. Not only that, but the DTS trailer included on this disc is the DTS Cinema Experience trailer which is less than suitable for use on DVD due to its rather cobbled-together nature. The DTS Piano Trailer seen on Gladiator would have been much preferred, as would the option to not play this, the most annoying of the Dolby Digital trailers.

Disc Two


    Again, the menu features a mood-setting introduction, extensive animation, and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, although these are not as extensively utilized with this menu. Navigation is very straightforward, as is the overall design of the menu, although the options are once again a little hard to read.

Featurette - The Making Of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

    Presented in Full Frame with footage from the film in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, there is one way I can sum up the quality of this making-of featurette: Laurent Bouzereau wrote, produced, and directed it. Suffice it to say for the time being that everyone of interest who worked on this film is interviewed in this featurette, with Steven Spielberg sharing enough insight to more than make up for the lack of an audio commentary. John Williams and Richard Dreyfuss have particularly interesting things to say about their roles in the film, but by far the most insightful comments are those from Cary Guffey, who was but three and a half years old when he worked on this film. What he has to say about Steven Spielberg's methods of direction make this documentary worth watching by themselves. You'll never look at the filmmaking process the same way again after you've finished watching this featurette.

    Disc Two also makes use of the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 5 and 6 of this documentary, at 66:42. This layer change is placed well, and does not disrupt the documentary at all in spite of the fact that it is noticeable.

Featurette - 1977 Featurette

   This featurette is more the extended theatrical trailer type, clocking in at five minutes and forty-eight seconds. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with somewhat muffled Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. This extra is worth watching for the nostalgia value and the assurance that they did make these extended trailers in the late 1970s, too.

Deleted Scenes

    A collection of eleven deleted scenes is presented under this rather attractively designed sub-menu. In order, they are In The Desert (0:42), Roy At The Power Plant (5:31), Roy Gets Directions (1:13), At The Airport (4:31), At The Police Station (1:44), At The Barbecue (1:52), English Lessons (1:24), On The Roof (0:49), Leaving Town (1:23), At The Gas Station (2:06), and In The Spaceship (2:57). They are all presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and they are not 16x9 Enhanced. The video quality of these deleted scenes serve as a good reminder that, as much as the film itself has aged, it could have come off looking a lot worse. It's also fairly easy to see why these scenes were left on the cutting room floor (the reasons for the excision of some scenes are even explained in the previously mentioned feature-length featurette), although they could have been made more interesting if written a little differently.

Cast & Crew Filmographies

    Filmographies for Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, and Melinda Dillon are presented under this sub-menu. This is the only special feature I have any complaints about, as it would have been nice to have some biographical information, although the featurette does provide a lot of interesting tidbits about these people, and the text is a little hard to read on an eighty-centimeter display.

Theatrical Trailers

    Theatrical trailers for the original and special edition releases of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind are presented under this sub-menu. The original trailer, clocking in at four minutes and forty-one seconds, is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The special edition trailer, which clocks in at one minute and fifty-one seconds, is also presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Neither of them are 16x9 Enhanced.


    As far as I can tell, there are no specific censorship issues with this title. I'd be surprised in the extreme to learn of any country having ordered that footage be excised from this film.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The only other differences I've been able to find between the two versions of this dual-disc set is that the booklet found in the Region 1 version is liable to be lost because of what Widescreen Review describe as "a very poorly designed box", and the inclusion of THX Optimode test signals. While our packaging is not that much better, I see no compelling reason to favour one version over the other.


    Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is a movie that sharply divides fans and critics, with one camp praising the film for giving the audience two hours of entertainment without the need for violence or other such restriction-imposing material, while the other claims it is boring and lacks a protagonist to sympathize with. Myself, I'm in the former camp, although I do recommend leaving a break between viewings in order to prevent the film from becoming too familiar.

    The video transfer is somewhat dated, although quite good considering some of the original filmmaking techniques.

    The audio transfer is surprisingly good considering the age of the film, although one can't help but wonder what a full-bitrate DTS soundtrack would have done for the film.

    The extras can be summed up with one phrase: quality, not quantity. The package is worth five stars in spite of there being no commentary track.

Ratings (out of 5)

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 © Dean McIntosh (my bio... read it)
May 30, 2001

Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer