Remastered ‘Close Encounters’ Continues To Deliver The Ultimate In Spielberg Wonder

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is important. It means something. The real wonder of this 1977 sci-fi classic persists to this day, capturing the imagination of many over the last 40 years. Now the film has been restored and remastered in 4K with a one-week re-release that will hopefully bring many back to the theater to see Close Encounters again, let alone inspire newcomers to take in a film so special to many.




I recently described Close Encounters as the typical Steven Spielberg film that thrusts ordinary characters into incredible situations. That only feels partially correct. I could list plenty of roles such as Elliot in E.T. or numerous Tom Hanks characters, but at the same time, Spielberg has also done plenty to put a spotlight on highly skilled individuals (fictional and real) such as Indiana Jones and Abraham Lincoln. So perhaps it’s not quite fitting to call Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and the others ordinary in a film where aliens have come from outer space and invited a select number of individuals to meet them as if it were destiny. Of course, as the movie changes these characters’ lives, the lives of both the filmmakers and the moviegoers were changed as well.

As one of the few films where Spielberg is credited as both writer and director, it is not surprising to see this as one of his more personal films. Never mind just how clearly the acclaimed director wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to delivering emotion in his movies, Close Encounters could be seen as one of the ultimate Spielberg experiences. It features ordinary family life, aliens, conspiracy theories, narrative-driven musical cues, science, the value of humanity, wonder expressed through children, adventure, exotic locations, religious implications, and thrilling visual effects. It captures your attention from the outset thanks to the introduction of a mystery and keeps you on board because of its character-driven focus on Dreyfuss dealing with an urge to understand what’s happening to him.

While not as big as Star Wars, released earlier in the year, Close Encounters became a true testament of what kind of talent Spielberg was bringing to the table, following his first blockbuster and critical hit, Jaws. This was an energized director who found a way to put his imagination on camera and tell stories that could connect with audiences all over. All of that and the film wasn’t even finished in his eyes when it was released.

Various searches can quickly help you find out what separates the three different versions of this movie that exist, but just note that the restored edition applies only to the Director’s Cut of the film released in 1998. This is the longest version that adds more of the Neary family and a few altered effects shots while omitting the previously added scene of Roy entering the alien mothership. I find this interesting, as Spielberg is not making too many cosmetic changes in his later additions. It’s more about keeping the focus on the character drama that unfolds.

For those uninitiated, Close Encounters has three separate plotlines that eventually converge. The main story involves how Roy deals with the encounter he had with a UFO. He begins feeling inexplicably drawn to a particular location in Wyoming and ends up alienating his family in the process. Meanwhile, government officials are also tracking strange arrivals and close encounters all over the world, with an eventual understanding that a special event will be taking place.

I first saw Close Encounters when I was in fourth grade, and a lot of the imagery has stuck with me. There’s the sculpture Roy builds, as he obsesses over what he sees in his mind. The abduction sequence is incredibly notable for its mix of mesmerizing visuals and genuine thrills created by an unknown singling out one home occupied by a young boy and his mother, Melinda Dillon’s Jillian Guiler. However, it is the finale that continues to evoke a sense of awe. A colorful symphony with a specific purpose in alerting audiences to the magic of what it would be to communicate with beings from another world. Between the score, the big reveal, and the reactions seen by the cast, it was a real triumph of cinema.

That special feeling remains when watching the film to this day. Yes, it looks and sounds better than ever as well, but seeing the movie in theaters again is an excellent reminder of just how amazing this piece of work was. John Williams developed an iconic 5-note theme. French director Francois Truffaut lends plenty of credence to the film as a wide-eyed scientist excited by where this assignment is taking him. Oscar-winning editor Michael Kahn began his 40+ year working relationship with Spielberg. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and Douglas Trumbull’s visual effects were instrumental in making this film work (not to mention additional photography by Douglas Slocombe, who would go on to shoot the three great Indiana Jones movies).

It was an enormous effort made possible by a variety of others as well, but the vision came from Spielberg, who was able to make another incredible film, and it wasn’t even the last time he would accomplish this. It can be trying to write about classics such as these, where there is so much joy you attempt to put into words. However, it is undoubtedly not regrettable, as Close Encounters of the Third Kind has so much to offer moviegoers. It deserves the acclaim it has received, and audiences should wish they could get more blockbusters that accomplish as much as this film.

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