1977 – Theatrical Version

1977/1980 – Special Edition

1977/1998 – Definitive Director’s Cut

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

Contains Spoilers!

Will the real Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, please stand up?

The summer of 1977 saw the  introduction of Darth Vader, as well as Steven Spielberg’s follow-up his 1975 blockbuster, Jaws with another iconic work. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is a look at UFO’s and their possible impact on the people whom they come into contact with.

Richard Dreyfuss returned to Spielberg after Jaws, to star as Roy Neary, a man who is contacted by aliens and is programmed, along with several other chosen people, to make their way to Devils Tower, in order to be taken aboard their vessel. Meanwhile, the aliens are leaving a breadcrumb trail, which includes returning aircraft, ships and people who have been abducted over the decades.

What we need to remember, is that back ion 1977, just bear in mind that I wasn’t even born until 1978, that the ideas around alien abduction weren’t so prevalent or as inbuilt into our psyche as they are today. It’s in no small part and as a tribute to this film that I have grown up in world which takes these ideas so seriously.

Spielberg had tapped into something here which would take the world by storm. The grey alien’s design for one, with sighting of this description exponentially increasing in the years since the movie was released. But this is also a very attractive film, whilst being convincingly grungy.

Roy lives in a normal, messy house with his wife, who fails to understand his near insane obsession with finding the aliens as he sculpts his mash potato and tears the garden apart in order to build a model of the mountain (Devil’s Tower) in their living room. We resent her for leaving him and failing to comprehend his madness because we do, but this is conflicted and understandable. And this was at the heart of Spielberg’s best work.

But it also has the colourful and musical flourishes which would go on to make him one of the words greatest directors. The clever and iconic mash-up of John William’s now famous five note bar which is played in conjunction with coloured lights was without a doubt a stroke of cinematic genius. A pure use of the medium of film.

The spacecrafts are spectacular and the action sequences are tense, but the who film builds a relentless tension throughout and culminates with satisfactory climax. But Close Encounters may be iconic as a film but it’s also one of the first examples of something which provokes a more mixed reaction.

In 1980, Spielberg released his Special Edition of the film, which cut several scenes and added more. Some were new, such as the interior of the Mothership at the end, something which was not filmed for the original version. But by 1998, a Definitive Director’s Cut was released on DVD, which played around with even more and removed the interiors!

Close Encounters is a film which has become somewhat notorious as one which has been tinkered with for way too long. Special Editions have become common place since, with mixed results, especially the Star Wars Saga, but at times it has helped, such as with The Abyss (Special Edition), JFK (The Directior’s Cut) and Kingdom Of Heaven (Extended Edition), adding to them in a favourable way. But here, all’s Spielberg has done is to make people like me, wonder which version is the real Close Encounters Of The Third Kind?

All three versions have interesting elements to them and have also lost others. The Blu-ray and DVD released in 2008 has restored all three editions, a very good choice and one with George Lucas could do with considering for any future Star Wars releases, but it’s also a choice which I’d rather not have to make.

But it must be a testament to this film’s original 1977 release, that it’s quality is far from poor and it has elements which are excluded from later versions which I would come to miss. All three versions are brilliant and this is a true classic, and has been from 1977 to the present. The main reason behind me only awarding this 9/10 is that all three versions sacrifice something and I wonder what a full, uncut version with all the released material might look like?


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