“My Potatoes (Still) Have A Dead Fly in Them!” – Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The 40th Anniversary

by Ben Martin

1977 was quite a year for sci-fi films; the number of them released that year reached double digits. At that time, the sci-fi genre was pretty popular, much like the comic book movie genre is these days. After that year, sci-fi would become even more popular. Most of the genre pictures released in ‘77 didn’t become revered blockbuster classics; except for two of them. The first was, of course, Star Wars, which took the world by surprise in a way that most films don’t find possible. The second was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It became an instant classic at the time, and 40 years later, still is.
Spielberg has always been a believer in extraterrestrial life, and much of his filmography would come to reflect that; dealing with the topic many times. Close Encounters was his first foray into the sci-fi genre and the subject of aliens. Combining his fascination with the extraterrestrial and Watergate, he began work on the story (originally entitled, Look to the Skies) for Encounters in 1973. He managed to sell the screenplay to Columbia Pictures. (Despite his long and varied career, the movie in question is one of only three that Steven Spielberg has written. The others being Poltergeist (1982) and 2001’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.) However, due to delays and financial issues, the film was put on hold. Not one to dawdle, he went on to make his first theatrical feature, The Sugarland Express (1974). The director went off to sea to make another classic and would end up cementing his status and create the “Summer Blockbuster,” Jaws (1975). After this, Spielberg was given carte blanche, and CE3K was resumed and fast-tracked by the studio.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind moves between different groups of characters as they all investigate a series of U.F.O. sightings are which are occurring throughout the world. The government tries to control the chaos as everything escalates. At the same time, a group of research scientists, led by Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban are putting together a team and investigating the phenomena. While all of this goes on, some folks are getting drawn closer and closer to the sightings.
Two of these individuals reside in the small town of Muncie, Indiana. Reuniting with Spielberg after his previous effort, Richard Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary. Roy is a line worker and family man. He and his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr) have three kids, all of whom take a backseat to Roy after seeing a U.F.O. He becomes obsessed, losing his job and putting a strain on his domestic life. Meanwhile, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her young son’s lives are adversely affected by these events.

A couple of times in this article already, I’ve mentioned CE3K’s revered status. This reputation is well-deserved. On a technical level, the flick is flawless. Everything from the cinematography to the (at the time) groundbreaking visual effects are expertly crafted. All of these aspects hold up today with no problems, in my humble opinion. The sole issue I have with the film comes in the form of Roy Neary and decisions his character ultimately makes. (Despite the fact, this movie is 40 years old, I’ll try to spoil as little as possible.) I’ll just say, that I do take issue with the fact that he commits various acts of abandonment to chase a dream.
You see, I find Close Encounters to be just as much of a domestic drama as it is a sci-fi story. Thus, I think it’s deeper than many might realize, and it does something I cherish in storytelling on a more surface level. That is, it’s a narrative about chasing your dreams and the beauty of human interconnectivity. Ultimately, it shows that we can not only realize our individual dreams, but we can also possibly evolve as a species, together as one. 40 years after this film’s release, I feel we need to be reminded of that more than ever.

The 40th-anniversary re-release of CE3K has been remastered in 4K. (It should also be noted that this is a re-release of Spielberg’s Director’s Cut; which is the long-accepted version.)  I must say that Sony has done a marvelous job on this re-master. It would be sad if they didn’t, considering they’re regarded as one of the authorities on the format. The bottom line is, this film has been beautifully restored. The 4K manages to upgrade the images while maintaining the 70s look, outside of the obvious absence of a physical 35 or 70mm film projection.
Audio for the movie has been upscaled and re-mastered, in the newer audio format, Dolby Atmos. I believe this new sound-mix will primarily benefit those of you who will choose to attend the theatrical re-release. I did so in a 4K, Dolby Atmos screening and it was the first time I experienced such a sound-mix. Speakers in the theater are arranged in a more non-traditional manner, and the walls are insulated very well. At times, the mix was overwhelming as it specifically coordinates the sounds to the actions taking place; which leads to a fair amount of deafening vibration. However, this did not take away from the experience for me; it enhanced it.
So, if you’ve seen this movie, or if you haven’t yet, I do recommend going to the theater for this re-release. It’s currently playing in select theaters nationwide. However, if you prefer to stay in, the movie will be released in the 40th Anniversary 4K+Blu-Ray gift set and a standard Blu-Ray and Digital on Tuesday, September 19th.
One last thing, when watching Close Encounters, remember how important it is to stay connected as a society and chase our dreams.

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