Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Just the poster art is enough to conjur up old feelings of mystery, awe, wonder. It was such an arresting image, and I thought it was a wonderful touch to use it for the 2007 Blu-ray release instead of some new photoshop nonsense or colourful photo like the UK DVD had some years before. I remember having the novelization in paperback with the same artwork, as did the original soundtrack release on vinyl; it’s an iconic image, like the Superman: The Movie poster that had the ‘S’ amidst airbrush clouds with the legend ‘You’ll believe a man can fly’.  Ahhh, even posters were better in the old days.  For CE3K, here’s just something special about that road stretching out back to the horizon, with that ominous glow below the starry sky.

So having seen Super 8 the other night, I found myself watching Close Encounters last night. Watched the original theatrical version. They really nailed it with this Blu-ray edition, having three cuts of the film. One in the eye for Lucas and his endless refusal to remaster the original theatrical Star Wars cut. Fans like the choice, George, and its important for posterity even if you prefer all that tinkering. Oh well, he’s not interested/listening to me so why bother? Anyway, I watched the original 1977 cut. Interesting, because as I watched it I realised I haven’t actually seen that version since, well, maybe 1978 when it was at the Odeon cinema in town; I have an idea that all tv showings have been of the 1980 Special Edition- I may be wrong about that.  Certainly home video releases have been of the 1980 cut or the latter 1998 so-called ‘Directors cut’ (a hybrid of the two earlier cuts) which is the version I’ve seen most. All these cuts, it gets confusing these days with movies. Something we have to thank DVD for? Go back enough years, and when you fancied watching Blade Runner, you just popped in the VHS tape- nowadays you have to pause to decide which of the five versions you feel like watching. I’m not complaining, it’s just a bit weird when I recall the days before we even had VHS. Its something taken for granted now, but its also almost endemic- the number of cuts of Alien, TheAbyss, Avatar, Alexander, Apocalypse Now… and thats just a few films starting with the letter ‘A’!

Watching CE3K again, it still holds up. It still suffers from Spielberg’s early penchant for repeated, agonisingly slow crawl-in reaction shots, and the  film really slips into being an fx spectacle (predating so many since) when it deserved a more personal, emotional conclusion. I mean, RoyNeary leaves Earth to join the Aliens with hardly a moments pause, but he’s leaving his wife and children behind. I always thought that a bit odd and even selfish. I mean sure, many people would do it, given the opportunity he has, but we’ve seen his family, his kids… surely it shouldn’t be so easy? Not even a goodbye, or a hastily written note or something? Maybe I keep missing the point. I just think too much gets swamped by the endearingly disco-light spaceships and wholesome, cute aliens (thank God for Ridleys film a few years later). But of course, Spielberg was a young film-maker back then, we have to forgive him some of that stuff. I’m sure if he made it now it would be a more different, more emotionally balanced conclusion at film’s end. One also has to remember back when it was made, it must have been such a major undertaking, a risky shot in the dark, just considering the optical work expected in those photo-chemical days of models and lights and lenses and basic motion control rigs. Imagine the nightmare scenario of that lovely mothership looking like, well, a plastic model blown up on a huge cinema screen.  It’s not an unlikely possibility considering the fx tech of the time- remember the Domed city in Logans Run, for instance? Even on a tv screen that looks awful, I dread to think what it looked like on cinema screens in 1976.

Did occur to me though, last night, seeing the ufos and the Mothership, how disco-era it all looks, all that bright glowing neon.  Dates the film in a kind of nice way, though, oddly enough. Trumbull painting with light, though- you can see how the fx work in CE3K helped create Blade Runner’s Spinner-cars and city vistas of nighted neon. You just can’t match that look with cgi.

But my biggest thought from re-watching CE3K again? God knows we’d never have a short, greying, bearded Everyman like Roy Neary in a modern sci-fi thriller.  No Studio would let any director get away with that now.  No big-budget toys without a healthily-toned, gorgeous young hunk fresh from the gym/cosmetic parlour. Shame really. The days of actors/movie heroes like Richard Dreyruss are long gone. Arnie and company (and Tom Cruise etc) would soon see to that.

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