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Thursday, November 03, 2016

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Director's Cut

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I sit and blog about a movie I own and just re-watched.  Because, you know, it makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something rather than just lazing around on the couch.  Today, I fire up the Spielberg classic Close Encounters of the Third KindWell, not today.  According to my notes, I originally watched it and wrote this on January 24, 2016.

Well, I recently upgraded my Blu-Ray player, and with that, had to buy a couple of new Blu-Rays to break it in.  Browsing the "2 for $20" racks at HMV, I found a couple of sci-fi classics I'd been considering picking up for some time.  The first of that pair:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

It was the other big sci-fi movie of 1977.  (I think we all know what the big one was.)  And coming fresh off Jaws, it truly cemented Steven Spielberg as the next big thing in Hollywood.  As the sci-fi of 1977 goes, it was a little more grounded and realistic than that other sci-fi movie.  You can see the beginnings of E.T. and Poltergeist in this film.  Much like my reaction to Jaws, I was amazed to see so many of Spielberg's trademark director flourishes already in place...this early in his career.  It could easily be a Spielberg movie of today.

This is one of those instances where I should specify which version of the film I watched.  In order to make its November 1977 release date, Spielberg had to cut several scenes before he filmed them.  So when the film was being readied for a theatrical re-release in 1980 (theatrical re-releases of hit films was quite a common occurrence until home video killed that in the mid-1980s), Spielberg asked the studio if he could get his film crew back together and film some of those deleted scenes for inclusion.  The studio agreed, on the condition that Spielberg also put back in some scenes that tested well, but Spielberg cut for pacing.  Spielberg begrudgingly agreed, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition hit theatres in 1980, and thus the whole concept of special editions & director's cuts was born.  For the film's DVD premiere in 1998, Spielberg re-edited it one last time, this time, the way he wanted to, and free of studio interference.  And that was released as the Collector's Edition, although my Blu-Ray calls it The Director's Cut.  Anyway, all three versions are on the Blu-Ray, and I watched the Director's Cut. 

Richard Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary, a lineman for the county.  When he's trying to track down the source of a blackout one night, he sees some mysterious lights in the sky...one of which even picks up his truck and shakes it.  Roy then becomes obsessed with tracking down the source of the lights, and he has strange visions of a mountain.  His obsession soon costs him his job, his family, everything...but he remains in dogged pursuit of what he saw that last night. 

Subplots include Jillian, who also saw the lights that night, but things take a more terrifying turn when the lights return and abduct her 5-year old son.  We also get Dr. Lacombe, a French scientist who has been monitoring the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life, and is soon leading a first contact team. 

Of course, the entire film is build-up to the final half-hour, when all three of our characters converge at the UFO's landing site, and first contact is made.  This is where all of Spielberg's tricks come into play.  Special effects, the John Williams music, characters gazing up in awe...it is the most Spielbergy the film gets. 

The special effects are so ahead of their time, too.  I mean, it's 1977, but they truly look late-80s in their quality. 

It's good to have sci-fi like this once in a while.  It's more about the mystery...the awe of the unknown.  I first saw it on basic cable many years ago, and quite liked it.  That's where I finally learned the joke behind Weird Al sculpting the mashed potatoes in UHF

Close Encounters is a fun, uplifting film, that'll give you a sense of wonder. 

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