Close Encounters of the Third Kind Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
The audience is left with a true sense of wonder
If everything's ready here on the Dark Side of the Moon... then play the five tones.Close Encounters of the Third Kind needs no introduction. Steven Spielberg, in only his third feature film, showed a maturity far beyond his years in crafting an icon of cinema. Taking everything he had learned from Jaws (realistic – over talking - dialogue, believable characters and, crucially, letting audience imagination define the limits of the frame) and then turning it up to eleven. This was still early enough in his career that the ‘Spielbergian traits’ (wringing every bit of emotion out of a scene) were yet to come to the fore, so there is a far harder, more cynical edge that makes the film poignant. Pioneering new cinematic techniques in special effects, having John Williams score the film and having character actors basically play themselves, there is something mesmerising about the piece that captures everyone’s imagination.The story is deceptively simple; a man’s obsession after seeing a UFO, nearly drives him insane, pushes away his family and compels him act irrationally, comes across people in the same situation all of whom are being fobbed off by government agents, discovers the landing site of extra-terrestrial beings and travels to meet them. Spielberg’s attention to detail, in both story narrative and character development, means that all the fantasy elements become believable as the audience are so invested in the plight being acted out. This is helped immensely by Williams’ stunning score which is sweeping and melodic and, in part, becomes its own character. After the stunning success of space fantasy in Star Wars a few months earlier, Close Encounters brought the aliens to Earth with just as much fascination, and it continues to enthral today.
Picture QualityClose Encounters of the Third Kind was shot using Panavision Panaflex cameras on 35mm film (with the effects shot on 65mm film) and in preparation for this release the original camera negative was scanned and finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate. It is this 4K DI that has been used here for this Ultra HD Blu-ray and the film is presented with a 3840 x 2160p resolution and in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio, along with 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec. We reviewed this 4K disc release of Close Encounters on a range of equipment including a calibrated Philips 55POS901 OLED 4K TV and a Cambridge Audio CXUHD Ultra HD Blu-ray player, along with a calibrated Sony VPL-VW260ES SXRD 4K projector and an Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
This is simply the best that Close Encounters has ever looked
The Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Close Encounters is quite simply the best the film has ever looked and that comment is based on having seen the film at the cinema in 1977 and 1980, as well as owning the film on every single home video format to date. The new 4K restoration based on the original camera negative results in an image that is more detailed than ever, revealing things that had previously gone unnoticed despite considerable familiarity with Close Encounters. The facial details such as Roy Neary's stubble or the clothing weaves and landscapes, all boast an increased level of resolution in comparison with the regular Blu-ray. The effects sequences, which were shot on 65mm to retain their quality when composited, are also wonderfully detailed and so are the numerous starry night skies, whilst any softness or loss of detail is due to the limitations of the original production or the use of anamorphic lenses.
However it isn't just the increased resolution that impresses, the use of 10-bit video depth also helps especially during the opening dust storm whilst the wider colour gamut adds a greater nuance and realism to the colours, not just in terms of the clothing, the countryside and the multi-coloured UFOs themselves but also flesh tones and Neary's famous 'sunburn'. The use of High Dynamic Range is highly effective, adding greater impact to the peak highlights primarily in the scenes involving the UFOs and their dazzling lights but also providing greater depth to the mothership for example. The black levels are largely excellent as well, with deep blacks in the night time scenes and no obvious crush but occasionally the image struggles slightly with a darker scene, showing a bit more grain.
For a film of this vintage that was shot on 35mm film, there is of course plenty of film grain but that's unavoidable as a byproduct of the photochemical developing process. However it is entirely supposed to be there and to try and remove it would have been a terrible mistake, robbing the image of its beautiful film-like quality. Sony have sensibly retained the film grain and although it is occasionally more obvious due to the use of HDR, the sympathetic transfer is largely superb and completely in keeping with the filmmakers' intentions. We know from having interviewed the Chief Technical Officer at Sony Pictures, that no restoration is done without the full input of the cinematographer and the director, assuming they're still alive. Finally the disc has been expertly encoded and is free of of compression or other digital artefacts.
Sound QualityThe English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track seems to be the same as the 2007 Blu-ray release and Close Encounters is the first Sony Ultra HD Blu-ray release not to include a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. We must assume that was Spielberg's decision and whilst we can lament the lack of an immersive audio track (how good might that finale have been?) what we do have is still of remarkable quality. The sound design is very intricate, with the surrounds providing plenty of ambience to even the most mundane of scenes. When things hot up, the surround field becomes very dense, take when Roy is in his truck, with the bits a pieces flying all around the cabin and the hum of the craft takes over. Indeed whenever the spacecraft are on screen their presence is almost ‘felt’. Bass is phenomenally well realised with some truly subsonic moments (the alien mother ship is a good example). The score also benefits greatly from the surround field with all the speakers playing a part in the action. The climax makes especially good use of the surrounds (the echo of the loud speaker, the flybys of the spacecraft, the general clatter of nervous, panicked and fascinated people) for a truly lovely example of surround excellence. All the while dialogue is clear and precise. Yes there is no Atmos, but when 5.1 sounds this good, sometimes you don’t miss it.
ExtrasThe Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Close Encounters includes three discs, the first is the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc with all three cuts of the film, the second is a Blu-ray disc with all three cuts of the film and the third is a Blu-ray with all the extras. Sony have not only included all three versions of the film in 4K and HDR but, unlike Warners release of Blade Runner, they have alsoremastered all three versions on the Blu-ray release using the new 4K restoration, so those without Ultra HD capabilities can still enjoy some of the benefits.
The extras on the second Blu-ray are:
A View From Above - A pop-up cue that explains the differences between the three cuts of the film.
Three Kinds of Close Encounters - This new feature runs for twenty minutes and has interviews with Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and Denis Villeneuve who talk about the film, its impact, filming techniques the score, performances and so on. Much of what Spielberg has to say is also found elsewhere on the disc, but it’s good to hear some different perspectives.
Steven's Home Videos & Outtakes – This new feature has behind the scenes footage taken with Spielberg’s own 8mm camera during the making of the film – which makes for a fascinating five minutes.
Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters – This is a twenty minute interview with Spielberg, originally included with the 2007 30th Anniversary release.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Making of Documentary – A feature-length making of documentary that explores every facet of the film making process in fascinating detail.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Watch the Skies – This six minute EPK type making-of featurette is from the time of the film's original 1977 release.
Deleted Scenes – There are nine deleted scenes in total, running for about 20 minutes.
Storyboard Comparisons – These compare five completed scenes with their original storyboards.
Extensive Photo Gallery – Split into eight sections, there are hundreds of photographs of just about everything.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Original Theatrical Trailer – This 1977 theatrical trailer runs for six minutes, how things have changed!
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Special Edition Trailer – The trailer for the 1980 Special Edition reissue.
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictIt’s difficult to believe that it’s been forty years since Close Encounters of the Third Kind first hit the cinemas and twenty since Steven Spielberg tweaked the cut for the second time with the Collector's Edition. Whichever version you watch, the film still resonates, still excites and remains a riveting watch. The fact that Spielberg managed to craft a story with such believable characters that an audience are able to follow so easily, means when the realms of fantasy become dominant there is no question but to follow. The film might have a cynical edge but is filled with so much optimism that the audience is left with a true sense of wonder.
A truly remarkable film and a stunning 4K release
Sony’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is almost perfect apart from the soundtrack not being updated, we assume this was Spielberg's choice but it means this is the first 4K disc released by Sony to not include a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Along with all three versions of the film in 4K and HDR, Sony have also remastered all three cuts on the Blu-ray as well, so those without Ultra HD capabilities can still enjoy some of the benefits of the 4K restoration.
In terms of the picture quality this Ultra HD Blu-ray of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is superb, with a gorgeous film-like image based on a full 4K restoration of all three versions. The detail is incredible, the 10-bit video depth and wider colour gamut play their part and the HDR is used effectively, resulting in a picture that is quite simply the best this film has ever looked. Yes there is film grain present but it's supposed to be there and for a 40-year-old film this Ultra HD Blu-ray release looks stunning.
Whilst the sound hasn’t had an Atmos upgrade, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track is still excellent, with tight controlled bass, plenty of ambient action and an enveloping sound field. The included extras are fairly decent with all the content from the previous releases and some interesting new ones added for good measure. Overall this is excellent stuff.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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