DID Steven Spielberg peak as a filmmaker in 1977? It’s a contentious assertion, but one that’s strengthened by revisiting Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It has often been said the film’s climax — the encounter — is one of cinema’s finest moments. The coming together of narrative, sound and vision is a moment of pure visceral pleasure. Since then, Spielberg may have directed more rollicking set pieces or used new technologies as well as anyone, but that alien moment remains an astounding and wholly accomplished piece of cinema. Unfortunately, though, it’s not a moment that has been viewed at its best on home equipment. A laser disc kicked around for a while and a director’s cut of the film was available on DVD in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t the original theatrical version.
This week Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition is released in a three- disc set on standard definition DVD as well as highdefinition Blu- ray. The Blu- ray versions of the 1977 original theatrical version, the 1980 special edition and the 1998 director’s cut are a close approximation of the original cinema experience.
Grover Crisp, executive vice- president of management and film restoration at Sony Pictures Entertainment, is clearly a fan of the high definition format. He managed the film’s transfer and restoration to HD. The higher resolution enables home projectors and large televisions to replicate the sort of detail we experienced in cinemas. Higher resolution means more can be seen, for better or worse. ‘‘ One of the big challenges is to create an authentic HD version of a film, one that is true to its original production qualities and theatrical exhibition, while removing flaws and updating the general look of the film’’, Crisp says.
The vast variety of film stocks employed over the decades, the older optical printing techniques in completing films and substandard archival elements all contribute to the challenges of making an older film acceptable to today’s more discerning home theatre audiences. This new Blu- ray version is quite an achievement. Crisp says much of the restoration work on the original masters was done when preparing the director’s cut in 1998. But since that edition new tools have become available that make it possible to clean scratches and dirt and stabilise images for the new HD versions, which also feature restored soundtracks.
The Blu- ray version allows you to branch off between the three different versions of the film without interruption. At those points you may just query what Spielberg was thinking while tinkering with the two later versions of the film.
At least Spielberg seems to be warming to the DVD format. The new edition includes a recent interview with the director, who was on call for Crisp and post- production head Martin Cohen during the restoration of the HD masters. As he should have been because, finally, these restorations are showcasing some of his best films in a fashion that does them justice. DISC WATCH: Marvel Heroes— Limited Edition ( Fox, M, $ 99.99) Seven movies adapted from the revered Marvel Comics collection. A lesson in how to do it well ( the three X- Men films), not so well ( Fantastic Four , Elektra ) and badly ( Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Daredevil .
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bodeym@ theaustralian. com. au