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By Brad Cook | November 20, 2007

As someone born in 1970, I’m a product of the Spielberg/Lucas generation, so I eagerly anticipated this DVD release, even though I already owned the excellent two-disc Collector’s Edition that came out a few years ago. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” may not rate as highly as Spielberg’s other films in the eyes of many fans, but I rank it near the top, right up there with “Jaws.”

Spielberg’s strength has always been in portraying the Every Man, that guy who seems so much like us but who finds himself thrust in the middle of hurricane-strength forces beyond his control. Roy Neary is the epitome of that archetype, a family guy who loves his kids and seems to enjoy his job, but whose encounter with a UFO changes his life forever.

All of you know the plot, so I’ll skip the boring stuff and head straight to my interpretation of the movie’s theme: It’s about heeding the siren call of artistic desire. I probably see the film that way because of my own creative streak, but the story falls in line with that concept, even if Spielberg never intended it. Most people in the film are unaffected by the aliens, but those who are manifest their experiences in artistic ways. Eventually, some of them head on a quest for the promised land — not unlike the journey many make to Hollywood in hope of breaking into the film business — but most of them give up when confronted by the gatekeepers.

Three people, however, are undeterred and push forward, devising ways around the barriers put in place to keep them out. (Want to see the parallel with breaking into Hollywood? Try shopping a naked spec script.) One doesn’t reach the ultimate destination, but the other two do, and one of them, Roy Neary, achieves complete fulfillment when he boards the spaceship and leaves for the stars.

Sure, you could also look at the film as a religious allegory, or as something else entirely, but this is my review.

Sony went all out for this Ultimate Edition, but fans should note that the deleted scenes from the previous release are not present. While some of them, such as the Special Edition’s ill-advised finale inside the mothership, can be found in one of the three versions of the film in this set, others can’t. Sony also included a poster with a timeline detailing the differences between the three versions, as well as a really nice color book packed with behind-the-scenes photos.

Each of the versions of the film — the theatrical, the Special Edition, and the Director’s Cut — is on a separate disc, with Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent making-of documentary, created in 2001, spread across the three platters. I’m not sure why seamless branching wasn’t used so that all three versions could be on one disc and Bouzereau’s documentary could be on another. It would have been a complicated process, of course, but Fox pulled it off with two very different versions of “Alien” in their “Alien Quadrilogy” set. Maybe seamless branching between three versions of a film, as opposed to two, is beyond the means of standard DVD.

Each disc also includes that version’s trailer, although there wasn’t one for the Director’s Cut, so we have the 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition trailer on disc three instead. Also on that disc, we get “Watch the Skies,” a six-minute promotional piece created in the 1970s to get theater owners excited about the movie, and a new 20-minute interview with Spielberg that was conducted by Bouzereau. The new material doesn’t bring anything significant to the body of background information already available, so the cynic in me says it was created just to add a bullet point to the packaging.

I should also note that the Blu-ray version of the Ultimate Edition has a couple bonus features not available in this set, but none of them seem terribly exciting. I have a feeling we’ll see more of this kind of thing down the road, however, as Hollywood tries to push all of us into a high-def world. While I have nothing against high-def, I find the format war obnoxious, and I’m probably like many people in that I’m not in a rush to start replacing a large DVD collection. I’m perfectly happy to keep feeding my standard-def DVD habit, and releases like this one are why I continue to do so.

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