For, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s classic sci-fi thriller brings the PG-rated film back to theaters (all over town), and this is one that truly deserves to be seen on the big screen. It was originally released in December 1977, just a month before I started working at the Deseret News, and five months before I wrote my first movie review for the paper. But I did review the film on the occasion of its ‘Special Edition’ theatrical release a couple of years later. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Aug. 1, 1980.

When I first saw Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in December 1977, I felt it was as near-perfect a movie as I had ever seen.

So I was a little concerned when I heard that Spielberg was going to add footage to the end of the film and reshape it somewhat, and Thursday night I approached it with trepidation. I was afraid I might see one of my favorite movies massacred.

Though Columbia has had Spielberg’s work on this new version of “Close Encounters,” billed as “The Special Edition,” under wraps since it began, Hollywood columnists have reported that it would have 20 minutes added to the end and about 10 minutes of restored footage elsewhere in the film – but that’s not the case.

In fact, though there is an additional scene taking us along with Richard Dreyfuss inside the mother ship at the film’s end, which was filmed especially for this re-release, the total movie is about five minutes shorter than the original 135-minute running time.

As a result, “Close Encounters” fans who attend this re-issue thinking they are in for a half-hour more of Spielberg’s genius are bound to be disappointed.


Melinda Dillon, Richard Dreyfuss, 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'

But those who merely want to see it again — or those who missed it the first time around — will have an even better total experience.

By re-arranging certain sequences and better balancing the flow of other scenes that slightly dragged in the original, Spielberg has achieved the perfection he barely missed in 1977.

Rather than losing the effect of the original, however, Spielberg has managed to enhance it — all the color, music, dazzling special effects and hope are still there, but the pace is more rapid and the affection more vivid.

The new ending, revealing what Dreyfuss sees inside the ship is as amazing in its effect as all the incredible special effects that go before. 


From left: Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Bob Balaban

But it only lasts about four minutes.

It’s been nearly 2 ½ years since I last saw “Close Encounters,” but it was easy to spot some new footage and a few reversed sequences. And it all works.

Films have undergone renovation before, of course, but this one is historical because it’s tampering with success (the ninth biggest moneymaker ever) — an unusual move for a studio to allow.

Most movies that are reworked have flopped in advance previews and editors reshape the films in the hope that they can be saved. Generally, as in the case of “Exorcist II: The Heretic” for example, it hasn’t mattered. A bad movie is a bad movie.

What’s really sad this summer is that “Close Encounters” is without peer the best movie in release.

That opens the door to other possibilities. If studios really want to make money this year, perhaps they should leave all the dogs of 1980 on the shelves and start re-issuing proven products. How would “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca” do in downtown Salt Lake City right now?