Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg), the director’s cut

This version–now called ‘The Director’s Cut’–originally came out as ‘The Collector’s Edition’ maybe ten years ago (maybe less). The most striking thing about this cut is Dreyfuss’s insanity. In this version, he’s totally nuts… Spielberg edits back in (from the original, excised from the Special Edition) a couple significant scenes. First, showing off Roberts Blossom–one of Dreyfuss’s initial peers–as a complete nut, which is a discreet foreshadowing of when–in the second major addition–Dreyfuss goes completely insane.

One of the significant dilemmas of Close Encounters has always been Roy Neary and his being a bad guy. He goes nuts and drives his family away. In this version, Teri Garr’s put-upon wife is even more put-upon. Where Close Encounters enters in to the unreadable is… well, Dreyfuss isn’t nuts. There isn’t a big reveal at the end when the viewer finds out the UFOs are real and all the pain he’s caused and all the pain he’s suffered are–mildly–justified….

The viewer knows all along Dreyfuss is right and Spielberg manages, in the scenes with the Neary family, to remain impartial. If one stops to think about it, obviously Dreyfuss is a monster. But the film shares his wonder with the viewer and his actions, while indefensible, are completely understandable.

There’s also a lot more ominousness in this version. When Cary Guffey gets taken, it seems a lot scarier, but not for any reasons of addition or subtraction. This echoes at the end, with the silent entrance of the mothership.

The additional scenes give Teri Garr more of an onscreen presence and she’s really great. Melinda Dillon, I probably said it in the Special Edition post, also great. I noticed Truffaut a lot this time too–I don’t think he’s got any extra scenes, but he’s so effective in the last act, it’s a perfect use of him. I’m not sure if Spielberg necessarily got a great performance out of him or just cast him perfectly.

As for Spielberg’s removal of the mothership interior… it really doesn’t change the end result. Close Encounters is on such firm ground, the mothership interior is just a matter of preference….

For example, I’m not actually sure if this cut is better than the special edition.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), François Truffaut (Claude Lacombe), Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary), Melinda Dillon (Gillian Guiler), Bob Balaban (David Laughlin), J. Patrick McNamara (Project Leader), Warren J. Kemmerling (Wild Bill), Roberts Blossom (Farmer), Philip Dodds (Jean Claude), Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler), Shawn Bishop (Brad Neary), Adrienne Campbell (Sylvia Neary) and Justin Dreyfuss (Toby Neary).


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