In this age of "special editions," it can be a maddening ordeal to sort out precisely what people mean when they say they've seen Blade Runner (narrator or no narrator? director's cut or final cut?) or The 40-Year-Old Virgin. (The 116-minute theatrical cut, or the 133-minute "unrated" version?) Sometimes the changes are substantial, other times merely cosmetic, but nowadays, no cuts are final, and hammering out the differences between one version and the next is just another part of the discussion. Credit Steven Spielberg and the producers of the new 30th-anniversary DVD edition of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind for at least giving viewers a choice; unlike with, say, George Lucas' hideous Star Wars trilogy facelifts, no one version has been banished for the sake of another. Even though Spielberg rightly disavows the tacked-on sequence inside the spaceship, which he included on the 1980 "Special Edition" reissue, it's still there for those who would prefer their imagination be supplanted by a laser-light spectacular.
The new DVD includes all three cuts of Close Encounters—the original 1977 theatrical cut, the "Special Edition," and the 1998 "Director's Cut"—and better still, a mini-poster-sized map detailing what scene are changed, extended, or missing from each version. Of those, the one that plays best is the most recent cut, which includes the amped-up family melodrama added to the 1980 version, while removing all those insidious shots inside the ship. The film now seems just as awe-inspiring for its scenes of domestic turmoil as it does for its wholehearted embrace of the idea that we aren't alone in the universe. Does Richard Dreyfuss' Everyman hero obsess about UFOs because of a shared psychic vision, or because he can't stand to be around his family any more?
At the time, Spielberg insisted the film wasn't science fiction, but "science speculation," and he believed that unexplained cosmic phenomena had occurred in the 20th century, and that the government was perhaps active in covering it up. Though he's since retreated into skepticism, Close Encounters benefits from the awestruck vision of a true believer; the pie-eyed reaction shots alone suggest depths of curiosity and wonder that no special effect could ever muster.
Key features: A new Spielberg interview, a handsome booklet, deleted scenes, and trailers join an excellent feature-length making-of documentary that's parsed out, annoyingly, over all three discs.