How old is Steven Spielberg? Have a guess. Watching the bonus 30 Years of Close Encounters interview, I’d say about twelve, such remains his wide-eyed, gushing enthusiasm for his old masterpiece. There surely can’t be a more infectious, riveting advertisement for everything that is great about film than the bearded manchild himself.
And when that beard is in glorious high definition it just doesn’t get any better. Or so I thought. We should all be on our knees, thanking the gods for the wonder of Blu-ray, for if there’s one iconic image that HD technology could almost have been invented for, I’ve now seen it. And no, I don’t mean Spielberg’s beard.
The mothership. It mesmerised me the first time I saw it on DVD (I’m only a baby), but every time I look at it in full 1080p I see something new. With its blend of the industrial and futuristic – the tale behind its design is told in both the interview and the fascinating concept images on the bonus disc – the cityscape of lights, channels and turrets glimmers like never before.
And you can decide whether to venture inside or not, as this 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition is the first to include all three versions of the film. Spielberg tells of the budget limitations of the first. He tells of the compromises he had to make to get the extra money for the special edition – that anticlimactic ship-interior ending wasn’t his idea, in case you were wondering. And after cutting that and a few other scenes back out again for the Director’s Cut he reassures us all that there won’t be a fourth – with the price of this boxset he’d better be right.
It’s a set that fully deserves the ‘Ultimate’ tag: the three cuts are on the main disc, while the second holds that brand new interview in HD, along with a standard definition Making Of documentary and the 1977 Watch the Skies featurette.
The bonus disc is rounded off with a huge collection of storyboards, photos, concept art, deleted scenes and original trailers. But that’s not all. A fold-out poster shows the changes that were made to each successive version, and a 64-page companion scrapbook has oodles of actor bios, trivia, set photos and quotes. And as it’s Blu-ray, you can switch on an info track that pops up at certain points during the film to tell you which bits have been added or cut from the version you’re watching.
Even if the movie itself was awful, it would still be one of the first real must-have Blu-ray discs, but we all know it’s one of Spielberg’s greatest. The HD print is largely excellent – a bit of grain shows up, particularly in the desert and a couple of night scenes, but it’s as good a transfer as you could expect from a 30-year-old print. The added clarity does show up a few slightly dodgy special effects, but the audio is tremendous – crank it up for the ending and you’ll be grinning for days.
This is the first of Spielberg’s many films to be released in high definition. In the next-generation war I’m firmly in the Blu-ray camp, and I’m even more so now I know that he’s in it too. He does confess to being more sceptical about UFOs these days (I nearly cried), but this film is all about believing like a child would, just trusting the light and opening the door. On the evidence of this fantastic box-set Steven Spielberg will always be that wide-eyed child. He’s 62 years old this month.