Here’s where I admit a cinematic blind spot for me: I’ve only ever seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind once in my life, and I was definitely under the age of six, which means I pretty much never really “saw” Close Encounters before. And that’s why I was more than thrilled to head out for a special screening of Steven Spielberg’s iconic sci-fi drama that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and has been given the 4K restoration treatment in honor of its upcoming monumental birthday.

While I cannot make any real comparisons on a visual level to how his version compares to past iterations of Close Encounters, what I can say is that for over two-plus hours, I was absolutely fascinated by the wondrous spectacle Spielberg was able to create in this watershed cinematic event, and there aren’t many movies that after four decades can still evoke those kinds of awe-filled emotions from audience members.

With Close Encounters, Spielberg crafted a remarkable and timeless sci-fi story that was hugely influential and would continue to shape the landscape of cinema for years to come. Sure, all the impressive visual and special effects lend themselves perfectly to Spielberg’s vivid sense of creativity in Close Encounters, but now watching it as an adult, what really hooked me into this story were the characters, and how wonderfully grounded they felt amidst all these other fantastical elements in the film.

There’s a messy complexity to everyone we see in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Spielberg was the master of being able to catch those moments of reality in his films, thereby giving us characters we could all relate to. In most of his early films, we’re never meeting people at the start of anything. Spielberg gives us individuals who are just living their lives the best they can, and the way he captures everyday life is nothing short of masterful. If you look at films like Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters, Poltergeist (which he produced), or even any of the first three Indiana Jones movies, they all come into a story “already in progress,” and I think that’s why his movies have connected and endured the passage of time as well, because they feel real. So rarely does real life offer up tangible starting points, and Spielberg tapped into that kind of “everydayness” beautifully time and time again, but especially in Close Encounters.

The characters in this film aren’t, on paper, particularly “compelling”—you have a hapless electrical worker named Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), whose marriage and home life are already crumbling around him before he even encounters that “flying ice cream cone.” Then, there’s single mom Jillian (A Christmas Story’s Melinda Dillon), whose toddler son, Barry, finds himself dangerously enamored by the mysterious bright lights that appear over their farm one fateful night. On the other spectrum of things, we are also following French scientist Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut), whose fascination with UFOs has led him on a worldwide goose chase, eventually taking him and his team to Wyoming, which happens to be the location of a grand event that those who have encountered the otherworldly phenomena are drawn to as well. We’ve seen all these archetypes before in film, but somehow, Spielberg and his accomplished cast tap into these characters’ humanity in a manner that feels wholly refreshing, and the way they all come together for Close Encounters’ emotional and jaw-dropping finale is a thing of cinematic beauty.

To say that Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a special and one-of-a-kind movie experience feels underwhelmingly inefficient, but that’s all I’ve got, really. It’s an incredible testament to the power of wonder and universality, and I feel like a total schmuck that I never thought of revisiting this masterpiece earlier in my life, because there’s no doubt Close Encounters is precisely the type of movie I’d have been watching again and again over the last several decades. For movie lovers who consider Close Encounters to be amongst their favorite movies of all time, or even for those fans out there who have never experienced Spielberg’s benchmark film that has become a huge touchstone to modern sci-fi cinema, I cannot recommend the 4K version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind enough.

This iteration is headed to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray shortly, but it is also enjoying a one-week theatrical engagement from Sony Pictures that begins Friday, September 1st , and I feel like it’s something that needs to be witnessed on the big screen if you have the means to do so.

Movie Score: 5/5

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.