Close Encounters Of The Third Kind 4K restoration review: Spielberg’s classic returns

The new 4K digital restoration of Spielberg’s masterpiece is glorious

If you sculpt the mashed potatoes, they will come. In 1977, New Hollywood’s two nerdiest directors changed sci-fi cinema forever. If Star Wars gave us a junkyard-style vision of outer space and galaxies far, far away, his pal Steven Spielberg removed inherent terrors and fears in alien visitation yarns, replacing dread and horror with hope and optimism.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is not without its darker moments, mind you. The director has stated in interviews down the years, that his masterpiece was partly inspired by the Watergate scandal and the fact US governments lie through their back teeth. Spielberg is no cynic, though, and his film never goes full Oliver Stone, tinfoil hat brigade.

Little Barry’s abduction, too, is still without shadow of a doubt the scariest sequence the director has ever staged. The man who gave us a boy being eaten by a great white shark, melting Nazis and ritual human sacrifice has always held a penchant for horror-style set-pieces, while rarely committing to the genre wholesale. The prelude to this iconic scene (Barry opening the door to be met with a squall of noise and burning orange light) is even eerier. At night, household appliances and toys come to life and something/someone outside the house is calling to the nipper. Yet Barry’s reaction is one of delight and enchantment, rather than screaming fear.

The depiction of a young family also rings with an authentic messiness and truth. Dynamics in the home and distant father figures are key Spielbergian tropes and they’re unsurprisingly front and centre here. Richard Dreyfuss’s childlike Roy Neary is not only a crackpot obsessed with finding – and contacting – aliens, but a dad who maybe can’t cope with being the chief provider and head of the household. How else to explain the fact he just buggers off at the end of the film, opting for a journey into the heavens with his new extra-terrestrial buddies, without so much as a phone call to his concerned wife and brood?

With Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Steven Spielberg became Walt Disney-like. In the 1930s, the pioneering studio boss proved to doubters everywhere audiences could be emotionally moved by complete artifice – animation. Spielberg did likewise with special effects and wedding humdrum suburbia to the stars above. For if ever there was a movie of pure movie magic and wonder, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is it.

The 4K resolution transfer was carried out by Sony at their lot in Culver City and approved by Steven Spielberg. The 5.1 sound restoration was provided by a 70mm master print. The colours are positively dazzling with the sound mixing packing a mighty punch. You’ve never seen the movie look and sound so incredible, trust us.