Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History'


Close Encounters of the Third Kind was special in the sci-fi pantheon for the way it invited viewers to contemplate the galaxy and consider that what was out there may actually be friendly. Steven Spielberg’s motivation for making the film was ultimately noble and humane (despite a lead character who abandons his family to go star hopping), but it would not have worked without startling visuals to make us believe there really is something out there worth contemplating. With inestimable assistance from people such as cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, concept artist George Jensen, art director Joe Alves, and special effects-Merlin Douglas Trumbull, Spielberg delivered those visuals spectacularly. So a visual history of Close Encounters seems a natural publication for the film’s fortieth anniversary, and the visuals in Michael Klastorian’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History deliver the goods in the form of stills, Jensen’s impressionistic paintings, behind-the-scenes snap shots, images of deleted and aborted scenes, and clearer looks at the Mothership and  aliens than we get in the film (though these photos reveal why the phony looking aliens had to be muted by creative lighting in the film).

However, what makes Klastorian’s book truly special is access. Spielberg, himself, not only opened his archive of materials for inclusion but also his memories, granting personal interviews and even penning the foreword. Stars Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Cary Guffey, and Bob Balaban, as well as such off-screen magicians as Trumbull and Alves, are similarly generous with their recollections in new interviews conducted exclusively for this book. Of course, Close Encounters is a milestone movie, so it had already been documented pretty well and a lot of the stories they tell won’t be super revelatory to long-time fans, but finer details on the production probably will be, and in any event, it is nice to have the whole story collected in such an attractive package. The idea to stick detachable production notes, art, script pages, storyboards, and other memorabilia onto the pages with gummy glue wasn’t the best one, since these inserts are probably easily damaged and a bit disruptive to the book’s design if they aren’t detached, but as a whole, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History is a gorgeous way to pay tribute to a sci-fi picture with ideas and images that still instill wonder after forty years.
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