'Close Encounters of the Third Kind': Secrets Behind the New 4K Restoration

Close Encounters - H 2015

After a long and exhaustive restoration effort, a new 4K version of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind is heading back to theaters Friday, just in time to mark the classic's 40th anniversary.

The movie — which stars Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon and François Truffaut — was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including for best director for Spielberg and best supporting actress for Dillon. Legendary director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond won an Oscar for the film's cinematography, and Frank E. Warner took home a special achievement award for sound effects editing.

Following a one-week theatrical run, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release the new restoration on a three-disc 4K Ultra HD and a limited-edition three-disc 4K Ultra HD “Light and Sound” gift set, and in HD on a two-disc remastered Blu-ray. Both the Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD releases include three restored versions of the film, including the original 1977 theatrical version, the 1980 special edition and the 1997 director’s cut.

The version that is being rereleased theatrically is the final 1997 director's cut, which is a re-edit of the 1977 version as well as some elements from the 1980 special edition, although it omits scenes inside the mothership, which Spielberg introduced in the 1980 version but later decided were a mistake.

The restoration was no easy task, says Grover Crisp, Sony's executive vp asset management, film restoration and digital mastering. Fortunately, he had worked on the film before and knew how to approach the delicate process.

"The 1980 special edition — which included some new scenes and also deleted some scenes — was created from the original camera negative," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Then, when almost 20 years ago we had to create the director's cut, I was faced with the problem of not having the original negative in the original version. I went looking for scenes that were cut, in order to put them back in the director's cut. Some of that was lost at the lab in the '70s."

But not all was lost. "When Metrocolor lab closed [in the late '80s], we were collecting our material and I came across some of the original missing footage," Crisp explains. "That was really fortunate. We printed it in a different section and put it together to get the director's cut."

Two years ago, when Crisp started prepping for this restoration, he applied similar methodology, but this time with available digital tools: "We scanned the disparate parts in 4K resolution and put it back together — the original negative and then the deleted scenes for the pieces we found. We had picture source material for the rest; it was kind of a checkerboard."

Most of the work, he reports, was completed on the Sony lot at Deluxe Culver City, working with colorist Sheri Eisenberg, who handled the grading and conform. Deluxe also handled the 5.1 sound restoration, which was struck from a 70mm print master.

Spielberg reviewed the work in progress and approved the final version, and Crisp also worked closely with key members of Spielberg's team. "We also had reference from the previous Blu-Ray and the print, which had been approved by Steven Spielberg," Crisp says, adding that he also had recollections of reviewing the film with Zsigmond, who died in 2016. "I had sat with him and watched the film a few times."

The restoration work also includes a high dynamic range version. "We worked on that for quite a few weeks," Crisp said, adding that with the expanded range, "Close Encounters still had to look like Close Encounters. The film was so well shot. We did a few HDR tests and I asked his guys to come and look at it. We got to where we would show it to Steven. I went over and set up some OLED monitors. He had recommendations for changes, but ultimately really liked it."

For Crisp, this rerelease of Close Encounters of the Third Kind brings back some fond personal memories. "I saw it the weekend it opened at the Cinerama Dome [in Hollywood]," he recalls. "It's amazing, 40 years later, to help put it back in theaters."

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