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post #1 of 22 Old 11-10-08, 05:14 AM Thread Starter
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Close Encounters blu ray review

Close Encounters of what kind?

One of the classic "New...New Hollywood" features was released on blu ray a while
ago in a large box set that contains three of the four versions of this movie. All
are different in subtle and important ways. The only cut missing is the television
pan/scanned version which contains all the scenes from the other three. To my
surprise, after removing the shrink wrap there was also an extra disc in a sleeve
(not plastic case) which contained the sountrack album I used to have on vinyl.
The album does not have actual tracks from the movie but re-recorded themes
adapted for consumer use.

First let me explain was New New Hollywood was in the late seventies. "New
Hollywood" encompassed the young film directors in that decade that rejected
virtually everything "Old Hollywood" stood for which was mainstream entertainment
with slick technical specs. New Hollywood filmmakers included Dennis Hopper,
Melvin Van Peebles, Robert Downey Sr., Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and
Francis Ford Coppola. Their movies had a counter-culture perspective, graphic
nudity, sex and violence, grainy underlit cinematography and quirky editing.
Some became classics like "The Godfather" and "Taxi Driver". Others like
"Greetings" and "Putney Swope" dated so quickly they were unwatchable
a few years after they were released. Their impact was felt in Hollywood in
numerous ways. The 'look' of movies changed permanently. "Glorious Technicolor"
was out, grain and murkiness was in which was applauded by many critics as
something daring and innovative. Today many of these movies look amateurish
and don't hold up in the digital formats.

The most profound impact New Hollywood has was in the moviegoing demographic.
Rather that make features for a broad age range from children to seniors, they
targeted the 16-26 year old 'youth' demographic exclusively. The problem with
that was it decreased attendence. 41 million weekly viewers went down to 21
million by the mid-seventies. The movie palaces folded like dominos and were
replaced by multi-plexes although a few large screens remained for the occasional
general audience release. These counter-culture movies were specifically linked to the Vietnam war which was the only thing that united groups like black radicals, hippies,
yippies and feminists. After that war ended they had nothing to unite them and split into hostile factions.

What followed was "New" New Hollywood which was to a large extent a return
to mainstream filmmaking but with some elements remaining from the counter-culture.
The late seventies showed a major increase of attendence as families flocked to
see features like "Jaws", "Star Wars", "Close Encounters" "Raiders of the Lost Arc"
and "Superman". Quite a difference in terms of the content compared to the
counter-culture pictures that dominated cinema a few years earlier. No more stories
about revolutions, black power and the deconstruction of Western culture. While the technical specs were greatly improved, the look of these movies was still different than the classic "Glorious Technicolor" movies of the past. Directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were the front runners of this new mainstream direction and former counter-culture filmmakers like Brian De Palma were able to adapt and survive. Others
like Van Peebles disappeared.

Another element that remained was the 'auteur' theory of filmmaking. Prior to the
sixties this was pretty much a non-existent concept. 'Auteur' is the French word
for author and filmmakers like Truffaut and Godard championed the notion that the
director should be in artistic control of every aspect of a production. In Hollywood
it was definately a collaborative effort with the producer, writer, director, stars,
studio head and production code office all participants in the final product. It was
hard to argue against the studio system since they made great movies within that
structure. Titles like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Casablanca" had many people working
together to make them. While it's true that some directors like Hitchcock produced
his own work and put his personal stamp on it, he still collaborated with writers along with
distributors and the Breen/Sherlock office which had final cut.

In the mid-sixties, the young filmmakers adopted the French New Wave 'auteur'
method to their work and it was taught in film schools. Movies made by a single
filmmaker were given accolades...even if the finished product was somewhat
sloppy in terms of narrative structure and cinematography. "Easy Rider" was
definately Dennis Hopper's vision as was De Palma's "Greetings".
I was certainly educated in this theory at NYU and am an auteur myself but I do acknowledge it's not the only way to make a good film.

Like all theories of filmmaking, there are attributes and liabilities. One attribute
is that when you watch a movie made by an 'auteur', you can examine
the filmmaker's worldview and individual style. There were also limitations.
Some auteur directors were indulgent and lacked discipline. Michael Cimino is an
example of an auteur who was out of control. Considering himself a 'great artist'
who didn't have to concern himself with crass items like staying within a budget
and schedule much less test screening a movie before release to see if it worked
for audiences, he made "Heaven's Gate" in 1980 which almost destroyed the whole
theory and folded a major studio. The biggest three and a half hour bomb in the
history of cinema.

Another curious liability...or at least a strange quirk was that some auteurs couldn't
finish their movie. They considered their features perpetual 'works in progress'. So
we have multiple versions of "Close Encounters", "Star Wars", "Alien" and "Apocalypse
Now" among many others. Each cut is quite different in tone and since they were revised years apart they reflect the director's altered worldview and attitudes. People change as they age. In the case of Spielberg, his early features tended to have a charming youthful innocence. Almost a teenage boy's view of the world. Quite different than some
of the director's later pictures like "AI" and "Minority Report" which are relentlessly
grim and downbeat. So as movies are recut by auteurs over the years, they
will change in perspective and filmmaking technique.

Which brings us to "Close Encounters". Each cut illustrates Spielberg's changing approach to narratives. Personally, I like the first version the best. I saw the original release in 1977 at The Ziegfeld movie palace in Manhattan on their enormous screen in 70mm. When the ship landed there were some 'sensurround' type of subwoofer effects that rattled the seats. I enjoyed it thoroughly but with some reservations. I was very disappointed with the look of
the aliens when they appeared. They resembled the Roswell descriptions which
I thought was a bit cliche. Otherwise there was tremendous narrative drive,
sympathetic characters you could relate to, good special effects and a brilliant
concept of having the extra-terrestrials communicate through music. Add to that
John Williams haunting score. I later saw the film twice more in 35mm mono which
was less effective.

Then came the 1980 re-issue. In my area in only played it 35mm Dolby stereo,
not 70mm. Dolby sounded good but lacked the sound field of the six channel
discrete large format. Gone were those subwoofer effects (called baby booms
at the time) which made you 'feel' the ship over Dreyfus's truck when it hovered.
New special effects were added including a ship found in a desert and some shots
inside the alien vessel. I didn't object to them although it was better to keep
the mother ship more of a mystery as it was in the original version. What disturbed
me about the 'Special Edition' is that Spielberg was taking a new direction
in terms of character development in his films. It was gradual but distinct. Like
his friend, George Lucas, both directors were becoming enamored what could be
done with the f/x imagery but at the expense of characterization. Both "Jaws"
and the first cut of "Close Encounters" were people driven story. The effects were
great but the emphasis was on the actors. The new version of "Close Encounters"
cut key scenes which motivated the people in the story. The scene establishing
Dreyfus as a technician in an electrical power plant was gone. So why was he
in his truck lost looking for the station he was sent to investigate prior to having
his 'close encounter'. Also gone was the press conference where his wife sees
him humiliated as the media doesn't believe the people who had encounters.
I thought this was very important in terms of their relationship. Finally, the scene
when Dreyfus rips up his back yard and neighbor's property to build his clay tower
was trimmed. So when Terri Gar finally walks out on him, it no longer had the
emotional impact when you saw the gradual transformation from suburban husband to obsessed visionary. I was very disappointed with this cut as I was with Spielberg's later
effects spectacular "Jurassic Park". Great effects, disappointing characterization.
In summary, the Special Edition is more of an effects driven rather than character driven

Then came the television version which combined all the footage of both 1977 and
1980 cuts. It worked a bit better in terms of characterization but was too long
and padded. It was pan/scanned so the wide screen visuals lost their impact and
of course was broadcast in mono sound.

Then Spielberg recut the movie again into a new 'director's cut' which was a bit confusing
since they all were director's cuts. This 1998 version restores some...but not all...
of the characterization of the 1977 release but removes the mother ship interior.
Sound bewildering? It is.

And now for some bad news. "Close Encounters" only looks 'okay' on blu ray. The
problem with all of the versions is the cinematography. Spielberg used multiple cameramen
on the picture and it shows. It doesn't have a consistent visual design. The climax
and special effects look very sharp and are fully lit which was required for Douglas Trumbull's
space ship designs. Trumbull had worked on Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" so he was
already an expert on creating these type of visuals. They were shot on 65mm film so they look a lot finer grain than the rest of the picture. In contrast, "2001" was filmed in it's entirety in 65mm so there wasn't a visual difference between the effects and live action.

The scenes shot overseas were shot by John A. Alonzo, Laszlo Kovacs, William A. Fraker and Douglas Slocombe. These scenes look vibrant and colorful with a fully
exposed image and rich colors. However, all of the earlier interiors in Dreyfus's house and
other locations were filmed by Vilmos Zsigmond. Zsigmond was part of the original New Hollywood movement (in style anyway) and used very limited lighting on set. As a result, these scenes have have muted colors, are grainy and flat looking without dimensionality. The opposite of later 65mm effects scenes and foreign locations. Underlit negatives do not look good in high definition which exagerates the grain and murkiness. The blu ray is considerably better than the early anamorphically enhanced DVD which was really muddy but it still doesn't look like a contemporary feature with razor sharp visuals.

The 5.1 sound does simulate the original six track magnetic mix from 1977. You'll feel that
subwoofer effect when the ships hover. The music is spread out nicely creating an effective sound field. I still don't like the aliens at the end but otherwise the first version is still an entertaining and nostalgic visit to another era in filmmaking. You'll be amused by the ancient video and audio equipment the crew is using to record their close encounter of the third kind in the climax. Richard Dreyfus is excellent in the lead role and he still looks good compared to now when the ravages of his drug problems have aged him into looking decades older than he really is. So I recommend seeing the original cut first and experiencing what the director envisioned at that moment in his life, career and American culture. The 1977 version best reflects Spielberg's youthful sense of wonder. Then watch the revised cuts at a later date since they show his changes as an older filmmaker with a different approach to characterizaion, narrative structure and technology.

In summary: Picture quality B, stereo sound design A, special effects A, cinematography B-, performances A, screenplay B +.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-26-08 at 07:48 AM.
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post #2 of 22 Old 11-10-08, 10:42 AM
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review

Thanks Richard. Always informative as usual.

I've been curious about the BD but never bought because it was just TOO MUCH CE. It's kinda pricey for one movie and it has at least three versions of the film. But now I understand why. I think I might even look for it again if the price comes down a bit.

Wow, Heaven's Gate, what a movie. I guess the original was a fully four hours long. That is a director who is out of control.

The university graduation scene at the beggining of the movie really set the tone. It was bewildering. You're watching it and you might find yourself going... WTF!

They spend so much time on that scene. The camera hangs on an elongated scene that takes tens and tens of minutes to figure out what they're doing with this pole and grads circling around it. Then you learn... oh, it's nothing, just some silly male bonding graduation ritual that has no account to the rest of the movie.

It goes on and on and on!! Woa. I didn't like that movie at all. I think he was trying to elevate the western but... too late! Sergio Leone already beat him to it! And in the context of the time I'm sure nobody gave cretid to Leone for having done so. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

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post #3 of 22 Old 11-10-08, 11:09 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review


There's no question the 'auteur' theory has it's limitations. Regardless of
whether your targeted demographic is 'general audience' as the studio system
advocated or 'targeted 16-26 year old' demographic of "New Hollywood" you still
need some audience. Cimino apparently was making a private home movie. It
looked like a 'rough cut' to me. Aside from the bizarre structure there were shots
where a coach would ride by and the director would hold on the empty space
afterwards because...well it's anyone's guess. I would love to take that 3 1/2
mess and edit it into a tight 90 minute Western. There was a story there within
the indulgence. He just didn't know how to 'cut'. Cut excess, cut extraneous
material (rollerskating). Cut scenes that had nothing to do with the narrative.
I remember how excrutiating the graduation speeches were at NYU. That doesn't
mean I want audiences to suffer throught them too. Torture on the rack?
Some pretty good action at the end...if you can get there. I'm one of the few
people who saw the preview of "Heaven's Gate" in 70mm. I couldn't believe what
a mess it was but...there was a movie in there...somewhere. By the time Cimino
re-edited it, it was too late.

I always preview my features before finishing them. I showed "What Really
Frightens You" to some college classes for input which was very valuable.
Ultimately Cimino hurt the 'auteurist' theory because you must have disclipline
when making a movie. It's still a business and you have to have someone willing
to pay to sit through it. Cimino lives in France now where he's considered a
great is Jerry Lewis.

Now Leone made extremelly long operatic Westerns. But they worked. You
were exhausted after watching them but they were so stylish and over the top
it didn't matter. He was incredible. Cimino should've learned something from him.
And from Clint Eastwood who was an early mentor. Eastwood is an auteurist but
with discipline. He makes very personal films but they always come in within the
budget and are releasable and show a return on the investment. Cimino did have
talent but he couldn't produce. He needed someone guiding him. Read "Final Cut".
It's a real eye opener. Wildest chapter has the director looking through his
lens and deterimining the buildings aren't far enough apart so he makes the crew
take them down and move them at great expense. The more sensible method
is to put on a wider lens which would achieve the same effect. Filmmaking is
all about compromise. You set your goals and stick to them but you need some
wiggle room to compensate for all the things that will go wrong during the shoot.
If you can't film during the sunset you envisioned because it's raining then you pick
another location but make sure the performances and point of the scene remain intact.
You make the new place work within the context of the narrative. It helps if you
storyboard in advance so you know the coverage you need rather than film from
every imaginable angle hoping one of them will be right. Apparently that's not how
Cimino worked. 30 takes of every shot too. In my experience if you can't get the
shot in 3 takes you'd better stop and rehearse some more instead of wasting film
or shooting your rehearsals.

In the unlikely event that "Heaven's Gate" is ever released on blu ray, it will look
horrible. Check out Roger Ebert's take on it. He says it's so murky and grainy it
looks like 'vaseline' was wiped on the lens.

I guess there is one thing you could say about Cimino's film. It's probably the
only picture in the history of cinema where the director was completely satisfied
with the final result without reservations or any desire to reshoot or remake parts
of it. He was given carte blanche to do what he wanted without restriction. 30 takes of each shot, a limitless budget and final cut. Cimino was competely satisfied with his final vision. The trouble is no one else was. In a panic he tried to re-edit it afterwards
but it was too late to salvage the investment and UA folded.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-25-08 at 07:28 AM.
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post #4 of 22 Old 11-11-08, 04:14 PM
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review

(so bummed, I wrote out a long post and it disappeared on me -- you'll have to do with this condensed version)

Interesting take on Cimino.

How do you think some of his earlier work holds up? For example, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter?

I don't think I've seen any part of either movie as an adult.. and the parts I did see as a kid were on TV, so I'm sure they were heavily edited.
Both movies were successful at the time, but I have no idea if they stood the test of time or were good just in that time frame. The only thing I remember about them is how depressing they were.

But back to Close Encounters.. One area I totally agree with you relates to the scenes in the ship. It took away a good part of the magic for me. Sort of like when they show the monster in a movie. It just seems to diminish the fear factor a bit. For example, Alien just scared me silly the first time I saw it. The cut scenes of the alien were pretty effective at giving you an impression of the what the monster was rather than really showing you. When you finally do get a good look at the alien, it diminishes the scariness of the alien. The fact that it doesn't diminish even more is a great tribute to the creature makers of the movie -- that has to rank as the all time best.

The other additions/deletions you mention I probably would have never noticed since there was such a gap between now and when I first watched the original. Interesting information though..

And why can't they just leave the movies alone? The Star Wars updates didn't make them better, but (at least to me) lessened them. Some of the touch ups I thought were effective, but some were just cutesy.. which I can't imagine any true fan wanted. I just thank South Park for their first episode with Spielberg and Lucas. Who knows if it's true, but I love that they may have stopped the duo from "fixing" Indiana Jones.

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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review


"Thunderbold and Lightfoot" was an okay Eastwood movie. Grim ending.
I thought "The Deer Hunter" was okay but over-rated. I didn't quite get the
'style'. Was is it supposed to be a symbolic fantasy? How could Walken survive
so long playing Russian Roulette as a game. The structure was a bit muddled
although the performances were good. I wouldn't want to sit through it again.

I guess the reason they won't leave movies alone is that you can sell them
like a 'new feature' if they are extensively re-edited. It's still cheaper to add
a few scenes and re-mix the film than starting from scratch and making another
feature film. The Star Wars, Close Encounters and Apocalypse Redux re-releases
all did quite well inspiring other directors and studios to start sweeping up 'the face
on the cutting room floor' (as the cliche goes) and splicing it back into the movie
as a 'special edition'. There are no insurance costs re-editing a picture as opposed
to filming on location and dealing with the elements.

Believe it or not, this occurred during the studio era and is not a new
phenomenon. Having different versions of the same movie in release during it's first run or for a re-issue was fairly common. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd re-edited their movies for re-release. The most extreme example is the sound version of Chaplin's "The Gold Rush". It was derived primarily from out-takes and different gags. Other than the title, it's quite different than the original silent release. It has a different ending and Chaplin narrates it rather than having title cards. Lloyd trimmed some of the sensitive
scenes of his character to focus on the gags and slapstick. For example, he cut the
sequence in "The Freshman" which he breaks down and cries.
"Gone with the Wind" was re-issued in 1968 in the strangest "Special Edition"
of all time. They took the 1.33 35mm three strip negative and optically enlarged
it to 2.21 x 1 70mm and re-issued it in that format. The tops and bottoms of the
compositions were severed altered. Wide shots became medium shots and close
ups looked like the kind that Sergio Leone used in his Westerns. The original
sound elements existed and it was re-mixed to 6 track stereo. The title design
was changed too. Film buffs and historians were outraged but audiences liked
that version and it was a smash hit. Selznick died the year before they created
this widescreen adaptation. I don't think he would've allowed it had he been

Of course "Fantasia" went through several versions in it's many re-issues.
In the fifties they created a widscreen SuperScope version retaining the 4 track
Fantasound. That version had the black centaurs scenes. Then it was re-issued
in mono but with those shots cut. It was rescored entirely for a later re-issue
for Dolby stereo copies and all shots of Deems Taylor were removed. Then it was
re-issued in four track mag with Taylor intros restored but the centaurs cut. Later,
they found some additional material with Taylor but didn't have the soundtrack so
all of his shots (including the new restored sections) were dubbed by another actor.
The black centaur scenes were restored but scanned to remove the characters
considered 'politically incorrect'.

"Lost Horizon" was Roadshown in a 135 minute cut then shown in general
release in a 120 minute version. Later it was recut again to a 98 minute cut
and retitled "Lost Horizon of Shangri La". Then they tried to piece it back
together using stills to fill in the lost footage.

"The Shining" was sent out to theaters with different endings. Some prints had
one climax and others had a different one. "The Sand Pebbles" had Roadshow copies
at different lengths. Four prints (called "Preview" version but still sent to cinemas)
circulated with a running time of 3 and a half hours. The Rivoli 70mm print was
3 hours and 16 minutes. The rest of the theaters got a 3 hour and 2 minute print.

"South Pacific" was Roadshow in some theaters with a 2 hour and 50 minute
70mm print. Other theaters got a 2 and a half hour print. "Camelot" was shown
in 70mm with a 3 hour running time and in 35mm with a 2 1/2 hour version. "Paint
Your Wagon" was shown in 70mm and in 35mm four track magnetic stereo copy with
a 165 minute running time. The rest of the theaters got a 35mm mono print with
a 2 hour and 20 minute cut. "Ben Hur" was originally released with a 3 1/2 hour
running time. In 1969 two versions were available for booking. One with the original
running time and also a severed altered cut with a 2 hour 45 minute running time.
The prologue was cut and it just started on the opening credits. All re-issues of "How the West Was Won" removed the final sequence showing shots of San Francisco in modern times. They just ended on the stagecoach driving away. There were three
versions of "Lawrence of Arabia". The original 3 hour 20 minute version. A re-issue
version in 1971 that ran 3 hours and 7 minutes but had an extra scene (Allenby by
the fireplace) that was not in the 1963 version. Then there was the new version
from 1989 that ran 3 1/2 hours. There was a fourth Royal Premiere version that was only shown in England that ran 3 hours and 40 minutes but that cut is lost and was
only shown in that single screening to my knowledge. However that running time of
222 minutes was erroneously listed as the official one in 1963 even though all cinemas
received prints that ran 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Most of these films have been restored to the original version shown first run
on DVD. But audiences saw multiple cuts of the same movie depending when and
where they screened the film. The difference is, in most cases today the original
version still exists and sometimes they include all of the cuts when released to
home video. In the studio era, the original version often disappeared completely
since they were less diligent preserving movies.

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post #6 of 22 Old 11-12-08, 11:54 AM
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review

Richard W. Haines wrote: View Post
I guess the reason they won't leave movies alone is that you can sell them
like a 'new feature' if they are extensively re-edited. It's still cheaper to add
a few scenes and re-mix the film than starting from scratch and making another
feature film. The Star Wars, Close Encounters and Apocalypse Redux re-releases
all did quite well inspiring other directors and studios to start sweeping up 'the face
on the cutting room floor' (as the cliche goes) and splicing it back into the movie
as a 'special edition'.
And there is the root of all evil..

I just wish they had more respect for their fans. Lucas in particular is pretty mercenary in his practices. I guess you can't blame the guy, but if he's already got more money than Jabba, it'd be nice for him to give something back.

More good info on the different versions of movies.

The only anecdote I can bring to the table is with my Grandmother. She went to the movies with some of her girlfriends back in the day (she lived in Santa Barbara, CA). After watching the movie she went to see, they had a pre-screening of Gone with the Wind. Even before the movie came out, it was a big deal, so everyone stayed and watched the movie, then had to fill out some questionairre at the end. She watched the later release and said she remembered some scenes that were missing.

And it's kind of sad that we'll probably never see some of the older movies due to the negative racial undertones. The old Song of the South by Disney (with Uncle Remus) for example. Understandable, but a bummer nonetheless. I'm surprised that the Little Rascals is still available.

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post #7 of 22 Old 11-13-08, 07:32 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review


Well if you think PC was bad before, wait until you see the extent of it's influence
over the next four years...

And of course PC is a one sided brand of intolerance. Those who are offended
by the Our Gang shorts, "Fantasia" centaurs or "Song of the South" have no problem with the reverse type of racism coming from the other side of the spectrum. Target
Disney and Hal Roach while 'reinventing' Paul Robeson as an American hero worthy of
a US postage stamp. Just another form of censorship and revisionist history with a political slant and agenda.

Fortunately I am not a flack catcher and I think everything should be available.
Let consumers decide what they want to see. If they find something offensive
then the marketplace will take care of it rather than the activists.

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post #8 of 22 Old 11-14-08, 05:48 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review


Your grandmother must've seen the preview version of "Gone with the
Wind". One of the scenes she probably saw that was later cut was a
sequence where Rhett shoots the pony that killed his daughter. Even in
it's final version, it's one of the longest movies released in cinema history.
The longest US picture is "Cleopatra" at four hours. To my knowledge
GWTW was unique in that it wasn't trimmed in any of it's many reissues
whereas "Cleopatra" was cut by 40 minutes for 35mm general release.
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post #9 of 22 Old 12-04-08, 03:28 PM
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review

The first version it is then. This reminds me about why the people at AIX, will not try and restore older classic material for DVD`A`s and SACD`s. As much as we would like to hear this music in a high rez format.
What i`m saying is, maybe trying to put these older movies in Blu-Ray, based on how they were original done, is akin to how older music was recorded, thus you can really only take advantage of Blu-Ray, or any other high rez or HD format with current movies and music made today.

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post #10 of 22 Old 12-04-08, 04:20 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Close Encounters blu ray review


Well I would say that color movies photographed before 1968 will look good
on blu ray providing the negative isn't too faded and can be color
corrected to the right balance. Anything shot in the 'classic studio'
style is going to have a fully exposed, fine grain negative which is
enhanced by the high definition format. The problem pictures are from
the "New Hollywood" time period which continued into the seventies.

Today most cameramen fully light the negative to accomdate the
home video market but back in the late sixties and seventies, they
weren't considering what the image would look like on video.
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