In her 1974 live album "Miles of Aisles," Joni Mitchell says between songs that she finds performing a curious art form, as it requires the artist to do the same songs over and over again:

"A painter does a painting, and he does a painting, that's it, y'know?

" ... Nobody ever said to van Gogh, 'Paint "A Starry Night" again, man.' You know, he painted it, that was it."

That model could easily be applied to filmmakers these days.

Once upon a time, a "restored film" was a newly edited "director's cut" of a picture that had been taken out of the director's hands and re-edited by the studio, then sent out to theaters.

Hence, restorations of Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" or David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" meant a director's original vision was at last available.

But as with Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner," which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, moviemakers today have too many outlets for reworking their pictures.

"Director's cuts" are now as plentiful as "Saw" sequels. To be fair, sometimes these recuts do enhance a film, but more often they just make it longer.

This is especially frustrating for films we loved the first time around with no complaints.

Did we really need George Lucas' reworked versions of the first "Star Wars" trilogy? That's the most extreme example ... but, actually, I blame Steven Spielberg.

He was the guy who really kicked off the contemporary wave of movies that directors feel can't ever be tweaked enough.

And I'm not talking about the guns painted out of the holsters in "E.T." Although, if Spielberg really wanted to make that film more family-friendly, he should have cleaned up the language.

Long before that bit of tampering, however, Spielberg took his classic "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and gave it a theatrical rerelease in 1980 after "fixing" the ending, by letting Richard Dreyfuss' character go into the mother ship.

The result was a laser-light show that really added nothing.

He tweaked the film again in 1998 for a VHS/laser-disc "Director's Cut" (released on DVD in 2002).

And now we get the "30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition," and with it — like Lucas before him — Spielberg has condescended to finally give us the original version, along with his 1980 and '98 redos.

Yes, all three versions are in this set (Columbia, three discs, $39.95), along with a new featurette, the old featurette, a poster and a 68-page photo-filled booklet.

Are all 11 of the deleted scenes from the previous DVD release included in these three versions of the film? You be the judge.

But at least we finally have the film in its debut form ... albeit along with the others.

Any way you slice it, "Close Encounters" remains a fabulous movie, the standard-bearer for optimistic science fiction.

Spielberg is a film genius, there's no denying it. And despite the dazzling spectacle, this one — like all great sci-fi — is at its best in unfolding the human drama, as embodied by obsessive Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss at his best).

Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, French filmmaker Francois Truffaut — and especially young Cary Guffey — are also impressive, along with John Williams' music, Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography and eye-popping special effects.

A must-have, of course ... but would Spielberg have asked van Gogh to paint "Starry Night" again?

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