Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Contact (1997)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt


I’ve always felt that Hollywood sorely needed a film which intelligently and realistically dealt with the possibility of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life. A film like Contact. The only other films which take extra-terrestrial contact seriously are War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Sure, Spielberg made E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but those seemed fictional somehow, like they were fantasy films. And if nobody did it before I made it big, I was going to do it myself. I swear, I feel like Zemeckis made my movie for me. I went into this film with high expectations, the first time I have done so in a long time. The preview knocked me out, and I anticipated the release of a film based on the writing of Carl Sagan. I was nervous about Zemeckis, fearing that he might make Contact with the same playful attitude of his earlier work. But Zemeckis delivered, and Contact met all my expectations. An interesting bridge of science and science fiction.

Zemeckis started with an amazing story, thanks to Carl Sagan. The man is a genius, and it was his realistic sensibilities, mind for detail, and science-based theories which lent unbelievable realism to the film and gave it solid ground to stand on. And then Zemeckis came along and directed the film wonderfully. Most directors would have taken the good story, thrown it in the studio grinder, and spewed out sci-fi trash like Men In Black or Independence Day, but Zemeckis took the story seriously and delivered a quality product. Very well-made. Some unbelievable shots. Great cuts, great camera movement, great photographic comedy, great music, and great use of that music. Great special effects. Zemeckis is great at using effects without abusing them.

There were moments in this film when I was actually shaking with excitement. The opening sequence is incredible. The silence is deafening and incredibly effective. Foster’s voyage through the transport was breath-taking. I was shaking and almost cried with the thought of what might be at the end of her voyage. And the Tron-like lighting at Planet Pensacola was fascinating. Strangely, that is how I had planned to make my alien world in my film. I’m just not sure about the dramatic impact of ending. Somehow, I expected the biggest ending in the history of film, and I don’t know if I got that. I wonder if that was Sagan’s original ending.

Foster, McConaughey, and Skerritt (who I usually don’t like) were all good. Even Clinton was great, and the fact that the White House is complaining about the use of his image in the film is ridiculous. Perhaps the only faults with this film were that there may have been too many stars (putting a star like Rob Lowe in for a bit part is distracting) and too many repeating references (which get corny if they are overdone).

Zemeckis is easily my favorite USC film grad. He is a master at using great stories, characters, and computer effects (intelligently and not excessively) to create realistic fantasy worlds which are a source of inspiration and wonder. Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. They are all the same.

A few flaws I noticed on the second viewing. First of all, astronauts go through the most rigorous physical training to ensure that they will survive the physical stresses of space travel. For an expedition such as this one, a lanky old man like Tom Skerritt wouldn’t have even been a candidate. Secondly, they would have not allowed any civilians or TV crews within even 5000 miles of the test site, let alone on a sandbar a mile away. At that point in the movie, the machine could have been a Doomsday device for all they knew. Thirdly, with 43 cameras around the capsule, they would have seen or detected the door magically and seamlessly sealing shut on the outside.

I have to say that even in the second viewing, the trip was incredible. Especially the moments when she keeps muttering “OK to go…” and then begins the trip. Amazing.

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