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. 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 were dramatic fictions. And if nobody did it before I made it big, I was going to do it myself. But now we have Contact.

I went in with high expectations, the first time I’ve had high expectations for a movie in a long time. The trailer knocked me out, and this is from Carl Sagan. I was nervous Zemeckis might make Contact with the same playful style of his earlier work, but he delivered, and Contact met all my expectations.

An interesting bridge of science and science fiction. Sagan’s realistic sensibilities, mind for detail, and foundation of hard science lent realism to the film. Zemeckis took it further, with a serious treatment of the story, some unbelievable shots, great cuts, great camera movement, great photographic comedy, great use of music, and great special effects. Zemeckis really has a knack for using effects without abusing them. Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and now Contact are all realistic fantasy worlds which are a source of inspiration and wonder. Zemeckis is good at that.

There were moments when I was actually shaking with excitement. The opening sequence, with its deafening silence, is incredible. Foster’s voyage through the transport was breathtaking. Here “OK to go…” dialogue was incredible, and I was shaking with the thought of what might be at the end of her voyage. And the Tron-like lighting at Planet Pensacola was fascinating.

Foster, McConaughey, and Skerritt were all good. Even Clinton’s footage was great, and the fact that the White House is complaining about the use of his image in the film is ridiculous. Perhaps there were 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).

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 this was Sagan’s original ending. Some nitpicks… First, astronauts go through the most rigorous physical training to ensure that they will survive the physical stresses of space travel. A lanky old man like Tom Skerritt would never have been a candidate for an expedition like this one. Second, 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. Third, with 43 cameras around the capsule, surely one of them would have seen or detected the door magically and seamlessly sealing shut on the outside.

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