Film Review: Contact (1997)

Release Date: July 11th, 1997
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: James V. Hart, Michael Golden
Based on: Contact by Carl Sagan
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, David Morse, Jena Malone, William Fichtner, Jake Busey, Rob Lowe, Geoffrey Blake, Max Martini, Steven Ford, Tucker Smallwood

South Side Amusement Company, Warner Bros., 150 Minutes

Review:

“I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.” – David Drumlin, “Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.” – Ellie Arroway

Man, since the first time that I saw this movie, I just loved the hell out of it. I really should’ve seen it in the theater but it came out just after I graduated high school and that summer was insane, as I was in an alcohol, weed and/or opium induced state for months while also trying to conquer Final Fantasy VII between parties and festivals.

Throughout high school, I was a big fan Carl Sagan’s work. As a kid, I had seen his original version of the Cosmos television series but it wasn’t until high school when a good science teacher handed me the Cosmos book that my mind delved deep into the man’s written work. I’ve since gone back and read most of his books multiple times.

The story of Contact‘s genesis is an interesting one, as Carl Sagan and his future wife, Ann Druyan, wrote an outline for the film’s story way back in 1979. There were issues trying to get the picture off of the ground, so Sagan instead reworked it into a novel that was published in 1985. After that, buzz picked up around the idea of making it into a film, once again. However, after a few directors came and went, it didn’t get rolling until Robert Zemeckis took the helm in 1996.

The movie, on its surface, had everything going for it. It had Zemeckis as its director, Jodie Foster in the lead role, as well as James Woods, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Angela Bassett and David Morse. It also had Matthew McConaughey and William Fichtner in prominent roles, as both men were just really starting to carve out their long, great careers. In fact, I’d say that it was this movie and A Time to Kill, which came out just before it, that brought McConaughey into the mainstream and really launched him to new heights.

The story is also wonderful and it makes me wish that there were still movies like this that pushed wonder and the pursuit of real truth. It’s films like this that inspire and create the next generation of dreamers but I feel like that is something that’s been lost and I honestly can’t think of a movie since this one that had that sort of aura about it. But this was written by Carl Sagan and that man knew how to inspire and how to create genuine wonder in the hearts and minds of those he spoke to.

I love this story, I love these characters and I love the journey Jodie Foster’s Ellie goes on throughout the entire picture, from childhood-to-adulthood and then into uncharted territory through the cosmos itself.

The film is also just beautiful to look at and it came out in a time when digital effects were really starting to come together. Seeing this now, the special effects have aged well and this is still a great looking picture.

What’s most interesting about the digital effects is that they were created in a collaborative effort between Sony Pictures’ Imageworks, Peter Jackson’s Weta, George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, Effects Associates and Pixar. That being said, this combined effort came together beautifully.

Now I know that this film gets criticized for its ending and it’s considered a disappointment and anticlimactic by some but I think the film’s ending is absolute perfection. It’s beautiful, meaningful and true to the spirit of Carl Sagan’s message.

Contact is truly an experience, a very human one. It connects to its audience in a way that’s becoming much rarer in today’s Hollywood output. I want motion pictures to make me feel like this again. But I guess I can still revisit films like Contact whenever I want. It’s just sad that this is nearly a quarter of a century old and it’s one of the last films to really capture my imagination in such a deep, heartfelt and sincere way.

Rating: 9/10