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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Contact (1997)



Reviews and Comments

Robert Zemeckis proves once again that he's not only a gifted filmmaker, but appropriately more concerned with his craft than popular opinion. Like his previous film, Forrest Gump, he tackles controversial moral and religious issues that might easily have been sidestepped and does so in an intelligent manner -- rare for mainstream Hollywood.

The film's title refers to the first communication made between humans and extraterrestrial aliens. It is, perhaps, the most plausible portrayal of such an event in all of film history. Jodie Foster plays a member of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) who has to fight skeptical beaurocrats for funding for her endeavors -- yet when she discovers a signal from outer space that must have been sent by intelligent beings, they are quick to take the credit. Interestingly, the focus of the film is not so much this contact with alien life but the turmoil it causes on Earth, both with the characters of the story and the world at large. The character portraits are refreshingly thorough (with perhaps a very minor exception regarding Matthew McConaughey's, who's a little too upstanding), and even the requisite slimy creep guy has motives beyond gratuitous meanness.

A potential pitfall for such a story is that -- meticulously attending to its earthly plot, characters, and moral issues -- the pivotal moment of the alien contact would be treated with perfunctory concern. Not so with Contact. Without saying too much, there's nothing anticlimactic about it; it's appropriately the dramatic highlight of the film, evoking the expected sense of wonder and excitement and yet a little bit more.

While not a special effects film, per se, Contact's special effects (gimmicky Gump-style integration of President Clinton excluded) are awe-inspiring at minimum; these and the cinematography in general require widescreen, probably big screen, viewing to fully appreciate.

All told, Contact is one of the most solid and spectacular, moving and profound science fiction films ever made. The inevitable comparisons with 2001: A Space Odyssey will raise the question of which is better. I think it's an ineffectual question to ask, and I refuse to answer it. Both are very fine science fiction films in their own right. I will, however, state that Contact fails to incorporate the two most defining aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, namely confusion and boredom. Ah well, give this one a token whirl anyway.