Release Date(s)1997 (October 6, 2009)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Based on the best-selling novel by the late Carl Sagan, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, Contact tells the poignant and thought-provoking story of humanity’s first brush with life beyond Earth. Jodie Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway, an idealistic young scientist who has chosen to risk her career on what most of her colleagues consider a foolish path... the search for radio signals from extraterrestrials.
Deeply affected by the death of her father as a child, Ellie finds emotional refuge in the elegant simplicity of science, and is motivated by a powerful need to seek meaning in her existence. But when Ellie becomes attracted to an equally idealistic man of faith named Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), who believes that religion holds the answers to these questions, she finds herself unprepared to deal with the emotional conflict that results. Ellie eventually detects her message from space, an event which catapults her into the unwelcome limelight of the media, and takes an unprepared world by storm. In the chaos that follows, Ellie finds herself at the heart of a struggle between politics, science and religion... and in competition with her former mentor (Tom Skerritt) for the right to represent humanity on the ultimate journey of discovery.
Right from its breathtaking opening shot, Contact is a film which dares to proceed boldly both visually and story-wise. Several scenes illustrate this, particularly one in which young Ellie races upstairs in a vain attempt to retrieve her dying father’s heart medicine, and is revealed to be a reflection in the medicine cabinet’s mirror. Contact’s supporting characters are terrifically cast, including James Woods as a manipulative and paranoid National Security Advisor, and John Hurt as Ellie’s benefactor, the enigmatic industrialist S. R. Hadden, a sort of Howard Hughes-type recluse who may be saint or sinner. And Contact’s ultimate message is one I strongly believe – that while science and religion may often seem to be in conflict, in reality they aren’t. Both speak to fundamentally different issues and yet share a common goal... the search for the truth.
All of this is not to say that Contact is perfect. Zemeckis can’t resist what (for a time at least) became his trademark – the use of CGI to insert famous public figures into his story (a la Forrest Gump). Here, the unwitting subject is President Clinton (who was reportedly none too pleased when he saw the film). The first scene with Clinton works surprisingly well, but Zemeckis uses the gimmick so often (with Clinton and others) it becomes distracting. And while McConaughey is adequate as Joss, his role as the movie’s moral center simply doesn’t give his character much to do, which leads to a rare bit of casting turnabout – a token male supporting a strong female lead. Ultimately though, Contact works far more often than not. And for those willing to take the journey, it succeeds in way that is truly rare with science fiction film these days: It manages to evoke a powerful a sense of wonder.
This new Blu-ray edition brings the film to high-definition in fine form. The negative is in excellent shape and every bit of its detail appears on screen. There’s lovely and subtle textures visible, including a very fine layer of print grain that perfectly preserves the original filmic quality of the presentation. Fine detail is abundant without appearing filtered. Color and contrast are also very pleasing. On the audio side of things, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix features excellent clarity and a broad and enveloping soundstage. Surround play is subtle but natural, and there’s decent bass reinforcement.
Contact was one of Warner’s early special edition DVD releases, and all of those original features have carried over here. There are two different theatrical trailers, four special effects featurettes (including one on the opening shot), three animation clips featuring design concepts for major locations in the film, and a trio of commentary tracks featuring the producer and director, Jodie Foster herself and two effects supervisors. Foster’s track is the best of the lot – her observations are fascinating and, occasionally, even eloquent as she discusses the film’s themes and provides insight into her character. The Blu-ray also has one exclusive feature: A new 5.1 music-only track presenting Alan Silvestri’s thrilling score. That’s a surprise indeed, and is a welcome addition to the extras.
For my money, Contact is Zemeckis’ most interesting film. Thanks to the genius of Sagan, the ideas at its heart are well-conceived and scientifically accurate. Teachers should show Contact to young high-school students with an interest in a future in science, because few film experiences will better open their eyes to the sheer wonders of the universe. This is a good one to watch with the whole family. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt