Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 2/14/98
Special Edition - 1997 (1997) - Warner Bros.
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Poetic, moving and great high-concept SciFi to boot (with every bit
as much Sci as Fi).
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Superior picture and sound quality, and packed with extras.
Overall Rating: A+
An absolute must-have. This DVD is a serious bargain for your buck.
150 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:00:34), Snapper
packaging, 4 special effects featurettes, 3 animated design
concepts, audio commentary by Jodie Foster, Robert Zemeckis and
Steve Starkey, Ken Ralston and Stephen Rosenbaum, production notes,
cast and crew bios, 2 theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens,
scene access (43 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0),
French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Close
Based on the best-selling novel by the late Carl Sagan, Contact
is a poignant and thought-provoking film about humanity's first
experience with life beyond Earth. Jodie Foster (who should have
received a Best Actress nomination for this work) is Dr. Ellie
Arroway, an idealistic and brilliant young scientist, who has chosen
to risk her career on what most of her colleagues consider a foolish
occupation... 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. Why
are we here? Are we alone in the Universe? 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.
Eventually, of course, Ellie finds her message from space, an event
which catapults her into the unwelcome limelight of the media, and
takes an unprepared world by storm. The message is soon found to
contain instructions for building a massive machine, designed to
send a single person into space. Suddenly, Ellie finds herself at
the heart of 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 on a variety of levels. The
film is directed with amazing visual artistry by Robert Zemeckis,
best known for his Oscar-winning Forrest
Gump. 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 Huges-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, both share a common goal... the
search for the truth.
All of this is not to say that Contact
is perfect. Director Zemeckis can't resist here what has
unfortunately become his trademark - the use of CGI to insert famous
public figures into his story (a la 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 Matthew
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... it evokes a
powerful a sense of wonder.
The DVD version of Contact is
simply terrific. The picture quality is outstanding in both 16x9
anamorphic presentation and 2.35:1 letterbox. The disc (which is
one-sided, but dual-layered) omits a full frame, pan & scan
version, which may prove irritating to some (personally, I don't
miss it at all). But the disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 and Pro Logic
soundtracks are both excellent (a French soundtrack is also
provided, as are subtitles in English, French and Spanish). And the
DVD includes a wealth of ancillary material, which is where this
disc really shines. There are pages of production notes, two
different theatrical trailers, four 'shorts' on the making of the
major special effects sequences (including one on the opening shot -
watch for the face on Mars!), three animations featuring design
concepts for major locations in the film, and finally, three
separate commentary tracks by the producer and director, Jodie
Foster and two effects supervisors. While Zemeckis is rather boring
and tough to listen to for two hours, Foster is fascinating and,
occasionally, even eloquent as she discusses the film's themes and
provides insight into her character.
The film is 150 minutes long, but several times that is required to
view all of the extras. The disc includes graphic interactive menus
(using film imagery) and includes 43 Chapters. The disc also uses a
well-placed RSDL layer-switch, which occurs at the end of Chapter 17
(1:00:34 to be precise).
This disc is simply not to be missed. Though Contact
may be a bit slow and heady for some (don't expect Starship
Troopers here), it is a powerful and touching film. This
disc easily ranks among the very best DVDs yet released. And for
around $20, I can't recommend it more highly.