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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

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: A
Poetic, moving and great high-concept SciFi to boot (with every bit as much Sci as Fi).

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/A+
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.

Specs and Features

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 Captioned


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).

Bottom line

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.

Bill Hunt
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