written by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg
Based on the novel Contact by Carl Sagan
directed by Robert Zemeckis
I remember going to see Contact at a midnight show when it first came out in 1997. I was 26. Now that I’m 43, the thought of going to see a movie in the wee hours of the morning fills me with insurmountable dread. A working man’s got get his beauty sleep.
In any case, my memory of the film included many things that had captured my attention: Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) receiving radio signals from extraterrestrials and trying to decode them; the building of a high-tech futuristic machine designed to meet the aliens; James Woods hamming it up as the U.S. National Security Advisor. But I also seemed to remember tons of ridiculous stuff, like Ellie’s trippy love interest/antagonist Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a cornball score by Alan Silvestri, and an ending that made director Robert Zemeckis’ melodramatic Forrest Gump (1994) a classic of understatement.
Not completely trusting my instincts, and in preparation for my review of Interstellar (2014), I decided to take a look at Contact again. I wasn’t wrong. It pretty much holds up to my earlier impression, except that now I was a little more surprised by the film’s naive notions of faith versus science, clumsily told through dialogue such as “Ironically, the thing people are most hungry for – meaning – is the one thing science hasn’t been able to give them.“ Really? I think science gives a lot of people plenty of meaning, thank you.
I’ve never read anything by cosmologist Carl Sagan, but he’s been on my list for a long time. I know Contact was his first and only fiction novel, but I doubt it is as unsubtle as the film itself. Should you watch it? Absolutely. My pulse still quickens at the end when Ellie gets on the device that will transport her to galaxies unknown. Still, buried inside Contact is a much better movie. Time for a remake?
Carlos I. Cuevas