Sunday, November 14, 2004

Movie Review: Contact

United States, 1997
U.S. Release Date: 7/11/97 (wide)
Running Time: 2:30
Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, mature themes)
Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner, Angela Bassett, John Hurt, Rob Lowe, David Morse, Jena Malone

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producers: Doug Mitchell, Steve Starkey, and Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg based on a story by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, based on the novel by Carl Sagan
Music: Alan Silvestri
Studio: Warner Brothers

Posted by Hello
Based on the 1985 bestselling book by Carl Sagan, Contact is a contagious selection of cinema that gets into your brain and bonds itself there in both vision and thought. Its effects are aesthetically pleasing and its action is undeniably satisfying, but this feature skillfully spends more time propounding queries and rousing discussions than it does distracting us with vacuous contentions.

Contact wisely places plot, concepts, and characters above all else. For example, the film holds scientifically feasible ideas supreme over the typical green-men gun battles one would expect. Hence, its ability to not conform to stereotypical standards is just one component that makes Contact smart, superior, and one of the best films to ever deal with ostensibly valid science applied to a fictional situation.

Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is a scientist infatuated with the stars and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Working for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), Ellie listens for any audible sounds from the depths of the solar system that may signify some sort of alien acumen. However, stricken with the limits of bureaucracy, Ellie discovers the difficulty in convincing investors to back her “alien-searching” research. Nonetheless, she doesn’t give up, and shows inexorable determination to uncover something that is not of this world.

Ellie’s fortitude finally pays off when she discovers a recurring signal sent from the star Vega. Ellie and her team begin to decode the message as the world waits, watches, and prays. The message from deep space progressively becomes clearer, and it becomes apparent that whatever or whoever is out there is trying to communicate.

Contact may be completely celestial on its outer shell, but it’s primarily personal at its core. Though the majority of Contact’s plot focuses on the search for extraterrestrial life, the film is more importantly about the main character’s quest to find her inner self. Ellie searches for not only sounds from space, but also purpose in her life. Throughout the picture, she is all alone on a mission to find the very meaning of her existence, while – from a scientist’s standpoint – she is faced with the disconcerting conflict of physical evidence vs. faith.

Contact poses very pertinent questions - on the clash between religion and science - that powerfully provoke thought, yet prudently do not boast any opinions. The film persistently asks, “Why are we here?”, “Who are we?”, “Are we alone in the universe?”, and “Is there a greater power that be?” By asking these seemingly-unanswerable questions, the film offers an updated version on the faith vs. facts trial in Inherit the Wind and represents itself as an outstanding human science-fiction feature.

Jodie Foster plays the part of Ellie Arroway with unflinching zeal. Her role may seem a tad distraught, but as a portrayal of a curious scientist who is passionate about her work, it is wholly genuine. Matthew McConaughey fits the bill as both Foster’s love interest and a former seminary student who “couldn’t really deal with the celibacy” turned theologian. Additionally, Jena Malone as a young Ellie (albeit with the wrong eye color) and David Morse as Ellie’s father, assist in elevating the picture’s level of performance power.

Robert Zemeckis’s direction is enchanting; from his execution of the opening space-time continuum tour and inclusion of TV and media to tell the story, to his wondrous camera work (when Ellie runs up the stairs, for example) and sterling scene transitions, Zemeckis presents a fantastic follow-up to his equally euphoric Forrest Gump. In addition, the picture’s pacing is perfect—making its 150 minute length not a setback but a plus. Fortunately, Contact doesn’t fall victim to Hollywood’s typical under two-hour expectancy. In fact, atypical is an excellent word to describe Contact, because it is nonconforming and it doesn’t cop out in any way. Contact’s plot developments occur at precisely the right moments and its numerous themes irrefutably keep you captivated. In everyway imaginable, this film is truly flawless.

Ultimately, Contact contains enough grace, awe, humility, and wonder to float you onto a cloud and carry you away. It is a film that will not lose your interest for one second and a picture that will certainly impact you down to the very marrow of your bone. Without reserve, Contact is irrevocably a cinematic shining star. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004