Review: Contact (1997)

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Steve Rhodes

Jul 10, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/10/97

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

RATING (0 TO ****): ***

Blind astro-audio specialist Kent Cullers (William Fichtner)
lampoons, "Dr. Arroway will be spending her precious telescope time
looking for." "Little green men," says Dr. Eleanor Arroway (Jodie
Foster) completing his sentence.

CONTACT is director Robert Zemeckis's latest and most ambitious
production ever, tackling nothing less than the question of whether we
are alone in the universe, as well as whether there is a God, and
whether it matters what your opinion is on the subject.

Robert Zemeckis is known for high concept movies with big name
stars. Most of his films, like ROMANCING THE STONE, the BACK TO THE
FUTURE trilogy, and FORREST GUMP, have been both critical and financial
successes. Since he became famous, his only flop has been DEATH

CONTACT has a galaxy of stars (Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey,
James Woods) and many minor, but still luminous celestial bodies
(Angela Bassett, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt). Moreover, Michael
Goldenberg's script is based on a novel by our era's most famous
proponent of the cosmos, Carl Sagan, and on a story by Carl Sagan and
Ann Druyan. In short, the film's credentials are impeccable.

Few films glorify the unknown and relish ambiguity to the extent
that CONTACT does. It even dares to pose many more questions that it
ever attempts to answer. Most audiences, including the one at my press
screening, have applauded at the film's conclusion. Still, some
viewers will undoubtedly walk out complaining. More than that I cannot
say about the ending without revealing key aspects of the story's

The film starts with 9-year-old Ellie, played in an incredibly
moving performance by Jena Malone, calling far away on her ham radio as
well as gazing at the stars with her dad, Ted (David Morse). Her mom
died at childbirth, and in a traumatic scene soon after the film opens,
her dad dies too. Although rated PG, this cerebral film will probably
bore younger kids for whom it is also inappropriate. Beside the death
of a parent, for which Ellie thinks herself partially responsible,
there is also a scene where the heroine goes to bed with a guy as soon
as she meets him.

Jodie Foster, who has given few mediocre performances in her
career, stretches herself with this one. Foster, who has tough down
pat, usually has trouble looking vulnerable. Dr. Arroway, a relentless
researcher who searches deep in space for signs of intelligent life, is
made human by Foster. With her pony tale, glasses, and make-up Ellie
usually looks like a harmless, but attractive nerd. She rails against
the establishment as personified by the President's National Science
Advisor, David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt). ("Ellie, still waiting for E.T.
to call?" he chides.) When he cuts her funding, she goes on a frenzied
search for private capital. Although outwardly resolute, her nerves
speak of an inner fear of losing it all.

When the inevitable call from space comes, Zemeckis stages it so
that Ellie is away from the command center. This way he can build the
tension as she races back barking a constant stream of orders on her
cell phone to her fellow researchers.

Easily, the best part of the show is not the acting but the
science. How an alien civilization chooses to communicate is certain
to fascinate everyone, especially those of us with backgrounds in the
language chosen -- mathematics. You will never guess who appears in
the first television transmission from deep space. Only a highly
imaginative script would dream it up and complement it with a plausible

James Woods, arguably the best villain in the movies today, plays
the President's National Security Advisor, Michael Kitz. Kitz wants to
militarize the project immediately. He has seen enough science fiction
movies to know that aliens mean destruction.

In the past, Matthew McConaughey's skills as an actor have
revolved around his ability to look pretty while delivering his lines
in a haughty manner with a whispery enunciation. His bland performance
in CONTACT as Palmer Joss, a "man of the cloth without the cloth," is
consistent with the rest of his career. The writer on issues of
religion and technology pens such words as, "We shop at home, we surf
the Web, at the same time we're emptier." His character and the whole
pseudo-religious babble of the story should have been eliminated. The
movie even has Rob Lowe, of all people, show up as a ridiculous
Christian theologian named Richard Rank, an obvious put-down of Ralph
Reed of the Christian Coalition.

The script has the good sense to include some humor to accompany
the picture's seriousness. "So there's life on other planets," opines
Jay Leno in his nightly monologue. "That's sure going to change the
Miss Universe contest!" And near the spot where Dr. Arroway heard the
transmission from space, people encamp Woodstock-style in a scene

The best small role in the film belongs to John Hurt as S.R.
Hadden, a Howard Hughes-style recluse and engineer extraordinaire.

And the picture's best technological gadget is the contraption
built to whisk away someone to visit the aliens. Who decides who will
be the lone astronaut is another of the film's conundrums. In perhaps
its least believable part, the panel includes a theologian. And in the
piece de resistance, belief in God is made a litmus test for space

CONTACT drags frequently and runs too long at 2:30. It is rated
PG, but kids will probably need to be 9 or 10 to appreciate it. I
recommend this highly inventive film to you and give it ***. A version
without the pseudo-religious aspects and without McConaughey would have
earned a higher rating in my book.

**** = A must see film.
*** = Excellent show. Look for it.
** = Average movie. Kind of enjoyable.
* = Poor show. Don't waste your money.
0 = Totally and painfully unbearable picture.


Opinions expressed are mine and not meant to reflect my employer's.

Michael J. Legeros

Jul 10, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/10/97

Contact (1997)

A movie review by Michael J. Legeros
Copyright 1997 by Michael J. Legeros

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg, based on a story
by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, based on the novel by Carl
Cast Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Tom
Skerritt, William Fichtner, Angela Bassett, John Hurt,
Rob Lowe, David Morse, Jena Malone
MPAA Rating "PG-13"
Running Time 150 minutes
Reviewed at The Imperial, Cary, NC (05JUL97)


Reliable Robert Zemeckis (FORREST GUMP) directs this glossy, easy-
to-follow adaptation of Carl Sagan's science-fiction novel, about a
radio astronomer (Jodie Foster) who intercepts the first intergalactic
e-mail addressed to the planet Earth, and then finds herself at the
center of controversies political, religious, and scientific. (As the
trailer so kindly gives away, the alien-o-gram contains a blueprint for
a transport device. And you can guess who has a First Class ticket.)
Closer to a character study than an epic sci-fi flick, CONTACT has a
little of something for everyone. There's action, with people running
around a small lab, shouting technical terms and excitedly staring at
computer screens. (Who knew that radio astronomy involved so much
adrenaline?) There's romance, involving a hunky religious scholar
(Matthew McConaughey). There's intrigue (of the White House variety),
some real suspense (how about those countdown sequences!), a couple of
science lessons (hey, you learn about prime numbers *and* Occam's
Razor!), a surface-level discussion of faith versus proof, and, even,
the occasional hint of hilarity. (Check out the lunatic fringe that
sets up camp outside Cape Canaveral. I spotted an Elvis impersonator.)

And there's so much more: great photography, exceptional effects,
a ready-made supporting cast (James Woods acting antagonistic, Angela
Bassett being stern, etc.), loads of convenient dramatic invention (look,
there's someone on the gantry who shouldn't be there!), and cameos by, I
believe, CNN's entire on-air staff. Everything fits together exactly as
it should and, at times, almost painfully perfunctorily so. (Is this
the most exciting boring movie of the summer? Or does that distinction
belong to FACE/OFF?) Yup, everything fits together very nice and neat,
except for the ending, which, depending upon your sensibilities, is
either a major or minor botch. (I found it as distracting as Foster's
narration during her magic carpet ride.) When all is said and done, no
one in the film, including Foster's seemingly smart cookie, thinks to
ask the obvious and most logically scientific response to the hubbub:
"repeat the damn experiment and see if you get the same results." Sigh.
Well, if nothing else, CONTACT is a summer movie that (a.) makes you
think and (b.) makes you think about the scientific method and, hell,
that's more brain power than you've probably used in the last six weeks.
And you *do* get to see stellar sights, such as the sculpted profiles of
McConaughey and Foster, when they turn away from the camera to kiss.
Have you ever seen such perfect noses?

Grade: B

Mike Legeros - Movie Hell

Laurie D. T. Mann

Jul 12, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/12/97

Contact - a solid 8 on the IMDB scale - is one of the few
intelligently written and acted SF movies I've seen recently.
SF movies tend to be either complete logical blowouts
(Independence Day/Jurassic Park/Fifth Element) or
farcical (Men in Black). While Contact has some problems
with time (a multi-national project costing hundreds
of billions of dollars completed in under three years
based on schematics from out of this world?),
it's mostly right on target.

What made this movie particularly good is the time
Roboert Zemeckis took with his direction. Many SF movies are
audio/visual assaults on the senses. There's an awful lot
of quiet against a panorama of some of the finest special
effects ever created. The first two minutes of
the movie set the tone and style for what's to come.
When there is a visual assault late in the movie, it's
a brief interlude comparable to the climax of 2001.

The performances are pretty good - Rob Lowe is so smarmy as
the Ralph Reedish-character you want to slap him - and
Zemeckis wisely doesn't let the special effects overshadow
the characters. People complained about the insertion of
Bill Clinton video in this movie, but I thought it mostly
worked. I would like to have seen a little more of John
Hurt as the mysterious billionaire, but I suppose it added
to his mystery.

I think Carl Sagan would have been proud of how his baby
turned out.

Walter Frith

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97


A movie review by Walter Frith

In a summer being bombarded with 100 million dollar spectacles and
action pictures with little or no room to leave an audience breathing, it is
truly refreshing to have a big budget Hollywood film arrive in theatres that
is skillfully presented, monumental in its vision (and visuals) and most
importantly one that will stir emotion in audiences familiar with the
Hollywood style of artful filmmaking.

That film is 'Contact'. Based on the novel by Carl Sagan, it's from
Oscar winning director Robert Zemeckis ('Forrest Gump'), who is a master at
combining technology and academics in film so brilliantly and tells the story
of an astronomer (Jodie Foster) driven by passion and intelligent belief that
Earthlings are probably not the only ones in the known universe with
intelligent life. Her mission in life started when she was very young.
Before she was ten years old she displayed stunning characteristics in
achieving greatness through the field of science and mathematics and saw her
way through to become a very important research technician, teacher and
pioneer in her chosen field. Her greatness is not realized at first as her
low profile is eventually brought to the surface one evening as she receives
radio transmissions from outer space thought to be the first contact with
alien life.

The world soon learns of this historic communication and there is a
frenzy of panic and protest which develops between the government, religious
groups, various world organizations and people in general as philosophy tries
to make sense of this seemingly impossible event.

Transmissions begin filtering through the universe and eventually arrive
on Earth that categorize a blueprint of some sort which will enable the
people of our planet to build a machine of transportation to touch the
unthinkable if someone is willing to make the journey. Politics and
competitive acts make their way through the system and a man (Tom Skerritt)
is finally chosen as the one who will make the journey. He is someone with
whom Foster has had great conflicts with many times in her career and his
choice is a frustrating one for her to swallow. That is as far as I will go
in telling you anything more about this modern masterpiece as many more
events unfold which lead to an eventual conclusion that will leave audiences
debating long after they leave the theatre.

Jodie Foster is moving and head strong as the protagonist in this film
in a performance that is the best so far in 1997 and she could find herself
nominated for an Oscar next spring. 1997 has been lacking in great roles for
women so far and Foster's is the best one given since Frances McDormand's
Oscar winning, breakthrough and noticable performance in 1996's 'Fargo'.
Other members of the cast include James Woods as a doubting and borderline
villain in the role of a national security agent, Angela Bassett as a White
House aide, John Hurt in a dark and fascinating performance as a man of
undisclosed wealth aiding Foster in her journey and Matthew McConaugheyas a
writer in a role that is somewhat under written and that is the film's only

I am tempted to make comparisons to other classic science fiction films
but somehow 'Contact' manages to escape comparisons because while it is
certanly influenced by achievements of the past, it's presentation is totally
original, intelligent and without pretention.

OUT OF 5> * * * * *

Paul John Barnette Jr

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97

Contact (1997)
Viewed Friday, July 11 1997

I have been reading the postings on the new film Contact in this
newsgroup over the past few days. They sparked my curiosity to such an
extent that I decided to see the film. When I heard some comparing
Contact with 2001: A Space Odyssey I knew that I would without a doubt
be in the theater on opening night. I've just returned home after
seeing it and decided to sit down at my computer and give my own
thoughts on the subject.

One thing that surprised me was the audience's reaction to Contact.
For the entire two and one half hours it was so quiet that you could
almost hear a pin drop. I had not witnessed such a reaction in a
packed house since I saw Oliver Stone's JFK in a theater a few years
ago. Regardless of what the rest of the audience thought of the film
after it was over, I know for a fact that it held their undivided
attention for its entire running time, which is no small
accomplishment in this day and age.

My personal reaction to the film is very positive overall. It is not
the science fiction masterpiece that 2001 is (then again, what is?),
but it is an intelligent hardcore science fiction film. In this
post-Star Wars age of fantasy science fiction, it is very refreshing
to see a well made hard science fiction film. I would place Contact on
the same level as the original Planet of the Apes or perhaps The
Andromeda Strain for example. None of these films are cinematic
masterpieces, but they are all significant films in the genre of hard
science fiction, and this is how I feel Contact will ultimately be
viewed when all is said and done. For those who need a rating scale, I
give it a seven out of a possible ten.

One of the criticisms I read before seeing the film was that many
characters in the movie were one dimensional cardboard cutouts, pure
types rather than actual people. This is indeed true. I do not wish to
argue the aesthetic worth of such characterizations, but I do believe
that they are in the story to make certain points. Points I believe
that Carl Sagan was trying to get across in his original novel. The
actor Tom Skerritt plays the role of David Drumlin, the head of the
National Science Foundation. He is Jodie Foster's chief scientific
nemesis. He cuts Foster's government funding, forcing her character to
turn to private business to continue her research, but when the signal
does arrive from space, he jumps into the public spotlight to take all
of the glory. This character illustrates the sad fact that many
scientists are backstabbing egotistical assholes. Just as any human
institution, the scientific community can be just as petty and power
hungry as any other group. As a professional scientist myself I can
attest to the reality of Skerritt's character , as I am sure Sagan
could have as well. James Woods's character, Michael Kitz, plays the
same type of role in the form of a National Security advisor. Woods's
character illustrates the negative aspects of world governments, just
as Skerritt's character illustrates the negative aspects of the
scientific community.

Jodie Foster herself does a good job in her role as Eleanor Arroway.
She doesn't give a great performance, but it's not a bad performance
either. It's pretty much typical Jodie Foster. I can definitely see
why she was attracted to the role. Her character is the heart of the
film and is in nearly every single scene. Her character is also a
strong willed and determined woman, which seems to be Ms Foster's
particular cup of tea judging from her roles of late. Matthew
McConaughey, however, does not come off nearly as well. He plays
Foster's love interest Palmer Joss, and this character also turns into
a nationally known new age religious leader in the course of the film.
I do not think that Mr McConaughery ever really got a hold of his
character because I never believed his performance for a second.
McConaughery is an attractive rising male star, and that is probably
the chief reason he got the role. This is the one typical Hollywood
mistake in a film that is otherwise devoid of such errors and clichés.

Far and away my favorite character in the film is S.R. Hadden, played
by John Hurt. I have been a fan of Hurt ever since he burst upon the
scene playing Caligula in PBS's version of I Claudius back in the
1970's, and it has been awhile since I've seen him used as effectively
as he is in this film. Hadden is an extremely wealthy international
businessman, a former engineer who is now the head of a world wide
telecommunication corporation. He is a rich eccentric who brings to
mind images of Howard Hughes and (should I dare say) Charles Foster
Kane. He is introduced in the film in a very ominous manner, and one
is led to believe that he is another villain on the same order of
Skerritt's and Woods's characters, but in the end he turns out to be
sort of a Daddy Warbucks to Jodie Foster's Annie. It is Hadden who
continues to fund Foster's research after government funding is
pulled, and he is also responsible for Foster's character being the
one chosen to be the first person to make contact with another
intelligent life form. Hurt plays his character to the hilt and steals
every scene he is in. I only wish there had been more of them.

The climax of the film, where Jodie Foster's character actually
travels "to the infinite and beyond" is, as would naturally be
expected, very reminiscent of the ending to 2001. Not to give too much
away, both films have basically the same idea. If one were to have
contact with a superior intelligence, that intelligence will try to
communicate to us in a manner it hopes we will understand.
Contact takes the same tact as 2001 in this regard, but the chief
difference here is that Contact's vision of first contact is much more
literal than Stanley's vision was, which is one of the main reasons
why 2001 is a masterpiece and Contact is merely a good science fiction

I find it very refreshing to see a summer Hollywood film that does not
insult the intelligence of its audience. Instead of explosions, car
chases and mind numbing soundtracks here is a film that focuses on
human interaction and demands as much from the audience as it gives.
Unfortunately this will also be its undoing. Too many of today's film
goers expect sensation over substance and are usually extremely upset
when asked to think while seeing a movie. Word of mouth will probably
kill Contact's ticket sales as the summer weeks progress. A film that
quotes Ockham's razor twice is just asking for poor box office. This
is a real shame because Contact does have a very important message
that it is trying to say.

What exactly is Contact's message? On a superficial level the film
does deal with the religion versus science debate, but to me the
meaning of the film lies much deeper. Ultimately I believe that the
true message of Contact is a pessimistic one. Two scenes resonate in
my mind after seeing the film. The first shows Foster returning to her
radio tracking station in New Mexico after the word has got out that a
signal has been received. She drives through miles of tourists,
crackpots and thrill seekers who have arrived at the station as
thought it were a shrine, just like we have seen in Roswell New Mexico
over that past few weeks. The other scene occurs near the end of the
film. Foster's character is leaving Congress and she sees hundreds of
"fans" on the capital lawn. Along the steps on either side of her path
to the car are people in wheel chairs lined up to touch her in the
hopes of being miraculously healed. Since her return from her trip to
the stars a cult has begun to grow around her possible powers. These
two scenes, along with the negative way in which politics and the
politics of science are portrayed, suggest that mankind is not really
mature enough as yet to enter the intergalactic Parthenon. With all
our pettiness, fears, and superstitions mankind is still not quite
ready to make contact.

Paul John Barnette Jr.

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Brad Aisa

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97

*Contact* (or: *Close Encounters of the Hegelian Kind*)

an esthetic and philosophic review

by Brad Aisa

There is a scene about half way through the movie *Contact* in which the
identity of many of the atheists in the audience becomes manifest: they
erupt into cheers and applause (or at least did on the night I saw the
movie, being myself amongst the loudest of the cheering applauders). The
eruption comes in response to a swaggering and bold line uttered by Ellie
Arroway, the astronomer played by Jodie Foster in the movie.

Ellie is a scientist, and is an atheist for the right reason: the lack of
evidence for any alleged supreme being. But while Ellie does not believe in
God, she is nevertheless still a Believer after a fashion, only her belief
is that other sentient beings exist, and that evidence of their existence
might be found by monitoring the radio signals impinging on Earth from the
furthest reaches of the Universe. So monitor she does, at first in Puerto
Rico (until her director cuts off her funding), then later, at an American
installation (funded by a wealthy reclusive zillionaire.)

For the first two thirds of the movie, the theme seems straightforward
enough: reason vs. faith. Ellie is the stalwart defender of reason; her
nemesis, apart from modern Western civilization in general, is an
anti-technology cleric/writer played by Matthew McConaughey. (He wanted to
be a priest, but failed Celibacy 101, as he soon proceeds to demonstrate
with Arroway...). The two soon part, to be later reunited under completely
new circumstances: Ellie has discovered a transmission of intelligent
extraterrestrial origin, and McConaughey is now an advisor to the

Who is the President? Here we get to the first of the film's several
serious esthetic flaws. Robert Zemeckis, the film's director, also directed
Forrest Gump, which employed digital image editing to implant Gump into
historical scenes involving real presidents and public figures. Zemeckis
uses this device in *Contact* to cast.... Bill Clinton as the President. To
this jarring device (you could literally feel the audience squirm) is added
the now commonplace practice of featuring bevies of real life figures, such
as Bernard Shaw and Larry King of CNN. This invalid technique is intended
to achieve a sense of realism, but achieves the opposite. What actually
happens, is that the introduction of real life journalistic and
"documentary" elements -- as opposed to an artistic fictional rendition of
the elements -- serves, by destroying the "fourth wall", to spotlight the
fictional nature of the film, and shatter the illusion of the narrative.

The choice of "casting" Clinton also detracted from several scenes in the
movie, in which, dramatically, the president would be expected to be
shown, but which we assume was not possible, due to the limited screen time
and contexts that could be devoted to this device. The technology used here
is so good, I thought during the film, that Bill Clinton had actually
participated in the production, playing himself in his scenes. It was
only later that I came to realize, from reading a commentary on the film in
Entertainment Weekly (July 18, 1997), that the scenes with the President
were merely assembled from public footage, not via his cooperation. (This
itself is highly improper, since it expropriates the President's visage.)

The message received by interstellar fax contains the blueprint for
building a giant machine, that seems designed to transport its single
occupant ... to??? ... how??? The interstellar fax apparently didn't come
with the sender's address. Nevertheless, over the objections of the
cliche-paranoid National Security Advisor (played by James Woods), an
international consortium is convened to build the machine, and a committee
established to select the occupant.

Several plot twist and turns ensue, but through it all, up to the launch,
we remain convinced that the theme ("message" might be more apt) is reason
vs. faith, or better: reason vs. whacked out American-style New Age
mysticism and fanaticism, as depicted both chillingly and hilariously, in a
garish New Age campout around the radio telescope site, comprising every
conceivable fringe or whacked out subgroup in America; a similar spectacle
is enacted in Washington. Arroway drives through this, and we acutely feel
her pain at witnessing the spectacle -- her most triumphant achievement has
been reduced to the level of Elvis worshippers (apparently anticipating his
resurrection), fundamentalist doomsday sects, and crazy alien worshippers.

(It shouldn't be giving away too much to let the reader guess who finally
gets to make the voyage...) The voyage at last takes place, and the
occupant returns. And it is not only the occupant of the craft who
gets to take a voyage, by the way: the audience itself gets transported
back almost 30 years, as well, made to endure the nearly identical sequence
from 2001: A Space Odyssey -- but I digress.


It is this sequence, and the scenes which ensue as a consequence, that
leads one to realize that the movie *Contact* is a supreme fraud -- a kind
of cheap, third rate philosophic Trojan Horse, in which a philosophically
illiterate and particularly offensive "message" is delivered that purports
to unify and transcend the prior thematic conflict of reason vs. faith.

"Reason and faith are just two aspects of the same thing." "Those who
believe in God have as much justification as those who believe in
science." "Belief in science is just a matter of faith." Ad nauseum.

It all happens so suddenly, the rational viewer will be a bit taken aback,
but if he or she rewinds somewhat, the setup and intention becomes clear.
What one sees, is a plot constructed with such artifice, such implausible
(nay, impossible) premises, and designed with such specificity to lead to
such an absurd conclusion, that it is *not* reason and logic and facts and
evidence and every other hallmark of the scientific method and rational
mode of existence, which the filmmakers are trying to express.

What we have here, is nothing short of Hegel as E.T.: friendly
cosmic aliens who would eschew the label "God", but who nevertheless
consider it important to send their only begotten visitor to return
to earth and resolve and unite the antagonists of the ages.


Faith is the proper means of accepting knowledge; a belief in God
and an immortal soul is the proper world view for man.


Reason is the proper means of deriving knowledge; a scientific
world view is the one proper to man.


Reason is faith; God and Science are one; a scientist and a
religious prophet are equivalent. Act accordingly.

I have to confess, that it has been a long time since I was as offended at
the movies, as in the scene in which, by very clear parallel to an earlier
scene, we are expected to accept that the crazed religious mob, who are now
worshipping Ellie as a kind of New Age Messiah, are to be *accepted* for
doing so on nothing more than faith. This is obscene. Also offensive, is
the staged ambiguity of the disposition of a crucial fact near the end of
the story, and an epilogue, in which the newly reconstructed Ellie feeds
the final Synthetic message to a cadre of happy little school kiddies.

I will give the movie credit for its virtues. First, Jodie Foster, always
eminently watchable, is engaging and touching as the driven, but somewhat
naive scientist Ellie. Ellie is at home with the machinery of science, and
fellow scientists, but seems to lose her confidence and some of her
certitude when she has to deal with less rational individuals.

The production design, directing, and cinematography are all excellent,
making the movie, on its own terms, enjoyable to watch. And apart from some
logical flaws that only a reviewer might fault, it does manage to present
science and its accoutrements as exciting, and comprehensible. I especially
liked the design and technology of the Machine. The loopy 2001-style
journey, however, and ridiculous ensuing encounter left me cold. If the
writers/producers had not been so intent on delivering their Hegelian
Sermon From the Camera Mount, they might have presented some original,
memorable, and even controversial encounter/discovery. (What would have
been wrong with, "Religion? Nah -- we abandoned that three hundred and
forty-thousand years ago -- tell everyone there is no God, and to get a
life.") As presented, it is a hokey amalgam of Star Trek's Holodeck, and a
sentimental attempt at closure of the movie's earlier childhood scenes with
Ellie and her father.

I must give credit where due, though. Despite all my complaints and
rantings, I still recommend that you see *Contact*, because it deals with
*ideas*, and this is such a rare feat in a Hollywood movie, that one
relishes the fact, even if one is intellectually ballyhooing some of the
actual content. And *Contact* does not seem to be malicious or evil -- like
many people, institutions and cultures today, it is just highly confused,
and trying to find its way in a big, boisterous, sometimes puzzling world.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Brad Aisa. All rights reserved, apart from customary
transmission and downloading from an authorized submission to Usenet.

Brad Aisa web archive:
email (anti-spam encoded): baisa"AT SYMBOL"

"The highest responsibility of philosophers is to serve as the
guardians and integrators of human knowledge." -- Ayn Rand

Rick Pali

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97

Ellie Arroway is a radio astronomer that's taken the professionally
dangerous specialisation of searching for extraterrestrial life. She's been
interested in radio since learning about her father's ham radio as a child.
Her old teacher David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), as gruff as he is, thinks she
should change to a more respectable field within radio astronomy. When she
refuses, he manages to get the funding for her project pulled.

She manages to find funding from the enigmatic mega-rich recluse S.R.
Hadden (John Hurt) and continues the search. Later, she's given notice that
this search is to be cancelled, but not before she finds a signal from an
extra-terrestrial civilisation. The U.S. Government, in the guise of
Micheal Kitz (James Woods) moves right in and tries to limit the
information leaking out to the public.

Despite all the interference, they discover that there's a television
signal in the transmission and there are coded plans that seem to be for
some sort of machine. Should they build it? It clearly shows that there's a
seat for someone inside. Of course it's built, but what will it do when

I haven't revealed any more than the trailer or television commercials but
I think they even have gone a bit far. I don't even know where to begin
this review because there's so much I want to say.

Firstly the story. It's a faithful rendering of Carl Sagan's 1985
best-selling novel Contact. Of course, books change in their translation to
the screen and this one is no exception. I think that the story is very
strong and can easily hold the interested viewer for the two-and-a-half
hour length of this film. The shares the qualities of the best science
fiction. That is, the story is about people rather than effects or gadgets,
and it always makes you re-examine things that you normally accept without
thought. The film pays off in spades in both of these departments.

Jodie Foster has to have been the perfect choice to play Ellie. She's a
very strong character, but has weaknesses that Foster made the audience
believe. Every film I've seen Foster in has increased my respect for her
work and Contact has probably best displayed her flexibility as an actress
to date. The film was so much about Ellie, that very few other characters
had major roles. Notably though, most other characters without bit-parts
were given opportunities to show some development or different sides. I
rarely got the impression that they were one-dimensional cutouts.

The effects were excellent, but as I mentioned earlier, they serve only to
support the story. If you're expecting Independence Day, you'll get the
same quality effects, but they are attached to a very different type of
film. Particularly notable were the effects during the first test of the
machine. I distinctly recall that the whole theatre was completely silent.

And that wasn't the only time that the film had the crowd completely in its
thrall. But make no mistake, this isn't a film for everyone. If you're
looking for entertainment to be handed to you pre-digested, you're in the
wrong theatre. This is a film that requires you to think and pay attention.
Like any good piece of art, the onus is as much on the viewer as it is on
the artist and every viewer will take something different away from it. I
suspect that it shares that quality with 2001: A Space Odyssey but it's not
nearly as abstract. It's not an ID4 type of film and for that reason, I
very much doubt that it will be a runaway success. People seem not to want
to give anything to be entertained, despite the rewards. But because of
that, this film will be remembered for a very long time after ID4 is

I understand that Sagan was intimately involved with the film in an effort
to keep it true to the spirit of his work and to make sure that the science
was right. There he has succeeded brilliantly. No where will you find that
the filmmaker has bent the laws of physics for the purposes of the story.
How refreshing. And indeed that should never be necessary if it's taken
into account right from the start. Contact is one of the few examples of
hard SF that's ever made it to the screen intact. And that attention to
detail must've been contagious because it appears everywhere in the film.
The effect is so convincingly complete, that it's easy to forget you're
watching a completely fictional film.

Sadly, Sagan died during the production and never got to see the finished
product. He's given a touching tribute at the end with all the love and
respect he so richly deserved. I thought to myself that dedication was a
nice offering to his memory, but realised the whole film is largely a gift
from him to us. And what a gift.

Contact is easily the best science fiction film in a decade but it
transcends what Hollywood means when it says science fiction. It's a story
about humanity, not aliens. Don't under any circumstances miss this one.


Review ©1997 Rick Pali

Walter Frith

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97


Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97

It is so rare that a big scale film that is predicated on
something as fantastic as alien life would take the first twenty minutes of
the film to build its characters rather than rush us into sensory overload,
that at first I thought this movie was going to be a classic miscaculation
on the part of the filmmakers. Filmmakers in the "instant gratification, I
have a very short attention-span, give me something big and easy and give
it to me now" culture that we have become.

But once I adjusted to the fact that this film was really
going to be about a person and not a pheonomenon, I sat back and watched
one of the truly greatest experiences of the summer. CONTACT is an
exciting, intelligent and incredibly moving experience about the unknown.
It proves that a woman, if talented and interesting enough, can pick up an
adventure film and carry it as well as any of the fellahs.

Jody Foster has some truly beautiful and transporting
moments in this film and my hat is off to her for sharing so much. At the
heart of every really strong performance there is sharing and she doesn't
hold back.

I think I have now seen Zemeckis' finest work. Certainly a
far cry from the silly, feeble stuff of Gump. The moments of Contact in
this film would certainly make Stanley Kubrick proud, though the filmmakers
decide to take an infinitely more personal and intimate road vereing from
their 2001 style journey that may seen derivative but it is demanded by
this story and really unavoidable. Where we end up is quite a different
take than the Arthur C. Clarke version of such a journey and depending on
your cup of tea, you will either love or vehemently dislike the choice the
film makes.

It has one or two false notes in its epic running time.
But it is amazing how negligible false notes are in a film where you are
enjoying the ride. A little less talk from the actual CONTACT sequence
would've been great. But there is really no way to pay off this incredible
premise and make everyone happy. I thought ultimately it was a wonderful
way to spend an evening.

If more films were as smart as this one and as brave, I
shudder to think where the movies might be headed. Its been a long time
since a film got me so excited about the human race...

For that, I'm moved and grateful. Hats off to the filmmakers!

Ben Hoffman

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97


The opening scene of CONTACT is the most awesome (in the sense of
"fantastic") several minutes of great special effects as we are
hurtled away from Earth at a huge speed. Our planet becomes a
globe, getting smaller and smaller as we speed by the other planets
of our solar system. Earth becomes a mere dot as we continue the
speeding away from our solar system, past the Milky Way and on and
on. Simply stunning. That alone is just about worth the price
of admission.

CONTACT could not have chosen a better time for its theatrical
release. While through the ages people have wondered about the
stars and many have begun to wonder if there were possibly some
kind of life in some distant solar system, the soft landing of our
space probe on Mars must certainly have revived new speculation and

While Carl Sagan, on whose book CONTACT is based, when asked if he
believed in some highly-evolved life elsewhere in the infinitely
vast universe, replied "The key word in that question is 'believe.'
And in my view, you believe only on the basis of compelling
evidence." In short, that evidence was never forthcoming to him.

Perhaps more important, however, was how he and his wife, Ann
Druyan, felt about how such an event if it ever did happen would
affect the inhabitants of our planet. That is what his book is
about. What happens to religious belief if it turns out that
"there is someone out there" when according to the Bible, God
placed Man on Earth; that the stars and sun and moon are there only
to give us light. Sagan also wanted us to realize the incredible,
just about incomprehensible, vastness of the universe.

What happens to those who see aliens from another planet as
potential enemies. In the film, Michael Kitz, (James Woods) is the
head of government security, reacting to the news that we are
getting a message form outer space as a time for increased
security. Never mind that it is pointed out to him that it is
more probably that "anyone" capable of contacting us must have a
superior intelligence and would be unlikely to be warlike as we
stupid Earthlings are.

Ever since Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) was a little child, she was
interested in stars and space. Many were the hours she spent
listening to her short wave radio hoping to hear something other
than static from outer space. While still young, her father died.
Ellie continued her studies and went on to become a respected
scientist in the field of radio. Pretty nearly the whole
scientific community looked upon her obsession as being on the kook
side but her persistence got her some time to use the satellite
antennas to search the heavens.

Hour after hour, day after day, Ellie listened until one day she
heard something odd, something she had never heard before, and it
had a pattern. It was coming from a distant star, Vega. Getting
her fellow scientists to monitor the sounds, they discover that the
noises (sounding like grunts from a Jurassic Park dinosaur) were in
fact spaced to coincide with prime numbers. That was proof this
was not some strange static. Idiots such as Michael Kitz wanted
to know how come the messages were not in English. Ellie had to
explain to him that English is not likely to be spoken in other
solar systems but mathematics would be a universal language.

Quickly, all the nations begin to ponder the significance while the
hucksters get busy with Vega fairs and people come flocking to them
as if to a picnic . . . or looking at the antennas as they would
when they believe a picture of Jesus is weeping. In short, the
world is in a turmoil and so are their leaders. President Clinton
gives some reassuring words on TV.

The story has many facets, all of interest. Jodie Foster give her
usual wonderful performance. Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), is
a respected religious scholar and high up in the government
hierarchy. He and Ellie are in love . . . more or less.
S R Hadden (John Hurt), is an eccentric billionaire who takes an
interest in Ellie's behalf to help her combat those who would thwart
her. For instance, the first trip to VEGA is not given to Ellie
who is most deserving, but to some other prominent scientist, David
Drumlin (Tom Skerritt). Rachel Constantine (Angela Bassett) is
the President's press secretary.

CONTACT is one terrific film. The sets, which include a space ship
readied to visit Vega, are perfect. Many are the questions that
are raised as various events unfold. These are answered in a most
satisfying conclusion. There was one point where I thought there
was a cop-out; I could not believe Sagan would have opted for that.
However it turned out to be logical, not at all the cop-out I had
feared and I sighed with relief. I wanted nothing to spoil this
most entertaining, exciting and informative movie that will give you
pause to ponder some of the questions it raised.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis who gave us FORREST GUMP.

4 bytes

4 bytes = Superb
3 bytes = Too good to miss
2 bytes = Average
1 byte = Save your money

Copyright 1997 Ben Hoffman

Michael Jordan

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97

Contact (PG) **** (out of ****)
There's a moment late in Robert Zemeckis's Contact where I was
reminded of why I started writing movie reviews in the first place. We see
a scientist, dressed in a silvery space suit, walking tentatively across a
narrow walkway leading inside a compact, spherical space pod, unaware of
what awaits when the ball literally drops. Anticipation, excitement,
anxiety, fear--the audience experiences it all the emotional tension right
with the character, nervously, breathlessly eager to see what lies ahead.
It is this sense of discovery, the anticipation of which and its
accompanying exhilaration, that makes this adaptation of the Carl Sagan
novel such magical, captivating entertainment.
Jodie Foster stars as Dr. Ellie Arroway, a brilliant astronomer who
dedicates her entire life to searching outer space for extraterrestrial
radio signals. And I mean life--after losing her entire family when she was
young, the only thing occupying Ellie's world is this quest to discover life
beyond this earth. After dealing with much skepticism on the part of
government officials and wealthy financiers, Ellie receives her vindication
when she stumbles upon an incoming radio transmission from the distant star
Vega, which includes instructions on building an interstellar transport.
From this synopsis, Contact does not sound too different to most
films about alien contact, but there is a whole lot more to this intelligent
film than the sci-fi hook. The alien contact angle generates a great amount
of suspense and awe, but perhaps more than anything else, Contact is a
character study of Ellie, whose obsession with empirical, scientific
evidence has erased all belief in a higher power. The irony is that, while
admitting to having no religious faith, she holds onto her belief in
extraterrestrial life with such passion and conviction that it becomes, in a
sense, a religion in its own right. It would be easy for scripters James V.
Hart and Michael Goldenberg, in trying to paint a positive image of the
heroine, to champion her scientific beliefs over religious ones, but they
wisely eschew easy answers, giving equal time to both sides, and in so doing
depict Ellie as not completely sane. In the end, there is no right or
wrong, nor is there one side that comes off more positive in the other, even
slightly so--there are just two very viable points of view, each with their
own merits, each with their own faults.
The complex role of Ellie is an actress's dream, and Foster, a
virtual shoo-in for yet another Best Actress Oscar nomination next year,
more than rises to the challenge. She conveys intelligence, determination,
warmth, and, in a gutsy move, always on edge. We root for Ellie and feel
for her, but we also feel at times that she goes too far. Contact is
clearly Foster's vehicle, but others are given their chance to shine in
smaller roles. Matthew McConaughey, who receives outrageously high billing
for his smallish role, holds his own as the religious counterpoint to Ellie,
spiritual scholar and government adviser Palmer Joss (however, his main
storyline, the tentative Palmer-Ellie romance, is the film's weakest
subplot). John Hurt is effectively creepy as S.R. Hadden, the wealthy
eccentric who provides Ellie with her research funding. Angela Bassett
continues to impress in her bit role as White House aide Rachel Constantine.
Most memorable of all, though, are Tom Skerritt and James Woods, who play
rival scientist Dr. David Drumlin and national security adviser Michael
Litz, respectively; both, especially Skerritt, embody these asshole
characters that the audience hissed just about every single one of their
Zemeckis comes off of his three-year break in top shape. Always
known as a director of effects-laden extravaganzas, it comes as no surprise
that Contact's visual effects are quite stunning. The central space journey
is more than a little reminiscent of the close of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but
with more advanced technology at his disposal, Zemeckis's voyage is even
trippier than Stanley Kubrick's yet more wondrously pure. And Zemeckis
doesn't resist the urge to use the always-interesting
incorporate-actors-into-existing-film-footage effect, which is every bit as
seamless here as it was in Forrest Gump. Effects, however, are confined to
only a few scenes and clearly take a back seat to the drama, emotion, and
pure wonder, which Zemeckis proved to be quite adept at in Gump. It says a
lot that, in a summer science fiction film such as this, it's not so much
the effects that stay with you as it is the drama and the issues that are
The thought-provoking, two-hour-plus Contact is a much-welcome
change of pace from summer no-brainers, but the fact that it is a smart film
does not mean that it also isn't entertaining. For all the interesting
questions it asks, the film is still what it's being sold as--"a journey to
the heart of the universe." And what a fascinating, unforgettable journey
it is.

Michael Dequina | | | |

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--Michael Jordan


Homer Yen

Jul 14, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/14/97

CONTACT: Some Signs of Intelligent Life

By Homer Yen
(c) 1997

Jodie Foster plays Ellie Arroway, a prominent scientist and radio
astronomer for the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)
program. Like many scientists, she is an analytical person whose beliefs
are entrenched in empirical evidence and testing. For her, science shows
us what is and what is not. For example, she doesn't believe in God,
because he can not be proven to exist. Dr. Arroway is particularly
isolated from the world around her. She is consumed with one interest,
which is the possibility of finding intelligent life on another planet.
Her academic mentors and colleagues belittle her. Grant money to
continue her research is increasingly hard to come by.

Yet she persists in her obsession, listening and monitoring and hoping
until one day the payoff comes. Working first at Puerto Rico's Arecibo
observatory, budget cuts force her to relocate to the Very Large Array
(VLA) of radio telescopes in the remote desert of New Mexico. It is
there, along with an ad-hoc team of devoted colleagues, that she detects
a signal from the Vega system, some 26 light years away, that was clearly
transmitted by an alien intelligence. With the backing of the enigmatic
industrialist, S.R. Hadden (John Hurt), she will begin a quest that
culminates in the construction of a mysterious machine based on alien
blueprints, and embark on a one-woman journey that will have the most
profound scientific and spiritual implications for all humankind and
especially for her.

Adapted from Carl Sagan's 1985 novel, this piece of science-pseudo
fiction concerns itself with the discovery of extraterrestrial
intelligence, but its focus subsequently becomes a debate between
sanctity and science and Ellie's pursuit of her own brand of truth and
her trip down the path of enlightenment.

Her quest is hampered by two major obstacles, though. She is faced with a
lack of scientific thinking from politicians, who are wary of national
security issues. Confronted by a paranoid National Security Advisor
(James Woods), Arroway's glory-hogging scientific rival (Tom Skerritt),
and a cynical Presidential Advisor (Angela Bassett), Dr. Arroway fights
hard to maintain her presence on this ś the most important project of her
career. The story also sets Dr. Arroway in philosophical opposition to
famous spiritual leader and advisor (and pseudo-romantic interest),
Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey). He tries to be her spiritual guide
and warns her of the implications of making possible contact with a new
race when she does not embody the precepts of God and His scriptures. If
there's life out there, way out there, does it come thanks to Science or
Him? It's an interesting question, but if philosophers, scientists and
theologians have been debating this question over the past 1000 years and
are still unclear, a movie that attempts to look at the same question
will suffer from ambiguity.

Despite a generally poignant look at Foster's journey into space and
herself, I can't say that I liked this movie, but I didn't dislike it
either. Contact, results in a sobering look at a debate as partisan as
abortion or the death penalty. The space ride is just to appease the
summer audience who demand to see special effects. The entire movie
seems like it could have been 20 minutes shorter if not for all of the
flashbacks and the multitude of shots where Dr. Arroway is pondering and
staring and pondering and then staring some more. But, I did admire the
genuine acting ability of Foster, who shows amazing depth and
intelligence. Contact taps into her capacity to show both strength and
vulnerability, pensive maturity and doe-eyed girlishness. Time and
again, the camera captures Foster face striking subtle emotions as she
ponders all of the ramifications of her discovery and her subsequent
actions. There is probably no one better for this kind of high-minded,
emotional drama than Foster. I also admired the director's attempt
(Robert Zemeckis) to blend purposeful storytelling with the movie's lofty
goals (but his attempt to digitally meld Clinton into scenes a la Forrest
Gump seemed patchwork). Are science and religion equally purposeful
methods of seeking reason and truth in a chaotic world? This is a tough
question to answer, but is bravely explored in this tale. And, her path
towards her particular enlightenment came to a satisfying conclusion.

Contact really puts the 'science' in science-fiction. It is a big,
ambitious movie that spans the heavens and debates God and hard science
in the same breath. Certainly, this movie will not appeal to everyone
but to those who enjoy their movies with a pinch of philosophy, you'll
find lots to think about. It didn't necessarily appeal to me , but it
did make me go , "Hmmmmů"

Grade: B-

Ram Samudrala

Jul 15, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/15/97

A film review by Ram Samudrala
*spoiler warning*

When I was a kid, I was the only one on the block who watched Carl
Sagan's Cosmos diligently. While it was boring even given my interest
in cosmology, there were moments which really enthralled me and
captured my attention. I expected /Contact/ to be similar: a few
flashes of brilliance, but mostly boring. I was pleasantly surprised;
my attention was held for the entire 2.5 hours.

/Contact/ comes close to being a perfect movie. It has action,
effects, a great story, realistic science-fiction, and some great
acting. While there a few holes in the science aspect (which I'll
discuss later), the story is convincing. The main plot is the
interception of an alien communication by Eleanor Arroway (Jodie
Foster), the decoding of the communication to reveal a transport, and
the actual contact between humans and aliens. Mingled in with all
this is a power-play from many ends, those wanting to make the first
contact, those wanting to use the technology for their own ends, and
those fearful of the technology. /Contact/ is filmed in a highly
non-conventional manner, with a slow introduction and a fast-paced
ending which makes one want to give up bungee jumping and start
listening for signals from outer space.

Every aspect of the movie is brought out excellently, from Arroway's
initial interception of the alien signal to her travel through a
wormhole and encountering aliens, which is done in the best manner
possible. There are some breathtaking visuals.

The acting by most of the characters is great. I'm sure Foster will be
remembered during next year's Academy Awards. While I don't like
Matthew McConaughey's acting, he is passable here as Palmer Joss
(though there are times when he appears to be sleep-talking). The
performances by Tom Skerritt as David Drumlin, Arroway's mentor with
his own ambitions; John Hurt as S. R. Hadden, an eccentric
billionaire; James Woods as Michael Kitz, the skeptical National
Security Advisor; and Jena Malone as young Arroway are particularly

One great aspect is the combining of what we perceive to be part of
the real world (clips of Clinton, Leno, Bernard Shaw, etc.)
interspersed with the fiction of the movie. Robert Zemeckis, one of
the directors whose work I've consistently found to be
thought-provoking, knows that to weave a good and believable story,
one must mingle facts with speculation.

The biggest flaw I found in /Contact/ is with the amount of time
elapsed during Arroway's encounter with the aliens, which ends up
being a fairly crucial part of the movie towards the end. According
to Arroway, she spent eighteen hours away from Earth. As far as the
people on Earth are concerned, she never went anywhere. This sets up a
situation where her experience has to be taken on faith and this is
good for the story, but consider this: relativistic theory says the
faster your speed, the lesser the amount of time taken for an event as
measured by your clock. This isn't platitude, but rather illustrates
the notion of relative time. If you travel in a straight path from
point A to point B on Earth by an aeroplane and it takes 5 hours, then
if you travelled at the speed of light between the same points, and
you took a longer, more circuitous route, the time taken, as judged by
your watch, would be zero. In fact, this is brought out earlier in
the movie: Joss points out that Arroway will be travelling at near
light-speeds, and when she returns the people she knew on Earth would
no longer be around. This is because travelling at near the speed of
light, she would age only a fraction of the time she would have aged
had she been travelling at the speed of Earth.

Yet, in the movie, the reverse is what happens, i.e., her "watch"
measures eighteen hours, whereas the "watch" on Earth measures a
fraction of a second for the loss of contact with her transport. This
implies that the speed she was travelling at while she was away was a
lot slower than the speed of Earth. This is highly incongruous, to
say the least. While this inconsistency can be explained in a
hand-waving manner (with emphasis on the waving part), no attempt is
made to account for it (which I think is at least necessary given
Joss' initial statement). I've not read the book this movie is based
on, but I'd be very surprised if Sagan used the same situation to
enable people on Earth to discount Arroway's experience. In all but a
few other respects (the percentage of people on Earth believing in a
god, for example), the writers appear to have taken great pains to
ensure a certain scientific validity to their plot.

Arroway's actions at the end, when she is asked to explain her
journey, are, in a sense, insulting to the scientific profession.
While a scientist may believe life exists on other planets, a good
scientist will do their best to falsify hypothesis they come up with
(in a Popperian spirit), even in a case where all their senses scream
that the hypothesis is true. None of us as scientists would (rather,
should) publish or expose our opinion to the world in a formal manner
without suggesting ways to prove our hypothesis false (especially in a
grant application). In this case, I think Arroway had plenty of
opportunities to falsify her hypothesis. The reason Arroway gives at
the end for her actions is a cop-out, given her reputation.

Finally, we come to a topic that is addressed in a seemingly
dichotomous manner in the movie: religion vs. science. Science is a
matter of faith to many people, and could even be considered one's
religion, as the movie tries to bring out. But unlike most
orthodox/institutional religions, science not only encourages, but
also /requires/, that you constantly question your faith and find ways
to disprove what you believe. I've found that if you stop looking
when you've found what you wanted to find, it results in pathological
science. That fundamental difference between science and religion
alone makes it more likely to find "truths", if they exist, using the
scientific method than any other.

This all relates to the question about the existence of a god or God.
The problem with that question is that it takes on the form of a bad
hypothesis, in that it does not easily lend itself to falsification
(to prove it false, one would have to scour the entire universe). The
real question is whether God's existence is relevant to our lives, and
further, whether /a/ given god's existence is relevant (after all, the
notion of a Christian God, or a similar omnipotent omniscient deity,
has its own problems in terms of reconcilation with the beliefs of the
people on this planet, and also leads to fundamental
inconsistencies). Initial answers to these questions can be found in
the phenomenal work done by physicists in the 20th century.

All this discussion goes to show /Contact/ is a great movie, in that
it is provoking and stimulating intellectually, while providing a nice
visual spectacle. While the amount of depth in the story itself is
negligible, there's a lot a viewer can get from it. Don't miss this

email@urls || ||
Movie ram-blings:

Phil Brady

Jul 15, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/15/97

Summer science fiction movies are a fairly well defined commodity. We
expect a special effects offering of space ships, lasers, aliens,
explosions, and what the hell, maybe even a script. The spectacle is the
star, so there’s little sense spending big money on actors who will only
be upstaged. Most films like Independence Day have such a pedigree, and
it works just fine. ID4’s boggling ticket sales testify that people are
willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride, maybe a few times. Carl
Sagan wanted to spin a different type of yarn. Instead of the tail
wagging the dog, how about starting with a real situation and examining
how fantastic events could come about? With the same elegance of his
Cosmos series, Carl has brought the realism of astronomy to the classic
First Contact theme.
Jody Foster plays Ellie Arroway, a driven astronomer in the SETI
project. (That’s “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” for the
rest of us. ) Scraping for grants and fighting discouragement from
other scientists, Ellie finally hits it big - a strong signal from
space. This is the jumping-off point for many films, such as ID4 and The
Arrival, but this movie sticks with her chimera. The signal is rich with
complexity, and it includes what appear to be blueprints for a transport
device. An invitation? Do we dare build it? Who gets to go? Who funds
it? As in the real world, these questions draw flies from the scientific
establishment, the White House, religious factions, and most certainly
the media. Ellie becomes helpless as these groups wrest away her prize
for their own football game.
Contact has a great cast, and no one is wasted. Perennial good guy Tom
Skerrit plays a rat - a politically powerful scientist whos does
everything to discourage Ellie’s snipe hunt. Once the signal comes in,
he tries to shoulder her out, positioning himself as the spokesman and
scientific coordinator with the White House. James Woods plays a vulpine
national security adviser wanting to comandeer the project, fearing an
“invasion.” Angela Basset plays a harried presidential aide, capably
herding all the factions (not a “black” role..congrats, Angela). I
almost didn’t recognize John Hurt as a bald-headed Howard Hughes-type
magnate who becomes Ellie’s fairy godmother. Matthew McConoughy plays a
love interest, who is also part of the religious faction and the
astronaut selection comittee. Ellie’s views are agnostic at best, and
this brings about a conflict not only with him, but with the committee
as well.
As a good scientist, Ellie knows that “no data” forces only one
conclusion. She feels that people have a need to believe, hence they do.
But the movie (gently) makes it clear that her need to believe in ET
intelligence and its benevolence is just another flavor of the same
thing. People nervous about examining the theological implications
should be comfortable with the resolution.
Well, as the coming attractions show you, Ellie does get to go, but
there’s no point in divulging any more. The real trip is her struggle
with people clambering all over her project. A certain sweetness is
added by memories of her departed father (good job by David Morse), who
was so supportive of her early curiosity. I found that these scenes
stayed with me as much as the special effects. And high marks to
director Bob Zemeckis for using the effects to aid in telling the
story, instead of competing with it. And special praise to Jody Foster
for yet another brilliant performance. All through the film, I was
watching Ellie Arroway, feeling what she felt - I didn’t catch myself
seeing Jody Foster acting. Try that in a Tom Cruise movie. When she won
her two Oscars, I agreed with the choice, but I think it took this film
to make me realize that maybe it isn’t just the great roles she’s
had..she really is one of the best.

Steve Kong

Jul 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/17/97


When you look up in the sky late at night, do you ever have the feeling
that another being is doing the same thing light years away? How could
there be so many stars and no other life than just us? It would be a
terrible waste of space wouldn't it?

Contact looks at these questions and more. Based on the Carl Sagan book by
the same name, Contact follows the story of a radio astronomer, Ellie
Arroway (Jodie Foster). Since she was a kid, she has been interested in
radio, and using the radio to find other people, or peoples. Arroway starts
her professional career at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, it is
here where she meets Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a biblical man, who does
not believe in technology. Arroway is working on the SETI (Search for
ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) project. And, thew work is long and dry.
Long and dry enough for the head of the National Science Foundation, Dr.
Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), to cut their funding.
Arroway then, with the help of her coworkers, get private funding to do
research in New Mexico. The funding comes from an eccentric rich man,
Hadden (John Hurt). And after two years of searching, they have yet to turn
something up. So, yet again, Drumlin steps in and wants the project to be
shutdown, because the radio telescopes could be used for more "practical"
projects. But, before the project is cancelled, Arroway and team get The
Message from a star named Vega.
All of that build up takes place in the slow introductory forty minutes.
>From there, director, Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future
series), tries to explore the effect The Message has on science and
religion. And how the two are in conflict with each other. It is here that
the movie picks up the pace, but only by a little. We see Arroway go
through letdown after letdown. The payoff for all of these letdowns, slow
intro, and religious/science exploration, is good but not as satisfying as
can be.

The opening sequence sets the pace for the movie, and has to be seen it's
an incredible sequence.
Worth mentioning is John Hurt as the eccentric man, Hadden. Hurt gives a,
short, but brilliant performance. His character is, for me, one of the most
memorable characters in the movies of summer 1997. Jodie Foster gives a
solid performance, as usual. The special effects, although never
overshadowing the characters and story, are incredible. The opening
sequence, close to the end sequence, and machine are unbeatable. I've not
finished reading the book, but so far the movie sticks pretty much to the
book. And this could be accounted for because of Sagan and his wife
producing the film.

I have only a few complaints. The movie is just a bit on the long side,
running around two and half-hours. Zemeckis uses the same sort of T.V. type
inserts as Forrest Gump, but there seems to be an over use of it in
Contact. Sometimes it seems that he used T.V. footage just to give the
movie a documentary feel. The score from Alan Silvestri is easily forgettable.

Though I have some complaints, Contact is a wonderful movie. It is by far
one of the best sci-fi films to be released lately. And being the summer
film season, it is a film unlike most other summer films, intelligent. I
highly recommend Contact.

"You wanna go for a ride?" - Hadden.

Copyright 1997 Steve Kong
steve kong
spy on me at:

Justin K. Siegel

Jul 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/17/97

'Contact' is an incredibly good time, and there won't be a better movie
all year.

--A review by Justin Siegel
Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Star Rating: **** (out of ****)
Rating out of Ten: 9.8
Grade: A+

As a devout Atheist and an avowed believer in aliens, I have some idea
of how Ellie Aroway (Jodie Foster) feels. But because my reasons for
not partaking in religion are different than hers, I can't say that I
do exactly. Her reason is that she needs solid proof: there is no
proof that God existed, so therefor she does not believe.

Ellie also believes in aliens, and has spent most of her life trying
to prove they exist. How can she say she doesn't believe in God
because of the lack of proof, and then say she believes in aliens,
which are gereally less believed in than God without sounding like a
hypocrite? That's the Catch-22.

When aliens from the star Vega fax her some plans for a device to
transport someone to them (Okay, well, they didn't really *fax*
them...) Ellie wants to be the one to go, but because of her Atheism
she is denied the position. How dumb is that? She discovers the
transmitions, then she isn't allowed to go.

Well, because of a bomb and a psychopath (Jake Busey), she *does* end
up going, but not in the way that we would've thought.

CONTACT is based on a novel by Carl Sagan, who died during the
filmmaking. It is the best alien movie since CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE
3RD KIND, and will end up being the best film of the year. Its views
of science and religion will no doubt aggrivate some, but will
stimulate more. I'm glad at least one movie of the '90s can portray
aliens in a psitive light, rather than a bunch of slimey beasts who
will eat your insides and then put on your body.

Chuck Dowling

Jul 17, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/17/97

Contact (1997) ** out of ***** - Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey,
James Woods, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, John Hurt, Rob Lowe, David Morse.
Written by: James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg. Based on the novel by:
Carl Sagan. Directed by: Robert Zemeckis. Running Time: 150 minutes.

*** This Review Contains Spoilers. ***

"Contact" was one of the movies I was looking forward to the most this
summer. I even made arrangements to see it over a week before its release.
At this point I've seen it twice. The first time I saw it, I felt that it
was just about the most painfully slow, dull, and lifeless film I had ever
had the misfortune to sit through in a movie theater. And after the second
time? Well, I still don't feel like I've seen a good movie, and it's still
awfully dull. But for the most part, it's just extremely disappointing.

Now I'm not extremely disappointed because the film's not another
"Independence Day". Most people seem to think that if you don't like
"Contact", then you're just a brainless drooler who's only entertained by
stuff blowed up real good. Yet there's more explosions in "Contact" than
there are in films such as "Sling Blade", "Carried Away", and "Ulee's Gold",
all films I've seen recently which are more entertaining that this one. As a
matter of fact, there's not a split second of action in any of those films.

Fans of this film have been raving about how intelligent it is. You'd be
surprised how many of these "intelligent" fans have sent such childish
responses to my opinons of the film, even going as far as saying I should be
killed and I should burn in hell because I didn't like it. Is "Contact"
intelligent? Sure it is. The basis of the entire film relies heavily on
science, math and religion. But does intelligence mean that it will
certainly be entertaining? No. Are all the people who dislike the film
therefore unintelligent? Absolutely not.

The opening shot of the film, a very lengthy pullback through the entire
universe, starts out showing us just how far our own radio and television
signals have been able to travel. But it's point is to really give the
audience an idea of how vast the universe is. It's a great special effect,
both from a sound and a visual aspect.

We then meet astronomer Jodie Foster, who works with SETI, Search for
Extra-Terrestial Intelligence. For years and years she works incredibly hard
and endures many setbacks in her job of listening for radio signals from the
heavens, until one day her lifelong dream is realized... a message from
outer space is received.

This discovery sets the world into a frenzy. Well, I suppose it does anyway,
since instead of ever seeing a regular average citizen and how it may effect
his/her life, we see countless montages of someone channel surfing through
what seems like ten different channels of CNN. In their place, I would have
much rather seen what effect this would have had on an everyday family,
instead of just what all the scientists, politicians, and journalists had to
say about it.

Related to that problem by not showing us the reactions of any normal
people, many of the film's actual characters aren't developed well enough
for my liking. For example, Jodie Foster's team consists of a black guy, a
blind guy, a nerdy guy (and they only way you know that is because he always
wears a shirt displaying the periodic table of the elements), a young guy
who smokes a pipe, and a biker looking guy. Surely there's something these
guys could do to give them just a little depth. One of them could have a
family and we could find out how they felt about the film's events.

Then there's the "relationship" which develops between Foster and
McConaughey thanks to a couple of hours of conversation, the sharing of a
Cracker Jack prize, and a quick hop in the sack. That whole thing feels
phony and forced, as if the studio demanded that there had to be a love
interest subplot somewhere in there just to appease a certain demographic.
Then, over four years then go by without either one having contact with the
other, but yet when they do reunite, feelings continue to blossom. I would
have felt much better if these characters had just met, shared some
conversation and debate, then met up again four years later to participate
together in a project, and continued their exploration of each other's

But the main problem I have with "Contact" is it's length, or really the
amount of time spent on the more boring aspects of the story. Now I'm not
one of those people who automatically won't like or won't even see it just
based on it's running time. My problem with it's length is the same problem
I had with the length of 1995's "Heat". That problem is that there's too
much needless footage for a great many scenes which have already established
their point.

For example, while Foster and McConaughey are in bed together, he asks about
her father. She lets him know that he died when she was nine. Fine. But
then, moments later she has a lengthy flashback to that event. David Morse
(who give his usual excellent performance in yet another miniscule part) has
already been well established as her father. What purpose does this serve?
Let's just keep going with the story here.

Also, there's just scene after scene of debating the whole "religion vs.
science" issue, something which isn't resolved in the film because the
argument just can't be resolved in real life either. Obviously scientists
usually don't believe in God (not in the traditional sense anyway), and
religious people can't fully accept science as an explanation for why things
are. It just keeps going on and on, and it's dull.

Then, there are many moments which present very intriguing ideas and
situations, but are then immediately dismissed. Or I just feel that certain
ideas could have been executed much better. When the signal is received from
outer space, it's incredibly frustrating to the viewer. The three characters
who discover it all keep talking at the same time, making it impossible to
know what anyone is saying. Yes, I understand they're excited, but I want to
hear what they are saying, I was interested to find out the details, and
disappointed when I couldn't make out what any one character was saying.

After decoding the signal it is discovered that a video signal was also
sent. It too is decoded, and revealed to be footage of Adolf Hitler. The
scene is played great, the music swells and the characters react to it as
the most bizarre and intriguing thing yet, which it most certainly is. Then,
two seconds later, it's immediately brushed off. Don't play an idea that
interesting up like that if you don't plan on using it for anything. After
that brush off we are then treated to a "Forrest Gump"-ish type scene
involving Bill Clinton, a horrible concept which not only grinds the film to
a screeching halt (it was almost there anyway) but unfortunately dates the
movie. Using Clinton, who couldn't be more vague on whatever topic he's
really discussing in the clips used, is just unimportant to the film's
events. It's not a personal bias on my part mind you, but it's another
needless waste of film, which is then repeated several times later.

But the biggest disappointment is the film's final scenes (and no, not
because bug eyed monsters don't show up). After the main events of the final
scenes, it's thankfully revealed that this whole thing could have been
nothing more than an elaborate hoax played on the world by an eccentric
billionaire (John Hurt) who had nothing to lose and seemingly plenty of
motive and opportunity. When this is exposed, so much now made sense. There
were clues to this for the whole movie, and I really felt satisfied now that
most of what had just happened twenty minutes earlier may not have happened
at all. Unfortunately, a scene then follows which indicates that those
events really did occur. The other explanation was much more interesting. I
would have rather explored the ramifications of the hoax angle.

Is "Contact" awful? No, but it's not anything special. It's story just
doesn't go in directions that are the slightest bit interesting to me.
Conceptually it's a good idea, and it's technically well made, the effects
are good and the score is nice. But nothing can substitute for a good solid
story, and that's where "Contact" is sorely lacking. [PG]

Chuck Dowling -- <>

Visit Chuck's Movie Reviews at
Over 1,600 movies rated and/or reviewed! Movie news, film related links, and reader's reviews.

Stuart Cracraft

Jul 19, 1997, 3:00:00 AM7/19/97

'Contact' shows why Jodie Foster is one of our best actresses.
See Contact with your family. It is a movie for all ages.

--A review by Stuart Cracraft
Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, John Hurt

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Star Rating: **** (out of ****)

Rating out of Ten: 9.0
Grade: A

After a predictable MIT Phillip Morrison powers-of-10 zoom-out start
(which can be surprising to those not familiar with Prof. Morrison's
work), Contact picks up steam, gradually, building, by-the-end, an
irresistable juggernaut and a very good movie that does not as is so
often the case fall out-of-balance in terms of too much pandering to
the technological "geek" side. By the end, the audience is left with
what good science fiction is supposed to do: evoke a sense of wonder
about the universe and evoke questions in your mind about what's out

This movie does not let technology overshadow characterization and in
this sense it is unusual amongst high-tech movies. However, except for
Jodie Foster (Elie Arroway) and John Hurt (S.R. Hadden), who are both
actors of exceptional caliber, the supporting cast are not especially
impressive. Hurt certainly has had better roles (Stephen Ward in
Scandal). This one, as the multi-billionare Hadden, does not do his
acting skills justice.

This is clearly a Foster movie by one of the great Hollywood lights of
our generation. Foster's radiance has never been more strong than in
the scene where she finally meets the Vegans on their terms. Early
scenes take a long, long time to build up to this. The movie's pacing
is very good and subtle. The panoramas of the radio dishes at Arecibo
and CETI in New Mexico and Puerto Rico are beautiful. The politics of
Foster's character attempting to obtain funding for research at these
places are trite and predictable however.

One of the most entertaining, but very short scenes, is when Foster is
confronted by Rob Lowe, during a cabinet-level presidential meeting to
discuss the alien invitation. There were real sparks in this scene
between Foster and Lowe and it would behoove them to consider other
vehicles in which this dynamism could be explored. It is the only
scene in the movie in which there were tremendous dynamics between two
characters. Everything else was very one-sided (e.g. Foster). Lowe
can stand up to Foster and it showed in that scene at the cabinet

The core scene of the movie is set on a surrealistic beach on a
far-away world in the starsystem of Vega. It feels a lot like science
fiction writer John Varley's scenes in his book STEEL BEACH, where the
female protagonists encounters an immensely superior intelligence, in
one case a computer manufactured by mankind itself, and in Foster's
case, an illusion drawn from her memory. In another sense, this
immensely moving scene evokes Gene Roddenberry's STAR TREK pilot The
Cage, later The Menagerie, when Jeffrey Hunter and Susan Oliver have
their memories manipulated to create new worlds in which they live and
encounter aliens.

The concept is not new, by any sense, in the world of science
fiction. But the beach scene, which is the centerpiece of the film, as
is the whole film, is driven by Foster. Freed from her needs to direct
by director Zemecki, Foster is able to let it all hang out in the
characterization and the lead she provides to her supporting cast. As
the movie gains speed, Foster's acting intensifies and the audience
really does experience it with her. It is certainly Oscar-caliber
acting, unquestionably.

The supporting cast does well and Zemeckis throws in some humor with
some President Clinton cameos, cleverly manipulated, George
Stephanopolus-style, to seem very Forrest Gump. In fact, Zemeckis
et. al. got in trouble for the usage of some of the footage seen in
the movie, vis a vis Clinton. But the audience I attended this movie
with just had some good chuckles at Clinton's walk-ons.

The much-discussed tension between science and religion in this movie
is not particularly insightful to those who have already gone through
this course though it is helpful to those in the audience who have
not. Also, the near-final scene, in a Senate Judiciary Hearing room is

Contact is a fitting memorial to the memory of Carl Sagan, science
popularizer, and sometime pedantic gadfly of the halls of
academe. Perhaps now, Sagan can be said to be with his Dragons of

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