Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg
Based on the novel and story by Carl Sagan
150 minutes, Rated PG
Jodie Foster Dr. Eleanor Arroway
Matthew McConaugheyPalmer Joss
James Woods Michael Kitz
John HurtS.R. Hadden
Tom SkerrittDavid Drumlin
William Fichtner Kent Clark
David MorseTed Arroway
Angela BassettRachel Constantine
Rob LoweRichard Rank
William Jefferson ClintonThe President

Contact Related Links
Contact - The Movie
Contact Tribute Page
Contact Trailer (Quicktime Movie)
SETI Institute
Carl Sagan Links
Carl Sagan Honorary Site
Jodie Foster Tribute Page
CNN article: "Contact Asks the Big Questions"
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas F. Cunningham

Let's get it out of the way up front: Contact is the best SF movie of the year, and perhaps the best pure science fiction movie ever made. Better than Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, superior in many ways to 2001, and it certainly speaks to today's audiences far more clearly than either of those classics. Yes, the computer graphics are wonderful, the story gripping, and the acting Oscar material. But this movie really hits the mark as it wrestles with the question of Religion vs. Science.

But let's start with the first reel. The other major question that Contact poses is: Is there life out there? Or are we alone in the universe? In case you missed last summer's blockbuster Independence Day (where this question was unequivocally answered) Contact presents us with a much more believable scenario for true first alien contact. Three times the movie makes the point, "...if it's just us, it would be an awful waste of space." Realize that Zemeckis uses some wonderful special effects and computer graphics to drive this home.

Carl Sagan is credited with the screen story, based on his 1985 bestseller, and for the most part the film stays true to his vision -- with some updates. Sagan and his wife, who produced the PBS series Cosmos, were the co-producers. And the movie ends with the dedication, "For Carl," a tribute to the man who more than anyone else in recent years popularized the science of astronomy and astrophysics.

Casting was well done. The central character is Ellie Arroway, (Jodie Foster) who discovers and decodes a message sent to earth from a star system 26 light years away. The ramifications of this present a number of challenges to the talented and scrappy scientist. She is not weak, but rather a true hero, ready to get up and continue no matter what obstacles are put in her way. She has some help from S.R. Hadden (John Hurt) who not only funds her research but later ensures she is in a position to take the trip of a lifetime to visit the senders of the message. Ellie's love interest, Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), is also her principal adversary. He continues to represent the religion-as-truth viewpoint. James Woods plays Michael Kitz, the National Security Advisor, a hostile man and a far more evil villain than Woods' other summer role, Hades. David Drumlin (played by Tom Skerritt), is the head of the National Science Foundation who proves that those director types only make discoveries they've stolen from someone else, in this case Ellie. And with a fine sense of irony, Rob Lowe is cast as the spokesman for the "Conservative Coalition."

In addition to casting Rob Lowe, there are a few other inside jokes in the movie. When Ellie first meets Palmer Joss, she describes Venus' greenhouse effect, which just happens to be Sagan's Doctoral Thesis. Later, as Hadden runs through the highlights of Ellie's life, he points out that she turned down a teaching position at Harvard. The same Harvard that denied Sagan tenure.

From the opening sequence to the journey on "The Machine," the graphics are beautiful and really add to the movie, as opposed to being there strictly as eye candy. The geeks in the audience may get a buzz from the method used to digitally transfer the specifications of "The Machine" across 26 light years. And even though the President has several lines -- courtesy of the techniques Zemeckis perfected in Forrest Gump -- he really doesn't say anything, what a surprise.

Contact works on so many different levels that there is something in it for all audiences. I recommend it to everyone. See it and you'll agree that even people who don't normally go in for SF films will really enjoy the movie. One warning, though: be ready to discuss it with your friends afterward. It's something you'll want to talk about over coffee or beer, or even while standing in the parking lot.

Copyright © 1997 by Thomas F. Cunningham

Thomas Cunningham is an independent corporate coach working in the software industry. Bad science fiction films give him a rash.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide