Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

July 10, 1997


Contact is an unusual selection in the current wave of space alien encounter films because you never get to see the extraterrestrials. While the movie features plenty of eye-popping images, director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump), chooses to focus less on exotic otherworldly creatures and more on how we as humans would react if they said, "Hello."

Adapted from the novel by the late astronomer Carl Sagan, Contact follows the discoveries of Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster). Dr. Arroway has spent most of her life searching the stars for other intelligent life forms. After enduring years of government cutbacks and derision from her peers, Ellie stumbles across a transmission from the star Vega. The broadcast not only spits back and old earth TV transmissions, but it even contains plans for building a vehicle to take someone to meet the aliens.

Having discovered the broadcast and helped to decode it, Dr. Arroway would like to be the one who takes the voyage. To participate, she’ll have to compete with her former boss (Tom Skerritt) and convince her ex-boyfriend, an influential but technophobic preacher named Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey from A Time to Kill) that she’s up to the task.

Contact is at its most engaging when it spends less time scouting the heavens and more time following the reaction on Earth. The discovery of alien life forms opens up an intimidating series of questions:

    • Do the beings from Vega mean us harm?
    • It is it worth the huge expense to build their machine?
    • Does the fact that aliens are able to reach us prove that God doesn’t exist?

After enduring a season brimming with dull flicks that prove bombast and excitement aren’t synonymous, it’s a real treat to see a summer movie that actually wrestles with some weighty ideas. If the romance between Dr. Arroway and Palmer Joss seems a little contrived (they only meet a few times but somehow form lasting bind), the discussions they have are intriguing. It doesn’t hurt that Foster and McConaughey give commanding performances or that Zemeckis usually finds creative ways to present his story.

As with Forrest Gump, Zemeckis creates some frighteningly convincing special effects. For instance, he and his crew alter footage of President Clinton so that the Chief Executive appears to be reacting to events in the film. Unfortunately, Zemeckis can’t resist obvious attempts to tug at our heartstrings (there’s a maudlin subplot about Dr. Arroway’s father). He also runs out of ideas during the climactic voyage. While the effects in the scene are typically expert, Zemeckis seems content to ape 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Black Hole instead of presenting something that really does appear out of this world. While the ending itself is fine, the moments that precede it almost sink the film.

Still, Contact does hold its 2˝ running time well, and it’s engaging because the issues and people it presents are as interesting as the invisible aliens themselves (PG-13). Rating: 7.


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This page was last updated on 10/28/97.
Ó 1997 Dan Lybarger


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