The story of "Contact" has to do with the wonder of the universe, with the utter insignificance of the earth in the overall scheme of things, and with the fact that at some point every truly thinking person, in his heart of hearts at least, has to learn to get beyond his sensory limitations and take it as an article of faith that the universe has some sort of design.
There have been few science fiction movies in the history of the genre that are this thought-provoking, actually few movies of any genre. This film is not only thought-provoking, it is also effective on an emotional level, something equally rare in science fiction.
There were a couple of very powerful emotional scenes in the film. The first involves a young girl trying to make contact with her dead father. Another is about a scientist trying to explain her feelings, her unshakable faith in her personal experience, without a shred of evidence to back it up.
The film centers around the relationship between the scientist, Dr. Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) and a man of faith, Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey of "A Time to Kill." The gulf that seems to separate them is her faith in science and his faith in God. She is an affirmed agnostic. That doesn't stop them from falling in love.
After Arroway runs away from that relationship, because of an understandable fear of intimacy, they meet again, years later. Arroway makes an astonishing discovery, a signal from an advanced civilization in another star system. Joss, meanwhile has risen to power in Washington as a spiritual adviser to the president.
The crisis of conflicting faiths happens when Joss is appointed to a committee to select who will be the earth's emissary to the alien intelligence and Arroway is one of the candidates. He feels he cannot send a representative of the human race who doesn't believe in God. The resolution to this conflict is unexpected. It is especially nice to see a religious person not cast in the usual Hollywood light of an intolerant cretin or a homicidal maniac.
There are some wonderful scenes in the film, including the ones mentioned above. The opening shot, a slow pullback from the earth to the end of the universe, is accompanied by historic audio broadcasts and incredible Hubble Space Telescope and other fine astronomical images and artwork. Another great scene shows the media and cultural circus surrounding the discovery of alien intelligence. The desert around the array of radio telescopes is filled with colorful and playful elements of the lunatic fringe, from neo-Nazis to UFO contactees.
This is a beautifully-photographed movie by Don Burgess. In one memorable scene, a young girl is seen running down the hall in slow-motion. Only at the end of the shot do we realize the whole scene was captured in the reflection of a mirror. The film's music, by Alan Silvestri sounded too much like the music in "Forrest Gump." It would have been nice to hear something more original.
The editing by Arthur Schmidt is first rate. Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis allows plenty of time for character development. The screenplay by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (Sagan's wife) is excellent. The same two also wrote the book. Druyan was also the creative consultant on the Voyager spacecraft recordings.
There are going to be those (there already have been) who will tell you this movie is boring, it's too long, it is too talky, that it is indulges in sophomoric philosophy. The trouble with those kind of people is that they are too cynical to appreciate a film with any warmth to it. Those kind of people hated "Forrest Gump," and "Independence Day," too. This film is more cynical than "Forrest Gump" and it is less patriotic than "Independence Day," but it isn't nearly cynical, dark, unpatriotic, anti religious, or depressing enough for some critics or viewers. Who cares? They can always go see "Dead Man." I'd rather see a good movie instead, like "Contact." It rates an A.
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