Contact (PG)

Directed by Robert Zemekis
Starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughy, Tom Skeritt, James Woods, John Hurt, Angela Bassett

Carl Sagan's sci-fi story comes to the screen with an impressive team. Just look at the direstor and stars! Riding the wave of interest in aliens at the moment, here we get a film that is completely different from the ID4s or MiBs of the last few summers. This film is more like Close Encouters of the Third Kind in that it is much more about the people and the search than about the aliens that may or may not be out there.
Foster is Ellie Arroway, a brillaint scientist obssessed with the search for alien life. We follow her through her early efforts and struggles and just as her project is about to be wound up, she receives the message that she has been waiting for. After much deciphering it turns out to be a message from 26 light years away, and includes instructions of how to build a transport machine. Who will be the one passenger and what will contact be like?
Even though the film is called and is about contact, there is very little alien involvement in this film. The meeting comes in the final 25 minutes or so of a 2 and a half hour film, and is not quite what you might expect. Where the film tries hard is in its attempts to tie science and religion together. Ellie is a sceptic and agnostic, but her romantic interest is a religious man(McConaughy) who questions the role science has played in out lives. I guess Sagan's book also edged around the subject, but like Close Encounters before it, this IS a film about faith, just not recognised religious faith necessarily.
A fantastically talented cast is largely peripheral- this is very much Foster's film, she is on screen almost continuously. However, Skeritt is far slimier than we have seen him before, Woods less psychotic but still someone you don't want to upset. Bassett has very little to do, but exudes class as always. John Hurt's role is a very odd one. He plays Ellie's mysterious benefactor but lives an unbelievably eccentric lifestyle and seems to have more power than anyone else on the planet. However, the one who counts more than any other is Jodie Foster, and she is perfect in this film. She is one of the few actresses around that can do brainy, fierce, vulnerable and above all, driven. She seems to have worked hard to get rid of that slight lisp, much imitated from Silence of the Lambs, and indeed is quite a revelation in that she is doing a genre of film she has never done before. Her acting is quite subtle and understated, even emotional scenes are played fairly quietly. Foster is possibly the only actress that could have carried a film like this, and is is quite a turnaround to see Matthew McConaughy in the type of role women in Hollywood have had for years; little depth but very pretty.
It has taken a long time for this film to actually make on to the screen, with various script changes along the way. Sadly Carl Sagan died during production and didn't get to see it, although he was said to have been happy with final script and casting. This film was very enjoyable, and certainly didn't feel too long. The script is strong, and the subject matter one that I and many others find facinating. Zemekis got into a bit of trouble for using his Forrest Gump effects to put Bill Clinton virtually into the film, almost seamlessly, but this certainly added a nice touch of authenticity to it. I also liked the assorted nutcases camped outside Foster's radio telescope base in New Mexico that included singing groups and Elvis lookalikes- are they everywhere? A very well made film that has a different approach to alien contact than we have seen recently. Recommended. 8/10>

September 1997

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