Review: Contact (1997)

Contact (1997) Contact (1997)

Breathless, goofy, beautiful.

Jodie Foster is incredible in Contact. She’s doing so much – and so much that could go so wrong – straddling a spectrum of notes in any given moment, from the huge (“They should have sent a poet!”) to the incredibly nuanced (choose any look she gives a male character, from love interest Matthew McConaughey to asshole Tom Skerritt).

Is Jodie Foster’s Dr Ellie Arroway one of the great heroines of 20th Century cinema?

Robert Zimeckis‘ direction is also doing an awful lot, often in particularly showy oners: from jaw-dropping VFX moments like the mirror shot

… to scenes where the camera follows from devices to faces and back, always with intent. There is, of course, the sound design of the alien transmission itself. Beyond these moments, the story, based on astrophysicist Carl Sagan‘s book, explores big themes via sprawling concerns, with a breathlessness ranging from the big existential “What if we aren’t alone?” questions, down to the personal character beats in story that manages to be about science vs religion and workplace chauvenism and how puritanism inevitably hijacks anything everything in America.

There are huge swings typical of a Zimeckis film (before this was Forest Gump, and the Back to the Future sequels), and he’s afraid of neither reach nor earnestness. Yet somehow, Contact‘s goofiness is found less in its ideas than in its (very ’90s) stylistic quirks. It holds up so very well, and lives up to its promise, its question – as John Hurt‘s billionaire benefactor S.R. Hadden creepily and iconically asks – “Wanna go for a riiide?”

Further Viewing

More on the making of the mirror shot (via Cooke Optics):

… and then there’s the rest of the movie – ‘The Making of Contact featurette: offers a reading of how Ellie’s journey to Vega is told symbolically through visual design:

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