Movie Review By Andrea Chase
"Contact," based on the novel by Carl Sagan, is a thoughtful film about what happens when Earthlings are confronted by proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence. It's irony, and strength, is that Sagan, the great atheist, turns this story into a parable supporting faith in things unseen, secular and other.
Unfortunately, it takes the first hour of its two and a half hour running time to get to the aliens. Big mistake. The build-up is tedious as it follows the dissipating fortunes of Elly Arroway, a brilliant astronomer committing professional suicide with her relentless search for intelligent life in the cosmos. Things don't pick up until the plug is pulled on her research and she turns for funding to loopy billionaire John Hurt, looking here very much like a shelled turtle.
Then things go into high gear. Elly hears the signal that she's been waiting for and not only is there sound, but also pictures. When you realize what image the aliens are sending, your jaw will drop.
As in all good speculative fiction, Sagan is really dissecting society. Instead of professional vindication, Elly becomes the center of controversy involving the government, professional egos, and more fringe groups than you can shake a stick at. The discovery within the transmission of blueprints for a spaceship, and the subsequent selection process for an astronaut to fly it, becomes a three-ring circus broadcast live on CNN.
What makes "Contact" work is Jodie Foster as Elly. What other actress could be so convincingly driven, combative, and vulnerable at the same time? And that's a good thing, because the other characters in "Contact" don't have much screen time. Given this, the producers made some smart casting choices, such as James Woods, an actor who's shorthand for smarmy, and Matthew McConaughey, who's shorthand for hunky.
In amongst the usual summer crop of special effects flicks, it's nice to find one that aspires to something more, one that uses special effects to tell the story, not to overwhelm it. So, after you've oohed and ahhed over the dinosaurs, and frolicked with the men in black, take in a film that will use your higher brain functions and show you a performance above and beyond a snappy one-liner.
© 1997 • Andrea Chase • Air Date: 7/9/97
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