If we were not alone in the universe, would you want to know? Would that not clash with the idea of a higher power? The Robert Zemeckis (known for Forrest Gump) film, Contact, takes the nerdy science-fiction genre to new levels. When one usually thinks of a sci-fi movie, they see funny little men clad in green suits with 10 eyes, but Contact takes a different approach on the subject of aliens.
Instead of looking at it from a purely scientific point of view, it is seen from a spiritual and emotional point of view. How would extraterrestrial life affect religion? Would people still feel safe in the universe? Does god really exist? That’s some pretty heavy material for a science fiction film. But then again, with Academy Award winning director Robert Zemeckis, there is no fooling around.
This is seen with the excellent cast: Jodi Foster, known for her roles in “Silence of the Lambs” and “Panic Room,” Matthew McConaughey, known for “The Lincoln Lawyer,” James Woods, Angela Bassett and Tom Skerritt, (the guy that was killed in the air duct in Ridley Scott‘s “Alien.”)
Apart from the cast, Zemeckis also uses some good CGI animation, including (and similar to his John Lennon interview in Forrest Gump) several scenes with former president Bill Clinton. As you can see, the film takes a slightly different approach than some hovering metal discs attached to string.
The plot is actually quite simple unlike most sci-fi movies that involve complete scenes of scientific gibberish. For Jodi Fosters‘ character, Dr. Eleanor Arroway, since childhood, has always wanted to be an astronomer and hopefully find other intelligent life forms. As the film opens, we are given a glimpse into her unfortunate, yet life-altering, childhood.
When Ellie and her father, Ted (played by David Morse from “The Green Mile“), used to look at the stars and wonder whether they were alone in the universe, sparking her fascination for the topic. As she grows older and graduates from M.I.T., she turns down a teaching position to work for S.E.T.I. (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and it is there where our plot begins to develop. Not only does she meet Palmer Joss (McConaughey), a priest and author in the subject of how technology is destroying faith, but she also intercepts a strange signal bounced off the star system Vega. With much criticism from her superiors, the signal turned out to be both an audio and video signal.
The picture they were seeing was the original 1939 Olympic opening speech by Adolf Hitler, what Ellie and her team did not know was that the signal had other encrypted data underneath the speech. With some assistance from a billionaire, S.R. Hadden, (played by the great actor John Hurt, known for “1984” and seen in “Alien,” except with a small alien ripping through his stomach), Ellie is able to decipher the encrypted code. The code appears to be blueprints for some sort of transporter.
When the U.S. government decides to invest $750 billion to make this ringed spacecraft, there is a rise in the amount of religious pressure. Hundreds of religious groups gather at Cape Canaveral to witness this space mission and it is at Cape Canaveral that a religious extremist blows up the three quarter of a trillion dollar project. With the death of Ellie’s superior, David Drumlin (Skerritt) and with the knowledge that another spacecraft had been made in secret on an island in Japan, Ellie is nominated to fly the single person craft. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to give the ending away- it is too good for that. I’ll let you watch it. And if you have already seen it, the ending can be taken in many ways.
I was most impressed with Zemeckis’ use of CGI. His films usually contain high amounts of animation; he did the feather scene in “Forest Gump” as well as animation in the “Back to the Future” series and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?“. Overall, the film asks many questions which do not have a right or wrong answer. Much of the controversy deals with the common debate of science vs. religion; with McConaughey’s character representing religion and Ellie representing science, the conclusion to the argument is for you to witness by watching the film and deciding for yourself.