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USA 1979
Directed by
Robert Zemeckis
150 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Contact

There’s a scene late in Contact in which a hostile investigating committee member (James Woods) asks the film’s beleaguered but feisty protagonist, Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), if she seriously expects anyone to believe her claim that she travelled through time and spoke to extra-terrestrials. He suggests instead that she is suffering from a delusion and that the whole thing was an elaborate and costly hoax. One can’t help but feel much the same about this film which takes 150 minutes and considerable resources to yield a reassuring New Age bromide about the connectedness of all things.  

Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway, a brilliant young radio atronomer from Wisconsin, orphaned of both parents who one day hears messages from outer space. Heck, “what are the odds?” you well might ask. Anyway, the cynical powers-that-be, represented by an ambitious former mentor (Tom Skerritt) and a cynical National Security Advisor (Woods) try to appropriate her achievement but fail thanks to the contribution of an eccentric billionaire (John Hurt) who lives on a space station in order to slow the growth of a cancer. Dr. Arroway travels to outer space and meets the ETs who take the form of her loving Dad (David Morse). When she returns to Earth no one believes her but a theological-scholar-cum-sometime-boyfriend (Matthew McConaughey).

In what was his follow-up to his incredibly successful Forrest Gump (1994), and an adaptation of a Carl Sagan novel, Zemeckis gives us an egregiously All-American portrait of a God-governed universe (with a heaven that looks like a beach in Pensacola) and the inevitable triumph of true love. Using the same kind of visual effects as Forrest Gump, integrating manipulated existing media footage (notably of Bill Clinton) and incorporating real media figures such Larry King and Jay Leno to create a faux authenticity Zemeckis serves up what appears to be intended as a Christian feel-good reconciliation of science and religion.

Contact is so Spielbergian it might as well have been directed by Spielberg, Zemeckis unloading the full panoply of middlebrow sentimentalities in order to bring home his jaw-droppingly banal message.  At a plot level, high-minded Ellie heads up a hand-picked team of zany but selflessly dedicated science boffins, one of whom is blind (William Fichtner) while simultaneously battling villainouspoliticking management types and intermittently taking time out to philosophize with Matthew McConaughey’s freelance Christian theologian who makes periodic appearances to question her lack of faith (but not her willingness to partake in extra-marital sex).

In the lead Foster gives her all in the kind of independent young woman role that is her stock-in-trade but the silliness of the plot defeats her. Matthew McConaugheys role is hard to even understand let alone accept his cocky rendition of it.  Beyond that there’s really not much to the film which rips-off the carnival from Ace In The Hole and the deep space sequence from 2001 sequence, bar the big budget production values.

 

 

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