Contact (1997) 2.79/5 (2)
2.79/52

 

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Rating: The Bad – 54.5
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Duration: 150 mins
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt

Robert Zemeckis’ big budget adaptation of Carl Sagan’s story stars Jodie Foster as the prodigious astronomer whose obsession with discovering evidence of extra terrestrial life pays off when she receives a deep space signal. Things get even more astonishing when she discovers that the signal contains a cyphered message with instructions on building an interstellar craft that promises to unite the two communicating civilisations. As the world scrambles to catch up with the implications of this message, she and a team of meddlesome government officials led by a nasty Tom Skerritt prepare to build and launch the machine.

As you’d expect from a Robert Zemeckis science fiction epic, Contact is punctuated by some fantastic visual effects and thrilling drama. In particular, he comes into his own during the central contact sequence serving up a feast of pin point editing, sound mixing and dialogue, a feat which reminds us all of exactly what his strengths are. Alas, Contact is flush with his other trademarks too such as the impulse to inflate the basic idea with lofty aspirations. The result is a reckless twisting and deformation of the plot until all sense is wrung out of it.

The major problems with Contact are in the writing. Unforgivable contrivances or outright plot holes litter the script to justify speeding our heroine through a maze of painfully earnest emotional crucibles. But worse still is the Fisher-Price philosophy that runs through them in order to paint the story with the illusion of profundity. Mathew McConaughey is shoehorned into the proceedings as a nondescript religious leader and with him some frustratingly superficial religious considerations. These would have amounted to nothing more than gestures if they didn’t arise so persistently throughout the film and then culminate in an ostensibly mind blowing (but in reality mind numbing) coalescence with the story’s more scientific themes. Clearly there was an underdeveloped desire to draw bigger ideas into the central story of alien contact but not nearly enough intelligence or delicacy to give them shape. Ultimately, the story bounces awkwardly along in much the same manner of Alan Silvestri’s big boring score. Constantly trying to build towards big emotions but delivering nothing but hot air.

Jodie Foster has been given an awful lot of slack over the years and while she’s more than competent with a tight script to work with, she flounders within this sloppy nonsense signing off with a denouement (wherein she explains the wonders of the universe to a bunch of school kids) that comes off a little manic and uncomfortably ludicrous. Skerritt does the best with what he’s given but his character couldn’t be have been made more poisonous if he wore horns and a tail. McConaughey suffers similarly under the weight of his character’s smarmy silliness.

Contact was a bold undertaking and was much anticipated due to the calibre of talent behind and in front of the camera. Unfortunately, rather than playing to its strengths, it flounders in those ambitions and becomes another example of Hollywood missing the mark.

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