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Contact Movie Review

ellie film vega mcconaughey

1997 – Robert Zemeckis –

After meeting Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) and watching her rush back to her telescope, divinity school dropout Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) leaves her a note: “How can I reach you?” Contact is essentially an exploration of that question in its many emotional, spiritual, and astronomical possibilities. Ellie works for SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), and after four years of expensive research, her listening dishes pick up a mysterious sound from the galaxy Vega, twenty-six light years away. The decoding of the sound leads to the discovery of 63,000 encrypted pages describing what appears to be a transportation device to send someone to Vega. The suspenseful development of the film gains much of its drama by showing the impact such an event would have at the societal, scientific, and personal levels. In one scene, the previously unpopulated listening outpost transforms itself into a makeshift community of drifters and soul-searchers—crackpot preachers, skinhead Nazis, Elvis impersonators singing “Viva Las Vega”—who have all been drawn to the enormous dishes that have picked up a sliver of meaning from deep space.

Ellie is the best-drawn character and one of the film's real strengths. (McConaughey's character is equally underdrawn). Foster, one of the screen's most intelligent actors, makes Ellie appealing for her relentless intelligence, curiosity, and uncompromising honesty. The film, though sometimes bowing to the pressures of blockbuster appeal, handles with equal honesty the questions of belief and doubt and refuses to stack the deck for either side. Contact is never more effective than when the political, scientific, and spiritual implications of the Vega message unfold almost as fast as new developments occur. The fairness with which the screenwriters present their ideas and the way the film encourages the audience to think are quite rare in a Hollywood production. The ambiguity of the ending also merits respect. When her sphere zooms through a “worm-hole” in time (a superior piece of special effects) on its way to whatever awaits on Vega, Ellie sees such beauty that she can only respond, “They should have sent a poet.” Based on the Carl Sagan novel and filmed while he was dying of cancer, Contact ultimately suggests that a desperate world might find a measure of solace if it brings to the infinitudes of space and doubt a touch of the poet.

Cast: Jodie Foster (Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway), Matthew McConaughey (Palmer Joss), Tom Skerritt (David Drumlin), James Woods (Michael Kitz), John Hurt (S.R. Hadden), Rob Lowe (Richard Rank), David Morse (Ted Arroway), William Fichtner (Kent Clark), Angela Bassett (Rachel Constantine), Larry King (himself), Leon Harris (himself), Tabitha Soren (herself), Geraldine Ferraro (herself), Bobbie Battista (herself), Robert Novak (himself), Bernard Shaw (himself), Geraldo Rivera (himself), Jay Leno (himself) Screenwriter: Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, Michael Goldenberg Cinematographer: Don Burgess Composer: Alan Silvestri Producer: Steve Starkey and Robert Zemeckis for Warner Bros. MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 153 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Budget: $90M Box Office: $101M.

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