Contact (1997)

Contact (1997), directed by Robert Zemeckis.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) initiated a science fiction film genre that comes around every few years: the "big think" movie, best done on a large scale, founded on real science, but which moves out into a mysterious spiritual realm. Both versions of Solaris qualify; Interstellar (2014) and Arrival (2016) are recent examples.

I hadn't seen this since it was new and it holds up well. I'll have to pay more attention next time -- the commentary tracks point out that the artwork on her walls reappears during Ellie's multi-dimensional space voyage, as does the fantasy-Pensacola of her childhood. A sign that her voyage is at least partly in her mind. And that's ok.

They also talk about background effects which I hadn't detected; apart from the actual SF content it all looked pretty real to me.

I haven't read Carl Sagan's book so I don't know how it was adapted. My impression is that he was very skeptical in matters of religion, so I don't know what he thought of Ellie's inner journey from principled atheist to chosen prophet of a new First Contact spirituality.

I wonder what it would really be like? Would transmissions from a distant region of space cause worldwide religious meltdown? "Oh, yes, definitely" says my wife, but I'm not sure. If they show no sign of showing up right away maybe it would blow over.

Something rare in film: a look at the unpleasant operations of Big Science, the scramble for funding and control. Tom Skerritt is expertly unlikable as the credit-grabbing backstabbing bureaucrat. In some ways this is a fantasy of the technicians: the story belongs to the bright enthusiasts who love their work and manage an end-run around the politicians and administrators, something that wouldn't be allowed in reality.

Very much a Jodie Foster showcase. She specializes in being frightened and anxious and it is a relief to occasionally see her relax and briefly enjoy life.

Jake Busey has "crazed religious suicide bomber" tattooed on his forehead. Why can no one but Ellie see that?

Jena Malone, age 12, is the young Ellie.

Available on Blu-ray with three commentary tracks. Jodie Foster's was the best for me. She not only has valuable insights into the story and her character, but -- being a producer and director herself -- has a good eye for production details and the difficulty of getting such a large project done.

She says that when repeating "I'm good to go" during the scary launch sequence, Ellie really means "I'm ready to die".

She also thinks her relationship with the John Hurt character (a combined Howard Hughes and Bill Gates billionaire) is like Clarice Starling's with Hannibal Lector: he is a scary mentor.