Review: Contact (1997)




Robert Zemeckis


James V. Hart, Michael Goldberg (Novel by Carl Sagan)


150 min.


Jodie Foster, Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner, Geoffrey Blake, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Angela Bassett, Jena Malone, Rob Lowe, Jake Busey, John Hurt

MPAA Rating

PG for some intense action, mild language and a scene of sensuality

Buy on DVD/Blu-ray


Source Material


Science Fiction doesn’t have to be filled with strange aliens, amazing action, and unusual locales. Sometimes the best sci-fi is contemplative, asking the audience to explore themselves and the nature of the universe without even leaving the planet. Contact is one of the best Earth-set, modern sci-fi dramas ever made simply because of the weighty questions it poses and partially answers.

Based on a novel by one of the foremost scientific minds of the 20th Century, Carl Sagan, Contact stars Jodie Foster in her most introspective role as a SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) scientist working at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico where she makes what she believes is contact with aliens who provide her a series of coded messages that, when deciphered, form a series of blueprints that will enable her to travel vast distances to meet these strange aliens.

Ellie struggles not just to get her machine built, but against a government wanting to remove her from her own discovery and a religious leader (Matthew McConaughey) asking her to question the implications of her decisions. The only person in her corner is a wealthy benefactor (John Hurt) wanting to give her all the opportunities he can.

The film tackles a number of philosophical questions surrounding the pursuit of extra-terrestrial intelligence. The proof of such life outside our galaxy could decimate religious teachings and lead to panic in the streets, but only in the minds of the most pessimistic. Our scientific community wants nothing more than to find the truth and there are a lot of forces out there that want to prevent that at all costs. Contact is a courageous exploration of those ideas and presents fascinating arguments both for and against the scientific method, but ultimately dictating to the audience that the truth isn’t as far out of reach as we think, as long as someone is willing to persist against all odds at finding it.

Contact marked one of the last films Robert Zemeckis made before descending into haphazard mediocrity. Before this, Zemeckis was known as a brilliant purveyor of inventive mass entertainment with films like Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump with the occasional dud like Death Becomes Her proving that even at his most rudimentary, he could also be incredibly creative. Here, he uses his gift for crafting exciting and available narratives to present the audience with quandaries that would lead to countless discussions on the merits of science, religion, and the search for truth.

When audiences think of science fiction, it’s easy to see pulp entertainment and schlocky action films, but genuine sci-fi, the stuff that defined the genre, is seldom more acutely released than in Contact. It may not answer all of its own questions, but those heady topics and deep observations characterize this superlative achievement giving the audience something to mull and explore philosophically and that makes it one of the greatest films this genre has ever offered.

Review Written

September 11, 2019

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