I’ve decided to write of review of Contact (1997) for two reasons, one, after seeing Interstellar (2014) a few weeks ago I felt it was time to take in this film with similar themes. Whilst also reply to a request by Mark Kermode for similar reasons. It’s always a joy to take in this film, one of the first science fictions films that I actually saw when I was younger that has stayed with me. A film that was not all about the action, more adult dealing with a few strong ideas which are still relevant today. It hasn’t really aged since it was released nearly 20 years ago, yes it’s that old if you look at the release date.
To consider this all of this in the light of Interstellar (2014) the relationship of father and daughter is very strong at the start and end of the film, an astronomer who lost her father at an early age, a person who encouraged her ambitions, seen early making contact with anyone on the radio. Whilst a faith in the unknown is really at the heart of the film. Interstellar is more about hope for a better future which the father is in search of, whilst his daughter now grown up is finding the truth behind that the science. There is more an emphasis on the battle between science and religion when a message from the Vega system is picked up by adult Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) which even in the umpteenth viewing still excites me, you can feel the energy in the room as they piece together what is going on, the impossible is happening for her team. Probably helped by the transmission being played on repeated, this was actually happening.
There is also the threat of higher-powers, the government and funding which has the ability to make or break what is happening. In the form of David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt) who is mostly out for his own glory. Whilst coming from the opposite side of the spectrum a younger Matthew McConaughey as “a man of the cloth, without the cloth” is looking for the truth beyond all the technology that we have in our lives. Something that is ever more prevalent today, surrounded by even more technology than we can shake a stick at. I’m typing this review up on a mac-book, the reach of science is practically encroaching. A fear that was predicted back in the mid-nineties has come true, and are we happier – are you? I’m not even sure why he shares top-billing in this film, only in a handful of scenes compared to Skerritt who is always stealing Arroway’s thunder as the film progresses.
There is none of this in Interstellar which is determined by the preceding events in space as they look for prospective new homes for the people of Earth. Faith is replaced by a love and that attachments it creates between people. Contact is concerned with the consequences of a higher power, alien or god-like which is seen in the mass gathering as the fear becomes more real as we piece everything together, the message from the ‘Vegans’ (not those who eat not meat products) much from the help of the mysterious S.R. Hadden (John Hurt) who knows more than he’s been letting on, practically pulling strings from behind the scenes.
Contact is very much a product of the period, surprisingly not special effects driven, even with Robert Zemeckis directing, coming off the back of Forrest Gump (1994) playing with the fabric of television media to play out this film, superimposing Bill Clinton into a number of scenes, making the events all the more real. Theres an awareness of the governments involvement in the events, taking control, escalating it to a national security issue, we’d probably have the US navy out in the ocean today if the film was re-made today, ready to defend the nation…and the world.
Taking Contact on it’s own merits, it’s a grown up serious piece of sci-fi that dares to wonder what if, and how in the case we do make it happen, the consequences of that first recording to the actual first contact. With breath-taking special effects that match the wonder of the film, holding up well 17 years later as Foster travels through a wormhole to meet the messenger. It doesn’t really think about 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Unlike Interstellar which is more unashamed of what it does as it explores another dimension, the very future of the human race. The father-daughter relationship is something is the main similarity, however more a plot device in the earlier film to allow the final act to work for the audience. Not a communication point that allows a conclusion to be made. For me it’s about religion versus science, who wins? Well thats down to us, not James Woods as he fights for the truth at the investigation, a leap of faith is needed, do we believe it was an illusion or in-fact she travelled across space and back in 9 hours.