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CONTACT ($20) is based upon Carl Sagan’s wondrous science fiction novel of the same name. Carl Sagan was one of the best known scientific minds of the twentieth century; through his brilliance he was able to bring the wonders of the cosmos to the average man. Sagan’s book CONTACT should be required reading; his stirring story of man’s first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence is a great work of fiction and philosophy. The message mankind receives from deep space elates scientists, but causes quite a commotion within the religious community. This prompts the philosophical debate at the center of the novel, along with Sagan’s conclusion that science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

The film version of CONTACT pares back the scope of the novel, limiting itself only the essentials of Sagan’s story. Despite its reduced scale, the film version of CONTACT contains much of the novel’s power and manages to run two hours and thirty minutes. CONTACT is the story of one woman whose belief that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe takes her from childhood ham radio operator, to the realm of radio astronomy and the SETI program (search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Jodi Foster portrays Dr. Ellie Arroway; the determined young woman who discovers the signal from space, just as the government is about to kick her and her fellow scientists off their very large array of radio telescopes. As Dr. Arroway and the other scientists decode the signal from space, they determine that there is an underlying message, which contains plans to build a very complex machine. The scientists come to believe that the purpose of the machine is to transport a single occupant to the message’s point of origin. Of course, Dr. Arroway wants to be the person who gets to travel in the machine and to make contact. Foster is truly terrific in the role of Ellie Arroway and her performance is more than worthy of Academy consideration. The very impressive cast of CONTACT also includes Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, John Hurt, David Morse, Jena Malone, Rob Lowe and James Woods.

Warner Home Video should be congratulated for their spectacular Special Edition DVD release of CONTACT. CONTACT is presented Letterboxed only, which is as it should be, since this effects intensive film would loose far too much if it were cropped. The Letterboxed transfer restores most of the film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is quite beautiful. This marvelous transfer features a richly detailed image and vibrant color reproduction. MPEG-2 compression artifacts were hardly noticeable on this DVD. The film’s two and one half hour running time is accommodated on a single side by RSDL technology. There is a very slight pause at the end of chapter 16 as the DVD switches to the second layer of program information. 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has a wonderful mix which takes full advantage of the format’s 5.1 discrete channels to offer enveloping atmospheric and directional effects as well as deep bass. Composer Alan Silvestri’s musical score also benefits from the Dolby Digital encoding. Other soundtrack options include a matrixed Dolby Surround track and a French language track. The CONTACT DVD features subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menu gives one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDs supplemental features. Starting things off are three separate audio commentaries. In my opinion the best of the three commentaries features actress Jodi Foster. Foster is natural and entertaining throughout her talk. She talks about how she is completely lost in regards to special effects, and then speaks about the challenges in creating a performance for a film that is overwhelmed by special effects work. She points out many of the shots in which she appears that were completed in postproduction after being filmed on a green screen, or on a sound stage. Foster also speaks affectionately about her co-stars and director Robert Zemeckis. On the second commentary, Robert Zemeckis and producer Steve Starkey talk about how the production came into being, going from Carl Sagan’s novel to a completed film. They give a good deal of insight into the difficulties of producing a film of such expansive special effects work, and how the uncooperative weather made CONTACT an even more difficult film to complete. The third audio commentary features Ken Ralston and Stephen Rosenbaum who served as special effects supervisors for CONTACT. Their talk centers on the film’s overwhelming number of special effects. Not every special effect is talked about, since there are effects in almost every shot of the film. This commentary will give one a new appreciation for the wonders of CGI and digital compositing.  The supplements also include a "making of" featurette for the film’s opening sequence, as well as a behind the scenes look at a number of the other special effects sequences. This look details the concept, design and execution of those special effects sequences. One will also find extensive production notes, two theatrical trailers, plus cast and crew biographies/filmographies amongst the supplments.


CONTACT is one of the most intelligent and thought provoking science fiction films ever produced. When one considers the marvelous array of supplements included with this wonderful film, the Special Edition DVD offers a tremendous value. CONTACT is one of the best-produced DVD releases thus far. I couldn’t recommend CONTACT any higher; it should be considered a must have for collectors.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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