[Metroactive Movies]

[ Movies Index | Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Ready, SETI, Go

François Duhamel

Dop Is Pod Spelled Backward: Jodie Foster prepares to make a journey to the stars fraught with spiritual implications in 'Contact.'

After a long, long countdown, Jodie Foster finally blasts off in Robert Zemeckis' 'Contact'

By Richard von Busack

THROUGHOUT Contact, one argument for the existence of extraterrestrial life is mentioned again and again: If humans are the only life form in the universe, there'd be a lot of wasted space. The argument would be more ringing if there hadn't been so much wasted space in Contact. This grossly overlong film boasts some rousing scenes, especially during the long-delayed trip to the star Vega, but you have to cross forests of cinematic deadwood to get there. The first half hour does nothing to advance the plot except to go over and over again details that director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) would have given to us much more quickly and efficiently in his early years.

Jodie Foster's character, Ellie Arroway, is fascinated with broadcasting and receiving signals; this interest leads her to SETI, the search for extraterrestrial life. Funding cuts shut down one lab after another, but eventually, at a listening post in the New Mexico desert, she picks up a signal from space. In preparation for this moment, some 40 minutes into the film, Zemeckis unveils that fine shot seen in the previews: the camera angling down to align Foster's smooth, tilted face with a row of huge satellite dishes.

Sinister government officials fret about an alien invasion (an uninvolved James Woods represents that concern), while Arroway interprets the signal as an invitation to visit the aliens. Instead of hustling us along to the climactic journey, however, Zemeckis focuses on Arroway's love interest, one Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey)--deadwood himself. McConaughey has been reading his own press clippings; he really seems to think he's sex on wheels. He's insinuating and sleepy-eyed now, instead of starchy and bland as he was in A Time to Kill, and he goes through the film giving a very poor imitation of Robert Mitchum.

Although he is supposed to be a pop-spiritual guru (or "respected religious scholar," as the press kit optimistically puts it), Joss is like the character of the Antichrist in fundamentalist tracts. He's handsome and famous and has the ear of the president (Bill Clinton, computer toasted to be an unwilling co-star). A TV broadcast refers to Joss as an "ambassador from God" while soft-pedaling exactly what such an ambassador's embassy would be. A religious debate develops along with the bland romance between Palmer and Arroway. This fight between science and religion seems especially windy when compared to the casual godlessness of Men in Black, in which the galaxy is nothing but a marble to some cosmic marble player.

When, at long, long last, the actual journey to the stars begins, it is both intimate and wild with colorful effects. Much of the trip is recorded on Foster's face, and it includes elements of both an orgasm and a public execution. Unfortunately, the voyage leads to another tease--a payoff constructed of bits of Solaris and The Wizard of Oz that even the special effects can't make up for. In fact, the special effects and the wide-screen cinematography seem to cut against the grain of a story that could have been better told on TV, to make more telling use of all of the fake news bulletins and celebrity appearances that Zemeckis favors. Watching the redundant scenes of Arroway's childhood and enduring the sight of McConaughey trying to be sultry and saintly at the same time, I wished that a wormhole would open up so we could get to the space odyssey all the sooner.

Contact (PG-13; 145 min.), directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg, based on a novel by Carl Sagan, photographed by Don Burgess and starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the July 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate