There’s an excellent 100 minute film in Contact. The film, adapted for the screen by Carl Sagan from his own novel before he sadly died, unfortunately runs for 150 minutes, and manages to inflict damage upon itself at the end by leaving absolutely nothing left to the imagination. If the film had stopped roughly five to ten minutes earlier, with things still ambiguous and trusted to the viewer’s brains to work out, then I’m convinced that Contact would be held in higher regard than it is at the moment. As it stands, it’s a good, solid Hollywood science fiction film, which a bit of brains behind it. But it sadly falls some way away from classic status.
It’s certainly a film with pedigree, though. Behind the camera is director Robert Zemeckis, who revisits the science fiction genre here for the first time since the end of the Back To The Future trilogy. He assembles, too, an outstanding cast. Jodie Foster has proved several times before that she can make compelling even the slightest of material (Flightplan, anyone?), and she’s excellent in the central role here as Ellie Arroway, a woman hunting for proof of the existence of aliens. It’s her drive that gives the film most of its narrative thrust, sadly, courtesy of several sugar-soaked moments relating back to her father. Appreciating that these are important to her character and to the film, I still find that these are the parts of the film that Zemeckis handles the least convincingly.
That said, even when the film loses momentum, the rest of that aforementioned cast steps up. James Woods, in particular, is brilliant here, but nods too must go to Tom Skerritt, John Hurt (clearly having a ball) and David Morse. Matthew McConaughey, who arrived on the project hot off the back of his breakthrough role in A Time To Kill, has to play second fiddle most of the time, but just about holds his own.
At its best, in the moments when Ellie is getting closer and closer to realising her dream, and when the focus also switches to the powers-that-be, Contact is really quite strong. The film as a whole is never less than watchable, and Zemeckis, as you might expect, doesn’t hold back from the money shots (there’s some genuinely stunning work in here). But it’s that desire to wrap everything up with a nice bow, and a layer of flabbiness (particularly in the early parts of the film, although the first three or four minutes are absolutely excluded from that) that manage to drag Contact down. It’s still a good movie. Just not the great one that there was surely the potential for here.
As for the Blu-ray, it’s strictly a catalogue disc from Warner Bros, so it’s not gone to great lengths to spruce the film up. Yet, I was quite impressed with the transfer here, which seemed notably sharper than my aged DVD edition of the film. Furthermore, there are some really sharp sequences that come across very well, indeed.
I distinctly remember from seeing Contact in cinemas just how effective the sound mix was, and there are no disappointments here on that score, either. It’s very good work, with a subtlety and immersiveness to the sound stage that doesn’t disappointment. Granted, it won’t shake your house to its foundations, but it really isn’t that kind of film.
The extras package is bountiful, but there’s nothing new for the Blu-ray, aside from the welcome option to listen to the film’s score in its entirety. You do still get a trio of commentary tracks, and a splattering of short featurettes that delve into various technical challenges involved in the making of the film. The best, though, is the longer segment dedicated to the making of the film’s outstanding opening shot.
Contact, to be fair, got an excellent DVD release first time round (and well over ten years’ ago, too), so it’s tricky to grumble about what you get here. That said, it is a copy and paste job, with no upgrade to the material, which is a pity.
All considered, Contact is a film ripe for a revisit, though. And this Blu-ray is the best version of it on the market. Here’s hoping Mr Zemeckis revisits the science fiction genre again soon…
The Film:The Disc:
Contact is available on Blu-ray now.