Thursday, June 23, 2011
In spite of its contained tenor, or perhaps due to it, Robert Zemeckis' Contact is as in love with science fiction as any film I've seen. And as quiet and talky as the movie is, it still couldn't resist using the classic mad scientist prototype to reveal a key solution, or develop the story with Hitler communicating with aliens, or finish with a massive bang in outer space. Contact wants to be a big movie, important in the same way that 2001 or Close Encounters are. While its ambitions are transparent, the movie works because the questions it asks are simply handled with honesty and intelligence. Yet its sense of ambiguity keeps the movie from hitting us over the head with its ideas. The movie relates the quest of a scientist, played by Jodie Foster (it sounds dubious, but Foster pulls it off, especially with those large, thick-rimmed glasses), to find and communicate with extra terrestrial beings. Her passion and devotion pays off when she and her team of stalwarts receive strange signals from what seem to be aliens. The news of possible alien communication quickly goes viral, as soon the whole world seems to be a part of the discovery. I would have preferred a smaller approach without all the media and public involvement, but I suppose Zemeckis is after accuracy. If we really did get an alien message, the public's enthusiasm and anger would be nothing short of what this movie presents. Other than science, Contact is about religion. Or at least it tries to be. The movie can be applauded for even bothering to bring up God, but that doesn't hide the fact that it doesn't really go anywhere with its theology. Matthew McConaughey plays Foster's love interest and the main source of the movie's hazy religious queries. The most insightful thing he says about God is that just because one can't prove something doesn't mean it isn't true. He uses this idea when speaking to Foster, a skeptic, asking her if she can prove she loves her dad. My two main problems with the movie are that it doesn't (or can't) tackle its questions in depth, and that it goes on for too long and in the process becomes much weaker than anyone could anticipate due to how solid the first two hours are. In the final twenty minutes the movie tries to become too big while simultaneously getting very sentimental. Maybe that's why a movie that could have been great isn't really talked about anymore.