The Feature: 4/5When a radio signal from deep space reveals there is indeed extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe, astronomer Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is the perfect candidate to say "I told you so." She's spent her entire career on SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), a passion that up to now has only yielded (at best) skeptical looks from her peers. But now she has a chance to not only prove all the naysayers wrong, but to connect with something she's longed for ever since she was a child. As a staunch atheist and dedicated scientist, she would never call her motivation to make extraterrestrial contact a spiritual or psychological need, but her own form of faith is challenged when she learns that for all her open-mindedness about the universe, she's also been quite narrow-minded about it. Her biases will ultimately deny her of the very thing she's been working towards all her life and though she eventually realizes the universe is bigger than even she was willing to admit, an unexpected series of second chances will help her see exactly how much.
As a directorial follow-up to his sentimental journey film "Forrest Gump," Robert Zemeckis's "Contact" (based on the novel by late astronomer Carl Sagan) probably can't seem more different. But watching it for the first time in 1997 I couldn't help seeing more similarities than differences between the two films, though I have yet to write the great compare-and-contrast essay I've had in mind all these years. Even without such a full-blown exercise we can see both movies explore fundamental questions about human existence, albeit "Contact" in more obvious ways. Though the opening sequence - a pullout from Earth to the far reaches of the galaxy and beyond - serves as a perfect illustration of key physics and astronomy concepts, what most will take away from it is our insignificance in the grand scheme. And the broad questions about faith and science posed to Dr. Arroway will challenge viewers regardless of where they fall in the spectrum of belief. Though the film ultimately offers few definitives to either its main character or the audience, it does highlight the fundamental importance of the questions as both the indicators and reflectors of our humanity. We may never have the answers but our questions will help take us to where we want to go.
Video Quality: 4/5The film is correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. The image is free of physical blemishes and exhibits no signs of edge enhancement or excessive noise reduction measures. Black levels are solid and deep, though contrast is often affected by some slight, but notable, black crush. Colors during those moments can look oversaturated, though colors and flesh tones in general show satisfactory stability and depth. Fine object detail is quite good, star fields and fine textile patterns (houndstooth jackets seemed to be all the rage in 1997) standing out for their clarity.
Audio Quality: 4.5/5The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track effectively presents an impressive mix that logically tracks with the film's story development. Until the climactic machine ride scenes, surround activity is devoted mostly to providing support for the score and some occasional environmental sound effects. During the machine ride, the mix throws in enveloping directional and ambient surround effects along with some impressive levels of LFE, giving the adventure scenes great impact. Dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible as well, though I did have to raise overall volume on my receiver about 10 units to reach my standard listening levels.
Special Features: 3.5/5The special features package uses commentaries to provide the behind-the-scenes information and devotes most of the video items to covering the film's special effects work. Overall it makes for a decent blend of material, with the isolated score being a rare highlight.
Audio commentaries: Of the three commentaries, I chose Jodie Foster's solo track to listen to. The two other tracks are by Zemeckis and Producer Steve Starkey and Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Ken Ralston and Visual Effects Supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum. Based on the latter pair's commentary for the special effects featurettes, there should be plenty to keep the CGI-minded interested. Foster in fact admits up front she's not so interested in special effects, so spends her time talking about her production experiences and insights into the characters and plot. Being the star of the film (and known for her intelligence), most viewers will gravitate to her track first, as I did, and should find it suitably informative and entertaining.
Special Effects Featurettes: Ralston and Rosenbaum walk viewers through the various special effects sequences, showing each phase of the painstaking CGI processes. Title cards provide additional detail about each sequence's specific objectives.
- The Making of the Opening Shot (20:02)
- The Making of the NASA Machine Destruction (5:52)
- The Making of the Harrier Landing (8:55)
- The High-Speed Compositing Reel (6:08)
- Machine Fly By (1:32)
- Hadden's Plane (0:26)
- NASA Control Room (0:23)
Theatrical Trailers: Trailer 1 runs 1:32 and Trailer 2 runs 2:28.
RecapThe Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 3.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
A thought-provoking drama exploring both science and faith gets very good technical treatment and a decent set of special features.