With ‘Cosmos’ returning, Carl Sagan is back in vogue, so why not take a look back at ‘Contact’ on Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column that looks back at great science fiction of the past.
I understand that people may not have the connection I do with the movie ‘Contact’. Not many can say they were there opening night at the age of twelve, and fewer still can say they have watched it as many times as I have. Even less can say that they habitually use it in academic papers, but there you go. I love ‘Contact’ and I love Carl Sagan.
So, let’s do the basics. ‘Contact’ was originally a book written by Carl Sagan, addressing the possible realities of SETI discovering radio signals from an extraterrestrial civilization which expressly is contacting Earth. It deals with issues that are still incredibly common in the science dialogue, such as funding pure science and the crisis of faith versus science, and adds lots of very real drama and intrigue.
However, no matter how much I like the book, I love the movie so much more.
The movie had a cast and crew that would blow anyone who saw it out of the water. From directer Robert Zemeckis, of ‘Back to the Future‘ fame, to actors like academy award winner Jodie Foster (‘Elysium‘) , Jena Malone (‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’), John Hurt (‘Doctor Who’), Angela Bassett (‘Olympus Has Fallen’, ‘Green Lantern’), Matthew McConaughey (‘Interstellar‘), Rob Lowe (‘The West Wing’, ‘Parks and Recreation’), James Woods (‘White House Down’, ‘Videodrome‘) , and Tom Skerritt (‘Poltergeist 3′ ‘Leverage’). That’s a lot of names with a lot of weight, and they wouldn’t be in the movie if it wasn’t good.
Unfortunately, it did not do well in theaters, which was almost predictable. ‘Contact’ was a slow-paced movie with friendly aliens and an extreme attention to scientific detail. Still, it was a beautiful piece of a cinema, layered in literary devices from metaphors, call-backs, foreshadows, and allegory, all of which were used by means of soundtrack, cinematography and story. In short, it is a under-loved masterpiece.
Check out the trailer below:
If this trailer seems eerily familiar to you, it’s a device that the ‘Prometheus‘ trailer heavily borrowed from and with an equally dramatic effect. Though, to be fair, the movie ‘Contact’ made a whole lot more sense.
Anyway, I don’t think any film has so succinctly outlined the issues of science that still happen today; the extreme lack of women in the field; the conflict of religion and science and how sometimes the actions of their adherents mirror one another; the issue of pure science versus practical science and how that should be funded or pursued; and that of the political mire of who speaks for whom on this Earth. It’s a movie that constantly expands your horizons into the very depths of space, and a movie that opens your mind to the debates that are going on in some of the most important discoveries of mankind that you may not even be aware of yet.
Simply put, it’s an amazingly important movie and not in terms of science fiction.
Though, really, that should not be discounted either. Science Fiction is usually denigrated as being, well, science fiction. Although its advocates are adamant that it’s more than that, there has been few heavier weights to give the genre credence than one of the greatest minds of our century, Dr. Carl Sagan. Sagan knew that there were some things best taught with science fiction and you need look no further than ‘Contact’ to realize that.
Of course, what’s interesting is that there is more science fiction in Carl Sagan’s book then there ever was in the movie. The book (published in 1985) has space stations where rich people lived their lives and programming in televisions designed to skip commercials. While neither of these are far off, they still aren’t quite here yet. The movie, however, was much more present than the book, despite being almost 15 years old. It’s actually bizarre how current it actually still is, which only goes to show how good an example of science fiction it really was.
Now, as a inveterate lover of ‘Contact’ and Carl Sagan, I’m sorely tempted to start talking about the differences between the movie and the book, and why I love the movie just ever so slightly more, but I’ll spare you that. The long and short of it is that both the book and the movie are important to both science and fiction. They ask questions people still struggle with answering and tell a story of alien contact that is more real than has ever been told.