Contact (1997)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerrit, James Woods, John Hurt
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer

While "Contact" may not be the major driving force on Blu-Ray that it was when it was first released on DVD in 1998 and sold out in virtually every store overnight, but it still is a movie with enormous appeal, particularly when presented in high definition. Therefore, it was an easy choice for us to take a closer look at Warner's Blu-Ray release.

Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), a child fascinated by the variety of stars and constellations in the nightly sky and communication through ham radio transmission, loses her father at the early age of 9. Her love for her father, combined with her dedication to astronomy and communication, pushes her toward the study of both. Unfortunately, constant funding problems never give her the chance to fully concentrate on her job until she finds an investor with faith in her work – the eccentric gazillionaire, S. R. Haddon (John Hurt).

Then, one day, she discovers something that will change the course of human history: Signals coming from out of space… signs of intelligent life. She and her assistants quickly analyze the signal and enlist the help of other astronomy stations across the planet, thus spreading the knowledge of the signal's existence far and wide. Before long, there is proof that this is, indeed, the signal of extraterrestrial life. Immediately the government attempts to militarize and classify the whole privately funded operation, but unfortunately for them, Ellie's broadcast of the signal's location to astronomers across the globe ensures that they can't keep this event a secret. However, the government can and does put Ellie's former boss David Drumlin (Tom Skerrit) in charge of the project, a ruthless man who does not intend to share the spotlight with anyone else, leaving Ellie by the roadside. Ironically, is the very same man who dismissed Ellie's search for extraterrestrial life earlier as science fiction.

Ellie receives a little help from her mentor Haddon, however, when he deciphers the messages from space, revealing blueprints for the construction of a device that allows traveling through space. International government funds are raised and the device is built.

Naturally, there's intense competition for the person who'll be chosen to represent humanity to the aliens. Drumlin once again manages to push Ellie to the sidelines, convincing the committee in charge of the operation that he's the right choice, showing them his scientific side and the pretense of a spiritual side. Should he really be the first human to contact extraterrestrial life?

Jodie Fosterhas a natural talent to slip into roles and play them out as if they were her life all along. This kind of natural performance is downright amazing and makes her one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood. Tom Skerrit makes a good egomaniac politician-scientist, and James Woods is, of course, the perfect government nerd, showing his skill especially during a scene when Ellie repeatedly ignores him while attempting to nail down more details about the alien signal — even though he's speaking to her in his official demeanor, and demanding that she pay attention to him.

"Contact" has a clever, believable script, based on a novel by Carl Sagan, who helped with the writing of the screenplay as well. If you wonder what makes "Contact" so special, it is the fact that it is a very human film. It is not really about meeting freakish aliens or a space opera. The strength of this motion picture is the focus it sets on human relationships, their hopes and beliefs, and the ever-increasing dichotomy between science and spirituality. The movie makes a convincing argument that the two cannot realistically exist without each other – that science without spirit is merely soulless progression without meaning, and that spirituality without science is baseless, wishful thinking.

The movie is close to flawless in terms of continuity, plausibility and accuracy, which makes it one of the most impressive Science Fiction movies of the last few years. It builds on the thought that, within the scope of the universe, mankind is negligible and if we were to be the only intelligent life form, it would be an awful waste of space; that, logically speaking, if life can manifest here, it's highly improbable that it would not exist anywhere else.

With a 1080p high definition transfer, "Contact" looks simply spectacular from beginning to end. With an incredibly level of detail, the definition of the transfer is through the roof, rendering textures, hair, skin pores every bit as accurately as stellar constellations and galaxies. With its rich colors and solid black levels, "Contact" makes for a wonderful showcase disc that pleases on many levels and is beautiful to behold.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD audio track has been added to the release, that further adds to the viewing experience. With a wide sound field, the track engages surrounds frequently to fatten up the sound and allow the viewer to dive into the scene, particularly towards the more dramatic sequences towards the film's final third. Dialogues are well integrated and balanced and Alan Silvestri's score is both lively and dynamic, also making good use of the surround channels for dimension. For music fans, a Dolby Digital 5.1 version of the score is also included, isolated and without sound effects and dialog.

The release restores all the extras found on the previously released "Contact" Special Edition DVD. Starting out with no less than three commentary tracks, the info provided here is rich and diverse, giving you insight into the production ,the technical aspects of the special effects, as well as the characters and their motivations. A series of featurettes are also included, covering the making of the special effects shots in the film, such as the lengthy introductory shot through the universe. While these extras are not bad, they do feel very dated. Computer technology has evolved to such a point that the making of these effects seems almost archaic. After years and years of supplements showing and teaching people about these technologies, a featurette detailing how background replacement is being done using green screens, just doesn't feel timely any longer, particularly since "Contact" is no longer the bleeding-edge film it used to be. It would have been nice if Warner had added at least one or two new featurettes covering the philosophical and scientific subjects of the story. I've always missed that. A look at Carl Sagan's body of work, how far things have progressed in the past 12 years as SETI has become a household name with people from all over the world contributing computer-time through screen savers etc. Are we any closer to contact than 10 years ago?

"Contact" is an incredibly well-crafted science fiction film that is firmly rooted in science. Combined with the marvelous treatment of the film that Warner Home Video is delivering here, to me there can be no question that everyone should take a look at this release.