As of this writing - January 1998 - "Contact" has to be considered the most impressive DVD release to date. It is the first title that actually caused massive shortages on retail level when it sold out on the first weekend of its release, resulting in a delayed release of the disc in Canada. The shortage was not due to Warner producing too few discs for their initial shipment, but a totally unexpected demand for this title. Was it worth the hassle? Decide for yourself, but to me "Contact" is without question one of the hottest DVD titles to date.
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 earth, 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 - 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. The man is ruthless and does not intend to share the spotlight with anyone else, leaving Ellie by the roadside, and, ironically, is the very man who dismissed Ellie’s earlier search for extraterrestrial life 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 again manages to put Ellie in the back seat, convincing the committee in charge of the operation that he’s the right choice, showing them his scientific side and a pretense of a spiritual side. He finds his destiny in a dramatic sabotage scene however, when a bomb explodes on the launch pad, destroying the whole machine and killing several people.
Fortunately, it turns out there is another machine built on the Japanese island of Hokkaido: a machine that is fully operational and funded mainly by Ellie’s patron Haddon, who ensures that now she’ll be the first human to make contact... if contact is indeed to be made.
Once again, Jodie Foster proves that she is one of Hollywood’s best actresses. She has 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. Tom Skerrit makes a good egomaniac politician-scientist, and James Woods is 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 writing 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 lifeform, 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. "Contact" is a Special Edition DVD that comes with a lot of extras; three different running length commentaries, trailers, cast & crew bios, and some features on the creation of several of the special effects in the movie, the most notable and extensive one being the lengthy introduction sequence of the movie. Clocking in at almost three and a half minutes, this flight through space is not only impressive through its skillful execution, but also beautifully choreographed. It finally gives one a realistic look deep into the night sky with all its beauty and gives a tiny push in helping the human mind grasp the scope of solar systems, galaxies and the universe per se.
The disc offers only the widescreen version of the movie on a RSDL disc. This means that the content is spread over two layers of the disc, resulting in a completely undisturbed watching experience of everything on the disc. The transfer of the movie to DVD is immaculate, without any signs of noise or pixelation. The image is fantastically sharp with rich colors, stark contrasts and natural fleshtones. "Perfect" is the word that comes to mind. The same care that has been taken in transferring the images of the movie to disc has been used on the soundtracks of the movie. "Contact" has a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Soundtrack in English and French, as well as a Dolby Surround track. It is dubbed in English, French, and Spanish. Alan Silvestri’s score is both lively and extremely dynamic, always setting the right mood for the scenes.
It is a pleasure to see how masterfully a movie can turn out when everything goes perfectly hand in hand. Acting, story, cinematography, content, sound, and the transfer work together like a dream. Simply put, this movie is an experience. It is rare enough that movies like "Contact" emerge from the pool of Hollywood contenders. If you ask me, "Contact" is, quite frankly, a disc that belongs in every DVD collection!