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Entry updated 8 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1997). Warner Bros presents a South Side Amusement Company production. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Written by James V Hart and Michael Goldenberg, based on Contact (1985) by Carl Sagan and a story by Sagan & Ann Druyan. Cast includes William Fichtner, Jodie Foster, John Hurt, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt and James Woods. 150 minutes. Colour.

A radio astronomer (Foster) detects a signal from Vega embedding instructions for a solo interstellar transportation device; after a succession of political intrigues and setbacks she makes the journey, traverses a galaxy-spanning network of Wormholes, and encounters a representative of an advanced Alien species, only to find her experience disputed and discredited on her return to Earth.

Sagan's tale of First Contact had begun as a film treatment (co-authored in 1969 with his wife Druyan), which he reworked as a novel when the film failed to get made; the revived film project passed through a series of directors and associated story changes, with Zemeckis replaced by George Miller before replacing him in his turn, while the ending and the engagement with Religious themes took a number of different forms. The result is a compromised film which reframes Sagan's ideas and narrative still more tendentiously around the novel's awkward dialogue between science and faith, fast-tracking the heroine's romance with McConaughey's fundamentalist televangelist (which is merely hinted at by the novel's ending), while eliminating the novel's final hermeneutic gotcha (a regularity in the digits of pi). Nevertheless, the film has lingered in cultural memory as one of the less unsuccessful attempts to imagine a scenario of alien contact realistically, while its portrait of the professional lives of astronomers and the precarious struggles of SETI funding reproduce the novel's stronger features, while judiciously decomplicating the airport-fiction tropes of its geopolitical potboiling. Contact won the 1998 Hugo for best dramatic presentation. The film, and Sagan's wider oeuvre, is affectingly homaged in William Eubank's Love (2011). [NL]


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