Contact: A Personal Voyage
to even consider that ours would be the only one hosting intelligent life, in all the universe."
- Carl Sagan
With current attacks on science in politics and media, it's timely to revisit Contact. And much of Sagan's work for that matter. His baloney detection kit remains relevant as ever.
Additional audio: Carl Sagan interviewed by Studs Terkel in 1985 (https://studsterkel.wfmt.com/programs/carl-sagan-discusses-book-contact).
- Supplementary video: Carl Sagan shows us "How Would We Communicate with Alien Life" in a separate 8-minute video (excerpt from Royal Institution lecture "The planets" 1977).
Ellie's mom is no longer mentioned. Too many Hollywood movies have the mom die at the start of the story, just to make the protagonist's life harder. It's become a lazy plot device. All references to mom are cut (Ellie to dad, Ellie to Palmer, Hadden to Ellie). This also removes the jarring omission of who raised Ellie after her dad died. Did she live in that big house alone from nine until college?! How could we possibly be expected to believe that Ellie is ignored after her dad's funeral if mom isn't there to be the focus of everyone's attention instead? (Likely answer: in Sagan's book the mom doesn't die, so they added the death but didn't think it through).
The alien is trimmed. He (it?) doesn't pretend to be dad. The exchange is more matter of fact.
Kitz, the government-knows-best man, is trimmed during the Senate hearing. His attack is toned down, making him less of a Hollywood caricature.
Hadden, the industrialist, is trimmed. Sadly, because I like Hurt's performance! His exposition of Ellie's childhood is trimmed. The extra information doesn't further the film, and it removes the question of how (and why?) Hadden got that family video. His death scene is cut. We already knew Hadden was terminally ill, seeing his death didn't further the plot. Kitz no longer mentions Hadden at the Senate, so the cutaway didn't make sense anymore.
The suicide pill is cut. The idea has been debunked by enough qualified people, including astronaut Lovell and several NASA directors, to not believe that astronauts were given these. It wasn't relevant to the further story (Ellie doesn't use or contemplate using it), and frankly I found the actor who presents the pill frustrating. His performance reminded me of Carl Sagan's style and delivery, not as an homage but as an unsuccessful "I want to be like".
Multiple trims for pacing. The test in Florida. The preparation for Ellie's launch. Fewer shots of her walking the gantry and strapping in. Less hesitation from the controller. Ellie's wormhole journey, and on the beach.
The film now ends on the cliffhanger of Kitz and Constantine talking about the 18 hours of static. Partial cliffhanger: we still get the reveal of the static but we no longer see Ellie go back to the same life as if nothing happened, nothing changed. That was a huge downer. To add insult to injury, when a schoolkid asked this now world-famous maybe-space traveller whether life exists out there, she DUCKED the question. Argh! Instead, the scene with the school kids is moved to before she discovers the signal (with corrected time card).
Several moments are trimmed where the filmmakers hit us over the head with obvious or annoying lines. Gone are "Does anybody speak German?", "Where can I buy a great dress?", one close-up of the religious terrorist.
One special effect is cut: Ellie's face coming out of her face during the wormhole journey. Yeah, that sounds weird but it's what they did. Anyway, the effect wasn't great and isn't needed for the story.
Epilogue: Carl Sagan talks about Contact, extraterrestrials, science and religion. Audio only over the end credits (excerpt from Studs Terkel interview 1985).
This is a great edit of the film I particularly like the pacing improvements and moving the final scene earlier in the movie so that it doesn't undermine Ellie's voyage (in the original she basically acts like nothing ever happened). My only minor criticism was that in a couple of the edits you can tell that a bit has been cut as the actors have changed position too quickly (but that is inevitable with the source material). The relationship between Palmer and Ellie is improved with this edit and I like the fact that the problem of who looked after Ellie after her dad died is resolved (or at least no longer stands out as a question). Technically I can't fault the edits that were made (many of which I only spotted because I know the original so well). I would definitely recommend this edit as an improvement on the original.