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For those who may not know or remember, CONTACT ($29) is the film version of Carl Saganís wondrous science fiction novel of the same name. Carl Sagan was one of the best-known scientific minds of the twentieth century; through his brilliance he was able to bring the wonders of the cosmos to the average man. Saganís book, CONTACT, should be required reading, as his stirring story of manís first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence is a great work of science fiction, as well as philosophy. In the book, as well as the film, the message that mankind receives from deep space elates scientists, but causes quite a commotion within the religious community. The message prompts the philosophical debate at the center of the novel, along with Saganís conclusion that science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

The film version of CONTACT pares back the scope of the novel, limiting itself only the essentials of Saganís story. Despite its reduced scale, the film version of CONTACT contains much of the novelís power and still manages to run two hours and thirty minutes. CONTACT is the story of one woman, whose belief that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe takes her from her childhood as ham radio operator, to the realm of radio astronomy and the SETI program (search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Jodi Foster portrays Dr. Ellie Arroway; the determined young woman who discovers the signal from space, just as the government is about to kick her and her fellow scientists off their very large array of radio telescopes.

As Dr. Arroway and the other scientists decode the signal from space, they determine that there is an underlying message, one that contains schematics to build a very complex machine. Eventually, scientists come to believe that the purpose of the machine is to transport a single occupant to the messageís point of origin. Of course, Dr. Arroway wants to be the person who gets to travel in the machine and to make contact. Foster was truly terrific in the role of Ellie Arroway and her performance remains my personal favorite from her body of work. CONTACT also features Matthew McConaughey as Presidential religious advisor Palmer Joss, who becomes romantically involved with Ellie, with their relationship being the embodiment of science and religion not being mutually exclusive. The very impressive cast of CONTACT also includes Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner, Angela Bassett, John Hurt, David Morse, Jena Malone, Jake Busey, Rob Lowe and James Woods.

Warner Home Video has made CONTACT available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. CONTACT features a generally good-looking 1080p presentation, but this isnít the most impressive high definition release out there. As CONTACT contains a lot of digital elements, there is some softening of the image as a result. Also to my eyes, there appears to be a modest application of DNR, but fortunately, texturing is not obliterated, nor does the actorsí skin appear waxy. Still, the image does boast a respectable level of fine detail and texturing. Colors occasionally appear a little over-ripe, but for the most part, appear quite attractive. Blacks are accurate as are the whites. Contrast is pushed in certain sequences. Shadow detail is good, but not astonishingly so. The elements from which CONTACT has been transferred appear are pretty clean. Some modest grain remains in the image, but I have the feeling there should be more.

CONTACT is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Considering that much of CONTACT plays in the talky drama mode, the mix comes across very well. During the climatic sequences, sound effects are very well deployed to make terrific use of the outlying channels. During the quieter passages, the sound design proves to be nicely atmospheric. Fidelity is generally excellent. I am quite fond of Alan Silvestri's score for CONTACT, and it has a warm musical presence here. The bass channel is effective during the sequences when it called upon. Otherwise it just adds weight to the effects and music. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and is always easy to understand. English, French, Spanish, German and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as is a Portuguese 2.0 channel track. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.

The interactive menu gives one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental features, which have been ported from the DVD release. Starting things off are three separate running Audio Commentaries. In my opinion the best of the three commentaries features actress Jodi Foster. Foster is natural and entertaining throughout her talk. She talks about how she is completely lost in regards to special effects, and then speaks about the challenges in creating a performance for a film that is overwhelmed by special effects work. She points out many of the shots in which she appears that were completed in postproduction after being filmed on a green screen, or on a sound stage. Foster also speaks affectionately about her co-stars and director Robert Zemeckis. On the second commentary, Robert Zemeckis and producer Steve Starkey talk about how the production came into being, going from Carl Saganís novel to a completed film. They give a good deal of insight into the difficulties of producing a film of such expansive special effects work, and how the uncooperative weather made CONTACT an even more difficult film to complete. The third audio commentary features Ken Ralston and Stephen Rosenbaum who served as special effects supervisors for CONTACT. Their talk centers on the filmís overwhelming number of special effects. Not every special effect is talked about, since there are effects in almost every shot of the film. This commentary will give one a new appreciation for the wonders of CGI and digital compositing.

A Music-Only Track is also provided and is presented in 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1. Featurettes and other programs include the following: The Making Of The Opening Shot (twenty minutes), The Making Of The NASA Machine Destruction (six minutes), The Making Of The Harrier Landing (nine minutes) and The High-Speed Compositing Reel (nine minutes). Some Animated Set Tours and two Theatrical Trailers close out the supplements.

As a fan of CONTACT, I am delighted that the film is now available on Blu-ray. The presentation definitely blows standard definition out of the water, but a little less DNR and a little more grain would have provided a more satisfying visual experience. CONTACT remains very highly recommended for the movie itself, but a little less so for the Blu-ray.



Contact [Blu-ray] (1997)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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