Contact (1997)

PG | 149 mins | Adventure, Drama, Science fiction, Romance | 11 July 1997

THIS TITLE IS OUTSIDE THE AFI CATALOG OF FEATURE FILMS (1893-1993)
You may also like these titles from the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, the most authoritative documentation of the First 100 Years of American filmmaking.

Director:

Robert Zemeckis

Cinematographer:

Don Burgess

Editor:

Arthur Schmidt

Production Designer:

Ed Verreaux

Production Companies:

Warner Bros. Pictures , South Side Amusement Company
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HISTORY

The film starts with a montage of radio transmissions of notable moments in twentieth-century Western culture, including the radio announcement of Robert Kennedy’s 1968 assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural pronouncement: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Onscreen images portray a journey through outer space, starting on Earth and expanding into the universe. As the narrative begins, light from distant galaxies coalesces to form a spark in the eye of the character “Young Ellie.”
       The following dedication appears onscreen before the end credits: “For Carl.” Pulitzer prize-winning astronomer Carl Sagan, who wrote the novel Contact on which the film is loosely based and is credited as co-producer with his wife, Ann Druyan, died in Dec 1996 while the film was still in production. Various contemporary sources, including a 6 Jul 1997 LAT article, reported that Sagan was also a consultant on the film until his death. LAT noted that the film’s opening sequence was written to portray radio signals moving toward Earth from outer space instead of away from it, but Sagan suggested the reverse.
       The end credits include the following acknowledgements: "Video stock footage courtesy of NBC News Archives; WPA Film Library; Video Tape Library; CBS News Archives; Wish You Were Here Film & Video; AP/World Wide Photos; Film & Video Stock Shots; Image Bank; CNBC; 'The Flying Nun' Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Television." The following text is also included in the end credits: "The producers wish to thank the following for their assistance: The National Aeronautics and Space ... More Less

The film starts with a montage of radio transmissions of notable moments in twentieth-century Western culture, including the radio announcement of Robert Kennedy’s 1968 assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural pronouncement: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Onscreen images portray a journey through outer space, starting on Earth and expanding into the universe. As the narrative begins, light from distant galaxies coalesces to form a spark in the eye of the character “Young Ellie.”
       The following dedication appears onscreen before the end credits: “For Carl.” Pulitzer prize-winning astronomer Carl Sagan, who wrote the novel Contact on which the film is loosely based and is credited as co-producer with his wife, Ann Druyan, died in Dec 1996 while the film was still in production. Various contemporary sources, including a 6 Jul 1997 LAT article, reported that Sagan was also a consultant on the film until his death. LAT noted that the film’s opening sequence was written to portray radio signals moving toward Earth from outer space instead of away from it, but Sagan suggested the reverse.
       The end credits include the following acknowledgements: "Video stock footage courtesy of NBC News Archives; WPA Film Library; Video Tape Library; CBS News Archives; Wish You Were Here Film & Video; AP/World Wide Photos; Film & Video Stock Shots; Image Bank; CNBC; 'The Flying Nun' Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Television." The following text is also included in the end credits: "The producers wish to thank the following for their assistance: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's cooperation and assistance does not reflect approval of the contents of the film or the treatment of the characters depicted therein. NRAO is a facility of the National Science Foundation. The Arecibo Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation; National Park Service, National Capitol Region; United States Park Police; The United States Treasury Department; The United States Secret Service; United States Department of Defense; Cable News Network, Inc.; Space Coast Film and TV Commission; The town of Herndon, VA; The city of Washington, D.C.; The city of Los Angeles; The island of Puerto Rico."
       According to a 6 Jul 1997 NYT article, executive producer Lynda Obst began development on the story with Sagan and Druyan in 1979 while working as producer Peter Gruber’s junior executive. On 18 Feb 1981, Var reported that PolyGram Pictures, Ltd., had purchased the film rights to Contact, but a 16 Nov 1981 DV news item announced that Obst was leaving her post at PolyGram to produce feature films for the Grant Tinker-Mary Tyler Moore company, MTM Films. The deal with MTM allowed Obst to continue pursuing projects that were already in development, including Contact, which had reportedly been taken over by Columbia Pictures at the time. NYT stated that Obst and Druyan worked on the story of Contact with Sagan before he published the narrative as a novel, and when Contact became a best seller in 1985, Hollywood studios expressed renewed interest in the project.
       On 16 Dec 1993, DV announced that Warner Bros., who had owned the rights to the property for nearly ten years, decided to put the film into production after reading a revision of the story by screenwriter Michael Goldenberg. The studio negotiated a deal for George Miller to direct and principal photography was scheduled to begin in 1994. Several years earlier, Roland Joffé was attached to the project as director, but Joffé dropped out before production got underway. A 15 Sep 1994 DV news item, which referred to Miller as the film’s director, reported that Jodie Foster was “in talks” with Warner Bros. to star in the picture and, one year later, on 15 Sep 1995, DV announced that Foster agreed to a $7 million contract after reading an additional rewrite by Goldenberg.
       According to the 6 Jul 1997 NYT , director-producer Robert Zemeckis was offered the picture in early 1994 while Forrest Gump (1994, see entry) was in post-production, but he was not convinced that the unconventional story was marketable. However, after the success of Forrest Gump, Zemeckis agreed to take over Contact and on 30 Oct 1995, Var announced that Miller left the project because of “creative differences” and Zemeckis was negotiating with Warner Bros. executives. At the time, a new draft of Goldenberg’s script was reworked by James V. Hart and Ralph Fiennes was offered the male lead, a role that eventually went to Matthew McConaughey.
       Principal photography began 24 Sep 1996, according to 18 Feb 1997 HR production charts. As stated in HR and studio production notes from AMPAS library files, locations included New Mexico, Washington, D.C., Arizona, and Cape Canaveral in Florida. The crew spent five months shooting on sets and on location in Los Angeles, CA, taking over nine soundstages at the Culver Studios in Culver City, CA, and at the Warner Hollywood Studios. Twenty-five sets were constructed, including Ellie’s rainforest hut, NASA control rooms, the White House Cabinet Room, and the “Pod” spaceship, which required nearly four months to build.
       One month before principal photography was complete in Los Angeles, the production moved to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, for one week of filming at the world’s largest radio telescope at the time. Footage from the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array (VLA) field of twenty-seven dish radio telescopes was shot on location in Socorro, New Mexico, in late Sep 1996. Although the fall season corresponded to the time of year at which the telescopes were directed closest to one another, the crew had to work with the facility’s staff to move the dishes for dramatic effect.
       Second unit photography was conducted in Newfoundland and Fiji.
       In a 9 Mar 1998 HR news item, director of photography Don Burgess stated that the film was shot in “35 anamorphic Panavision… VistaVision for visual effects work… and Panavision 65mm for visual effects work,” and, as noted in a 20 May 1997 HR brief, Sony Pictures Imageworks spent four months in post-production, retouching 350 shots and adding effects. The 6 Jul 1997 LAT reported that Zemeckis was editing sound at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch just two weeks before the film was scheduled for release on 11 Jul 1997, and that he “farmed out” visual effects work to six studios, including companies in New Zealand and France, because Imageworks was overloaded by the approximately 400 effects in the picture.
       According to an 18 Jul 1997 Screen International article, the production cost $90 million. Zemeckis told the 6 Jul 1997 LAT that Sagan lobbied for “scientific authenticity,” but Zemeckis admitted that he often imposed his artistic license at a cost to the film’s realism. However, a 20 Jul 1997 NYT article reported that astronomers were impressed by the picture’s accuracy in the first half of the narrative. A scientist from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) noted that SETI researchers did not use antennas such as those at VLA and do not detect sounds in outer space wearing headphones, as was depicted in the film, but he remarked on the picture’s overall authenticity.
       Noting the “blurring line between fact [and] fiction” in Contact, a 28 Jul 1997 LAT article reported that Cable News Network (CNN) President Tom Johnson lifted a six-year ban on permitting correspondents to portray themselves in movies and allowed Zemeckis to cast thirteen CNN staff members. Although the picture provided product placement for CNN, Johnson reportedly regretted his decision, fearing that CNN’s involvement in a Hollywood film would encourage the public perception that CNN news was not legitimate. Furthermore, Johnson was concerned that the association between Warner Bros. and CNN, who shared Time Warner as their parent company, would mislead audiences into believing that CNN journalism was “for rent” and that the brand represented entertainment rather than authentic news.
       Similarly, President Bill Clinton’s administration complained about Zemeckis’s manipulation of newsreel footage in order to portray the president as a cast member. Articles in LAT on 15 Jul 1997 and NYT on 16 Jul 1997 reported that the president’s comments about aliens in the film were taken out of context; the footage had been lifted from the president’s statement to the press about “possible life-forms on Mars” and his reaction to conflicts in Iraq. Former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, who served as a consultant on the film, said that she was never “uncomfortable” with the use of the president’s image and noted that Zemeckis was “on safe legal ground.” Although Myers did not report to the president about the film until two weeks before its release and the administration wrote a letter of complaint to Zemeckis, no action was taken to prevent exhibition.
       As noted in various contemporary sources, including the 6 Jul 1997 LAT, Warner Bros. banked on Zemeckis’s prestige by making the risky decision to release Contact during the summer, positioning the picture to compete against conventional blockbusters. While most summer films at the time opened at over 2,500 theaters, Contact was released on 1,500 screens nationwide, but Warner Bros. planned to increase the number of venues in the second week. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the picture grossed $20.5 million its opening weekend.
       According to a 26 Jan 1997 LAT article, director Francis Ford Coppola filed a lawsuit against the estate of Carl Sagan just one week after the scientist’s death, claiming that the production of Contact violated his contractual rights over Sagan’s novel. Coppola stated that he initiated the idea for Contact in 1975, when he negotiated with Children’s Television Workshop Productions to create a show about extraterrestrial life called First Contact. The suit alleged that Sagan began writing Contact only after he had contractually joined the television project in Mar 1975 and that he had formally requested permission from Coppola to use his story. Although Coppola named Zemeckis in his complaint and attempted to prevent the film’s release with charges of contract violations and copyright infringement, Ann Druyan contended that Coppola and Sagan only discussed the subject in 1975 and Coppola had no rights to either the film or the novel. On 17 Feb 1998, HR announced that the Los Angeles Superior Court had dismissed the lawsuit because Coppola was unable to produce a contract between himself and Sagan and the case was “barred by the statute of limitations.”
       Contact was nominated for one Academy Award in the category of Best Sound.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
16 Nov 1981.
---
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1993.
---
Daily Variety
15 Sep 1994
p. 19.
Daily Variety
15 Sep 1995
p. 1, 66.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 1997.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1998.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 1998.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 1997
p. 24.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1997
p. 5, 11.
Los Angeles Times
26 Jan 1997
Calendar, p. 27.
Los Angeles Times
6 Jul 1997
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jul 1997
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
15 Jul 1997
Section A, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jul 1997
Calendar, p. 3.
New York Times
6 Jul 1997
p. 9.
New York Times
11 Jul 1997
p. 3.
New York Times
16 Jul 1997
Section N, p. 1.
New York Times
20 Jul 1997
p. 14.
Screen International
18 Jul 1997.
---
Variety
18 Feb 1981
p. 5, 29.
Variety
30 Oct 1995.
---
Variety
14 Jul 1997
p. 43, 54.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Bernard Shaw
as
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PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. Presents
A South Side Amusement Company Production
A Robert Zemeckis Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
Unit prod mgr
2d unit dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
Unit mgr, Puerto Rico crew
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Co-prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Based on the story by
Based on the story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Libra mount cam
Aerial coord
2d unit cam
Still photog
Video eng
Video asst op, LA
Video asst op, Florida
24 frame transfer supv
24 frame playback eng
24 frame playback eng
24 frame playback eng
Chief lighting tech
Asst chief lighting tech
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Crane grip
Chief rigging lighting tech
Chief rigging grip
Cranes and dollies by
Technocrane by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Conceptual artist
Storyboard artist
Storyboard artist
Graphic des
3-D computer artist
Art dept coord
FILM EDITORS
Addl ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
On-line ed
On-line ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Set des
Set des
Set des
Set des
Set des
Set des
Key set dresser
Lead person
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Addl props, set dressing and ward provided by
Addl props, set dressing and ward provided by
Addl props, set dressing and ward provided by
Addl props, set dressing and ward provided by
Addl props, set dressing and ward provided by
Addl props, set dressing and ward provided by
Addl props, set dressing and ward provided by
Greensman
Greensman
Const coord
Gen foreman
Const foreman
Const foreman
Const foreman
Const foreman
Paint supv
Stand-by painter
Plasterer
Labor foreperson
COSTUMES
Cost des
Key cost supv
Key cost
Key cost
Key cost
Key cost
Set cost
Set cost
Set cost
Set cost
Military cost
Asst cost des
Cost maker
Cost supv, Washington, D.C. crew
MUSIC
Song wrangler
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Auricle programmer
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Sd des/Re-rec mixer
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Cable person
Supv sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Addl re-rec mixer
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Supv ADR ed
ADR mixer
Dial ed
Dial ed
Foley ed
Foley ed
1st asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley mixer
Foley mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Video graphics supv
Lead computer graphics des
Computer graphics des
Computer graphics des
Computer engineering supv
Spec eff supv
Spec eff foreman
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Opticals
Main and end titles
Spec visual eff
Culver City, California
Visual eff supv, Imageworks
Senior visual eff prod, Imageworks
Visual eff prod, Imageworks
Senior FX art dir, Imageworks
Computer graphics supv, Imageworks
Computer graphics supv, Imageworks
"Message" & HSC supv, Imageworks
HSC supv, Imageworks
Visual eff assoc prod, Imageworks
Visual eff prod, Imageworks
Visual eff vendor prod, Imageworks
Compositing supv, Imageworks
Compositing supv, Imageworks
Compositing supv, Imageworks
Digital prod supv, Imageworks
Compositing artist, Imageworks
Compositing artist, Imageworks
Compositing artist, Imageworks
Compositing artist, Imageworks
Compositing artist, Imageworks
Compositing artist, Imageworks
Compositing artist, Imageworks
3D FX anim, Imageworks
3D FX anim, Imageworks
3D FX anim, Imageworks
3D FX anim, Imageworks
3D paint supv, Imageworks
Anim, Imageworks
Anim, Imageworks
Anim, Imageworks
Matchmove supv, Imageworks
Rotoscope supv, Imageworks
Rotoscope artist, Imageworks
Rotoscope artist, Imageworks
Rotoscope artist, Imageworks
Rotoscope artist, Imageworks
Rotoscope artist, Imageworks
HSC prod supv, Imageworks
HSC artist, Imageworks
HSC artist, Imageworks
HSC artist, Imageworks
HSC artist, Imageworks
Computer systems eng, Imageworks
Computer systems eng, Imageworks
Computer systems eng, Imageworks
Computer systems eng, Imageworks
Digital color analyzer, Imageworks
Matte artist, Imageworks
Conceptual des, Imageworks
FX art dir, Imageworks
Miniature photog prod, Imageworks
Addl dir of photog, Imageworks
Spec eff coord, Imageworks
Lead des eng, Imageworks
Mechanical eng, Imageworks
Electronic eng, Imageworks
Thunderstone model shop prod, Imageworks
Modelmaker, Imageworks
Modelmaker, Imageworks
Modelmaker, Imageworks
Modelmaker, Imageworks
Modelmaker, Imageworks
Modelmaker, Imageworks
Visual eff ed, Imageworks
Visual eff plate prod, Imageworks
Seq supv, Imageworks
Seq supv, Imageworks
Seq supv, Imageworks
Seq supv, Imageworks
Seq supv, Imageworks
Seq supv, Imageworks
Lead tech des, Imageworks
Lead tech des, Imageworks
Lead tech des, Imageworks
Lead tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Tech des, Imageworks
Digital painter, Imageworks
Digital painter, Imageworks
Digital painter, Imageworks
CG modeler, Imageworks
Matchmove artist, Imageworks
Matchmove artist, Imageworks
Lead data eng, Imageworks
Data eng, Imageworks
Data eng, Imageworks
Data eng, Imageworks
Data eng, Imageworks
HSC data eng, Imageworks
HSC data eng, Imageworks
Lead software eng, Imageworks
Software eng, Imageworks
Software eng, Imageworks
Digital color timer, Imageworks
Film rec tech, Imageworks
Film rec tech, Imageworks
Conceptual illustrator, Imageworks
Senior researcher, Imageworks
Prod support, Imageworks
Prod support, Imageworks
Dir of photog, Imageworks
1st asst cam, Imageworks
1st asst cam, Imageworks
Pyro tech, Imageworks
Mechanical des, Imageworks
Fabricator, Imageworks
Fabricator, Imageworks
Supv, Imageworks
Mechanical lead, Imageworks
Addl spec visual eff
a division of Lucas Digital Limited, Marin County, California
Visual eff supv, ILM
Visual eff prod, ILM
Computer graphics artist, ILM
Computer graphics artist, ILM
Computer graphics artist, ILM
Sabre artist supv, ILM
Sabre artist, ILM
Sabre artist, ILM
Sabre artist, ILM
Sabre artist, ILM
Sabre artist, ILM
Digital compositor, ILM
Digital compositor, ILM
Digital timing supv, ILM
Scanning supv, ILM
Visual eff ed, ILM
Digital matte painting artist, ILM
Digital matte painting artist, ILM
Digital paint & roto artist, ILM
Visual eff coord, ILM
Addl visual eff
Wellington, New Zealand
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Digital artist, Weta
Chief tech officer, Weta
Systems asst, Weta
FX coord, Weta
Prod asst, Weta
Prod asst, Weta
And, Weta
Addl digital visual eff
Senior visual eff supv, Warner Digital
Visual eff supv, Warner Digital
Visual eff prod, Warner Digital
Digital eff supv, Warner Digital
Senior CG art dir, Warner Digital
Visual eff prod mgr, Warner Digital
Visual eff prod coord, Warner Digital
Inferno/Flint artist, Warner Digital
Inferno/Flint artist, Warner Digital
Inferno/Flint artist, Warner Digital
Inferno/Flint artist, Warner Digital
Inferno/Flint artist, Warner Digital
Inferno/Flint artist, Warner Digital
Cineon artist, Warner Digital
Cineon artist, Warner Digital
Film assembly, Warner Digital
I/O Inferno, Warner Digital
Digital cam supv, Warner Digital
Cam op, Warner Digital
Imaging supv, Warner Digital
Addl digital visual eff
Exec prod, CIS Hollywood
Visual eff supv, CIS Hollywood
Senior prod, CIS Hollywood
Tech supv, CIS Hollywood
Digital compositing supv, CIS Hollywood
Digital system coord, CIS Hollywood
Visual eff ed, CIS Hollywood
Digital artist, CIS Hollywood
Digital artist, CIS Hollywood
Digital artist, CIS Hollywood
Digital artist, CIS Hollywood
Addl digital visual eff
Addl digital visual eff
MAKEUP
Key make-up artist
Ms. Foster's make-up artist
Make-up artist
Make-up artist
Make-up for Angela Bassett
Mr. Woods make-up artist
Key hair stylist
Ms. Foster's hair stylist
Hair stylist
Hair stylist
Hair stylist
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Addl casting
Prod accountant
Fourth dimensional consultant
Fourth dimensional consultant
Fourth dimensional consultant
Astronomical visual consultant
Astronomical visual consultant
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Unit pub
Prod assoc
Asst prod assoc
Scr supv
DGA trainee
Set staff asst
Set staff asst
Set staff asst
Set staff asst
Radio astronomy consultant
Mathematics consultant
German television picture consultant
NASA tech consultant
VLA consultant
White House consultant
News media consultant
CNN anchor consultant
Asst prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Loc asst accountant
Loc asst accountant
Asst to Mr. Zemeckis
Office asst to Mr. Zemeckis
Asst to Mr. Starkey
Asst to Mr. Starkey
Asst to Ms. Foster
Asst to Mr. McConaughey
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Staff asst
Casting assoc
Dialect consultant
Extras casting, Los Angeles
Extras casting, Los Angeles
Extras casting, Orlando
Extras casting, D.C.
Extras casting, D.C.
Craft services
Craft services
Projectionist
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation loc capt
Transportation loc capt
Transportation co-capt
Loc picture cars
Prod coord, Washington, D.C. crew
Prod secy, Washington, D.C. crew
Loc mgr, Washington, D.C. crew
Prod secy, Puerto Rico crew
Asst prod secy, Puerto Rico crew
Loc mgr, Puerto Rico crew
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt person
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Contact by Carl Sagan (New York, 1985).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Who Needs Wings to Fly," written by Dominic Frontiere and Sid Wayne
"Purple People Eater," written by Sheb Wooley, produced by Jimmy Buffett and Mike Utley, performed by Jimmy Buffett
"Spaceman," written and performed by Harry Nilsson, courtesy of the RCA Records Label of BMG Entertainment
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SONGS
"Who Needs Wings to Fly," written by Dominic Frontiere and Sid Wayne
"Purple People Eater," written by Sheb Wooley, produced by Jimmy Buffett and Mike Utley, performed by Jimmy Buffett
"Spaceman," written and performed by Harry Nilsson, courtesy of the RCA Records Label of BMG Entertainment
"Spirit in the Sky," written and performed by Norman Greenbaum, courtesy of Trans/Tone Productions, Inc.
"Old Time Religion," arranged by Jim Ed Norman, Kim Forester Keefe, June Forester, Kathy Forester Adkins and Christy Forester Smith, performed by The Forester Sisters, courtesy of Warner Brols. Records Inc., by arrangement with Warner Special Products
"El Corazon Herido," written and performed by Efrin Toro, Oskar Cartaya and Ramon Stagnaro.
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DETAILS
Release Date:
11 July 1997
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 11 July 1997
Production Date:
24 September 1996 -- early 1997 in New Mexico
Arizona
Washington, D.C.
Florida
Los Angeles, CA
Culver City, CA
Puerto Rico, Newfoundland and Fiji
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, a division of Time Warner Entertainment Company, LP
Copyright Date:
22 September 1997
Copyright Number:
PA876480
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby® Digital in selected theatres; Digital DTS™ Sound; SDDS Sony Dynamic Digital Sound
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Panavision®
Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
149
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
35448
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Young Ellie Arroway uses her radio to make contact with a station in Pensacola, Florida. As her father, Ted, puts her to bed, Ellie shows off her drawing of a Pensacola beach and laments that she cannot communicate with her deceased mother, but Ted encourages her to seek contact with life in outer space. Years later, Ellie, now a doctoral astronomer, arrives at the Arecibo Observatory in a jungle near San Juan, Puerto Rico, and meets her new colleagues Fisher, Vernon, Davio and Kent Clark. Kent, who is going blind, commends Ellie’s research for SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) but notes that the head of the National Science Foundation, Dr. David Drumlin, has called her obsession with aliens “professional suicide.” Sometime later in town, an American writer named Palmer Joss introduces himself to Ellie, saying that he wants to interview Drumlin for his book. Palmer gives Ellie the prize from his Cracker Jack box, a plastic compass, and asks her to dinner, but Ellie declines the date and returns the toy, claiming that it might save his life. Before walking away, however, Ellie enlightens Palmer about Drumlin’s upcoming visit to the observatory. At a party on the evening of Drumlin’s arrival, Palmer accuses him of deifying science at the expense of empirical “truth” and as Drumlin storms away, Palmer tells Ellie that he turned down a career in divinity to evade celibacy. Later, after the couple makes love, Ellie says that her father died when she was young and leaves, unresponsive to Palmer’s request for another date. At work, Ellie is furious to discover that Drumlin has pulled funding ... +


Young Ellie Arroway uses her radio to make contact with a station in Pensacola, Florida. As her father, Ted, puts her to bed, Ellie shows off her drawing of a Pensacola beach and laments that she cannot communicate with her deceased mother, but Ted encourages her to seek contact with life in outer space. Years later, Ellie, now a doctoral astronomer, arrives at the Arecibo Observatory in a jungle near San Juan, Puerto Rico, and meets her new colleagues Fisher, Vernon, Davio and Kent Clark. Kent, who is going blind, commends Ellie’s research for SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) but notes that the head of the National Science Foundation, Dr. David Drumlin, has called her obsession with aliens “professional suicide.” Sometime later in town, an American writer named Palmer Joss introduces himself to Ellie, saying that he wants to interview Drumlin for his book. Palmer gives Ellie the prize from his Cracker Jack box, a plastic compass, and asks her to dinner, but Ellie declines the date and returns the toy, claiming that it might save his life. Before walking away, however, Ellie enlightens Palmer about Drumlin’s upcoming visit to the observatory. At a party on the evening of Drumlin’s arrival, Palmer accuses him of deifying science at the expense of empirical “truth” and as Drumlin storms away, Palmer tells Ellie that he turned down a career in divinity to evade celibacy. Later, after the couple makes love, Ellie says that her father died when she was young and leaves, unresponsive to Palmer’s request for another date. At work, Ellie is furious to discover that Drumlin has pulled funding for SETI and takes Kent up on his offer to partner with her independently. As Ellie leaves for the Very Large Array (VLA) radio observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, she notices a note from Palmer with the compass; she takes the toy but leaves his contact information behind. Four years later, after Ellie struggles to secure private funding from a mysterious tycoon, Kent reports that Drumlin has interfered yet again and the project must end. However, Ellie soon detects a pulsing sound on her night watch in the desert and, back at VLA, Fisher and Davio find its coordinates in the star Vega. Realizing that the pulses are patterned in prime numbers, Ellie concludes that they represent extraterrestrial intelligence and she publicizes her discovery, causing Drumlin to convene at VLA with National Security Advisor Michael Kitz and his army of federal troops. As Kitz questions Ellie, Kent detects another frequency, leading the scientists to discover a television broadcast embedded in the frequency transmission that features Adolf Hitler commencing the 1936 Olympic Games. The team rushes to Washington, D.C., where Drumlin explains to presidential advisor Rachel Constantine that Hitler’s broadcast was the first television transmission to reach outer space. When President Bill Clinton gives a press statement, Ellie is enraged to discover that Drumlin is credited with leading the project. Meanwhile, Kent calls Ellie, reporting that markers on the Hitler footage are encrypted with thousands of pages of data. Returning to Socorro, Ellie is dismayed to find thousands of people camped around the observatory, turning her discovery into fanfare. Ellie receives a mysterious email and phone call, then follows their directions to a secret location. Boarding a private plane, Ellie meets her reclusive and sickly financier, S. R. Hadden, who explains that the Vegan documents should be read three-dimensionally and each page is embedded with a portion of an encryption primer. Back in Washington, Ellie reports that the deciphered text contains blueprints for an unidentified machine and although Kitz fears it is a weapon, Ellie argues that aliens are benign. To Ellie’s surprise, Palmer joins the conference as a spiritual advisor to the president. That night at a ball, Ellie and Palmer reunite and debate the existence of God, but they are interrupted by news that the blueprints have been decoded; the machine is a one-manned spacecraft, not a weapon. When world leaders agree to build it, Ellie learns that she is competing against Drumlin to be its pilot and Palmer is on the selection committee. At her hearing, Palmer presses Ellie about her lack of faith in God, and Drumlin is later voted to pilot the spacecraft because he claims to represent the world’s religious beliefs. When Palmer tells Ellie that he could not vote for a non-believer, she returns his plastic compass. Crowds gather at Cape Canaveral, Florida, to witness a test launch, but Ellie notices a religious fanatic inside the station detonate a bomb and the spacecraft, its operators, and Drumlin are obliterated. Returning home to Socorro, Ellie finds computer equipment that links her to Hadden, who is now living on the Russian space station MIR to control his cancer. Hadden tells Ellie that the United States government had teamed with Hadden Industries to fabricate a duplicate spacecraft on Hokkaido Island in Japan and he invites her to be its pilot. Arriving in Japan, Ellie is surprised by a visit from Palmer, who returns the compass. Later, Ellie enters the pod as it hovers above rotating, concentric rings while Palmer and Kent look on from video monitors. Ellie is terrified by vibrations and a light radiating beneath her, but says she is ready to go. As the pod drops into the rings, Ellie plummets through a tunnel of light into outer space and she narrates her experiences into a recorder. Stopping suddenly, Ellie sees Vega, but she is sucked into another wormhole and observes an alien space station. Pulled into another wormhole, Ellie loses Palmer’s compass and detaches herself from the seat to reclaim it. After peering outside, Ellie is transported to a beach that resembles the picture of Pensacola, Florida, that she drew as a child. Her father, Ted, appears as an alien representative and he claims that their message to Earth is merely a response to humans’ need for contact. As tiny stars amass into an explosion, Ellie wakes on the floor of the pod back on Earth and the commander reports that the mission malfunctioned. Although Ellie is convinced that her journey lasted eighteen hours, she lacks scientific proof. Later, Ellie testifies in front of a Congressional committee lead by Kitz, who suggests that her experience was a psychotic episode and argues that Hadden engineered the operation as a hoax. As Hadden dies in the Russian space station, Ellie is unable to convince the committee that faith is as credible as science. After the hearing, Ellie and Palmer walk outside to find the National Mall teeming with supporters. Sometime later, Constantine contacts Kitz by videophone and notes that the confidential report of Ellie’s journey contains eighteen hours of recorded static, the exact amount of time Ellie reported being in space, even though she was only officially out of contact with Earth for less than a second. Constantine decides to support Ellie’s research with a federal grant and Ellie returns to Socorro, where she educates children and holds faith for the future. +

Legend
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AFI Life Achievement Award
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.