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"Contact" on Blu-ray Disc

Robert Zemeckis has not only made his share of good movies over the years, he's also planted himself firmly on the leading edge of movie making technology. Films like "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf" more recently, along with "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," the "Back to the Future" trilogy, and "Forrest Gump" (the latter of which cleaned up at the Academy Awards) have seen him consistently pushing the state-of-the-movie-art in new directions.

"Contact," his adaptation of the late Carl Sagan's novel about a scientist's successful work on the SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) project, not only continued this trend, but accelerates it. There's so much computerized moviemaking in this film you won't believe it until you listen to the BLu-ray's commentary soundtracks. Think the opening shot, the machine scenes, and "the ride" are the only memorable effects scenes? Think again.

Besides it's superb 1080p picture and Dolby TrueHD sound - which is only what we'd expect for a movie such as this - It's these extra soundtracks that make "Contact" such a terrific experience on Blu-ray,  such a great value, and a "must have" tool for students of the moviemaking art or movie buffs in general.  There are three separate commentaries in which people intimately involved in the production sit back and reminisce as they watch the film. You get commentaries by Jodie Foster, director Zemeckis and Producer Steve Starkey, and yet another one by special effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Stephen Rosenbaum.


Alas, all this is stuff that was available previously on the DVD release; the Blu-ray doesn't break any new ground here. But if you love this movie and want it to look and sound the best it can given today's state-of-the-art, this is by far the best version.

I was positively enthralled by the commentaries, where I learned about the problems of lighting the big dish at Arecibo for night shots, how Zemeckis' crew used computers to blend outdoor location shots into soundstage set pieces, and of course how many of the special effects were created. I highly recommend these extra sessions; you'll find fascinating information about movie making that may help put into perspective just how difficult the whole process can be - especially on a big, state-of-the-art film (for its day) like this one.

The 1080p picture quality is nothing short of superb, with the rich and vibrant colors we've come to expect from the medium, and even very good depth in many places including some of the effects scenes. This is the Contact I've been wanting to own ever since the movie came out in theaters.

The soundtrack, which is Dolby TrueHD surround, is also very dynamic. It's front centered for the dialogue and music for the most part, but very enveloping when required for ambience, special effects, and the like. Your subwoofer's sure to get a workout from both the alien signal and Ellie's mind-blowing trip through the star gate, which is reminiscent to what Kubrick pulled off in the similar sequence in 2001: a Space Odyssey.

Other extras include looks at some of the big special effects scenes, and some theatrical trailers that aren't in HD. There's also a music-only track, though since this isn't one of Alan Silvestri's best (it sounds more than a tad derivative of his Forrest Gump efforts), it isn't one I wanted to sit through - and besides, that means there are large sections of the movie in which you won't hear anything since the music doesn't go the entire length of the film.

Despite its being mostly overlooked by the Oscar people, "Contact" was one of the best films of 1997. Its intelligent posing of some of the biggest questions ever asked in a movie, combined with Jodie Foster's Oscar-calibre performance (the rest of the cast is no slouch, either, but Foster should have won another Oscar for out totally believable performance as Ellie), and production values and techniques worthy of honors on their own, make it a tremendously satisfying movie experience.

So when you take into consideration the superb quality of the Blu-ray medium itself, the outstanding picture and sound quality, it doesn't really matter that all the extras were merely ported over from the DVD. The stuff they ported over is very worthwhile, and the movie is simply fantastic.

Wanna take a ride?

Contact, From Warner Home Video
149 min. 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), Dolby TrueHD
Starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey , Tom Skerrit, James Woods, Angela Bassett
directed by Robert Zemeckis

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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