packs lots of punch
by Jim Bray
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 "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.
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 continues this trend, but accelerates it. There's so much computerized
moviemaking in this film you won't believe it until you listen to the
DVD's extra soundtracks. Think only the opening shot, the machine scenes,
and "the ride" are the only memorable effects scenes? Think again.
these extra soundtracks that make "Contact" such a terrific experience
on DVD, such a great value, and a "must have" tool for students
of the moviemaking art or movie buffs in general. There are three
separate soundtracks (besides the usual other language tracks found on
most DVD's), 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.
I was positively
enthralled by the commentaries, though other members of my family didn't
seem to understand why I'd sit through the entire movie multiple times
merely to hear the pontifications of "Hollywood people." But 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 like this one.
DVD is a terrific example of this home video technology, except for one
thing: they only included a widescreen version. Now, if they had to choose
between widescreen and pan-and-scan, I'm glad they went the way they did.
However, there's a whole side of the disc that's unused that could have
been used to include the pan-and-scan version for those who prefer that
single oversight doesn't outweigh the benefits of this DVD, however -
unless you're a confirmed pan-and-scan fan. That's because the picture
quality is nothing short of superb, with the rich and vibrant colours
we've come to expect from DVD, and of course the movie's English audio
soundtrack is in Dolby Digital surround sound (the French soundtrack is
in regular Dolby Pro-logic, which is still fine).
You also get
an abundance of chapter stops (thoughtfully listed on the DVD's sleeve)
you can access randomly a la laserdisc, something we'd like to see on
all DVD releases; you can also jump to scenes via the menu screen, which
many may find more satisfying because that way you can see screen shots
of the chapters, instead of having to remember labels like "Three months
notice." Both methods work well and I'm glad to see Warner Brothers
including them both.
include production notes, special effects concepts, multilingual subtitles,
and theatrical trailers. The production notes etc. are pretty sparse,
but when you consider what you're getting on the audio tracks, it's more
than made up for.
all its DVD extras makes the movie too long to fit on a single layer
of the disc's side, so they've used DVD's dual layer technology to keep
the whole thing on one side. The package warns that there could be a slight
pause when the laser changes layers, but we never noticed it at all and
still have no idea where the change happens. We're most impressed by this
feature, which means a movie that required 3 sides on laserdisc can still
be enjoyed on DVD with no interruption.
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 performances
(the rest of the cast is no slouch, either), and production values and
techniques worthy of honours, make it a tremendously satisfying movie
And Warner Brothers'
use of the DVD format to make the movie even more interesting should be
commended - and encouraged.
So when you
take into consideration the superb quality of the DVD medium itself, all
the extras in this "special edition," and the comparative affordability
of DVD's when compared with videocassettes and laserdiscs, you have one
heck of a value.
Wanna take a
A Robert Zemeckis Film. From Warner Home Video.
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