Casey Cipriani of Bustle wrote an article a month back that singles out the Robert Zemekis film Contact as “The Forgotten ’90s Sci-Fi Film You Need To Revisit“… and I’m in wholehearted agreement with her.
One of the chief reasons for Cipriani’s praise is that Jodie Foster is the lead of the movie, and not just a female-in-a-male-lead role (Cipriani has a distinct feminist leaning, and so has a strong appreciation for good female leads and zero tolerance for gender-swapping). Not that that isn’t significant, but she also points out what I consider the real value of Contact: That it’s one of the very few science fiction movies these days that has a story beyond explosions, crazy stunts and pithy one-liners.
Jodie Foster, speaking at the Cannes Film Festival, stated of her new film Money Monsters that in the present day “I don’t think it’s possible to make those movies financed by a major studio.” She was referring to intelligent movies, movies that want the audience to really think. And as Cipriani points out, the same can be said for science fiction movies: Sadly, the Hollywood Blockbuster Machine sees no value to the smaller, more modest, more intelligent movies, science fiction or otherwise; it’s become fully committed to pandering to the largest common denominator, those who cheer at explosions and boo at every smirking villain.
Contact was not that kind of movie, or course: It’s one of the rare highly intelligent, high-quality science fiction productions that stand on a very small podium with movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park and Blade Runner. Like the others mentioned, it is written by a highly-acclaimed author, Carl Sagan; and like the other movies, the producers and director took pains to stay true to the original work.
The result was a textbook example of what real science fiction is supposed to be about, as opposed to the space operas of movies like Star Wars or the cliché-filled action adventure romps of The Fifth Element. In an age of a population losing its appreciation for the wonders of science—and who have become too jaded or future-shocked to have interest in the tools that could give us a better world—Contact presents a story with deep scientific, social and philosophical connotations, few plug-and-play character stereotypes, and a sense of “this could happen tomorrow” realism that is rare in modern big-budget science fiction.
And let’s not short-change the idea of a female lead: Cipriani is right in that movies in general, and science fiction in particular, are largely bereft of female leads or significant female characters in a male-oriented market; much of the science fiction audience in particular still seems to chafe at the idea of a non-sex-object in-charge woman—or, at least, that’s what big budget science fiction producers clearly think. As science fiction is supposed to represent a better world, it should be presenting us with more significant female characters to match the significant female roles in modern society. Even Contact could have done better in female representation… quickly, what other females in significant roles were in it?
Answer: Exactly one—Angela Bassett (who isn’t even listed as one of the main characters in IMDb). To be fair, there aren’t many SF movies that do better, especially in the most serious picks… it’s a pretty damning state. Maybe if SF movies could create more stories around strong and significant female characters, we’d see more evidence that science fiction isn’t just for nerds with penises. In that sense, Contact is an inspiration for SF lovers of any sex.
If you haven’t seen Contact, go find a copy soon. If you have seen the movie, recommend it to someone.