Contact (film)

Contact (film)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Robert Zemeckis
Steve Starkey
Screenplay by James V. Hart
Michael Goldenberg
Story by Carl Sagan
Ann Druyan
Based on Contact by
Carl Sagan
Starring Jodie Foster
Matthew McConaughey
James Woods
Tom Skerritt
William Fichtner
John Hurt
Angela Bassett
David Morse
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Don Burgess
Editing by Arthur Schmidt
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) July 11, 1997 (1997-07-11)
Running time 150 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million[1]
Box office $171,120,329

Contact is a 1997 American science fiction drama film adapted from the Carl Sagan novel of the same name and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Both Sagan and wife Ann Druyan wrote the story outline for the film adaptation of Contact.

Jodie Foster portrays the film's protagonist, Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, a SETI scientist who finds strong evidence of extraterrestrial life and is chosen to make first contact. The film also stars Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner, John Hurt, Angela Bassett and David Morse.

Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan began working on the film in 1979. Together, they wrote a 100+ page film treatment and set Contact up at Warner Bros. with Peter Guber and Lynda Obst as producers. When the film ended up in development hell, Sagan published Contact as a novel in 1985 and the film adaptation was rejuvenated in 1989. Roland Joffé and George Miller had planned to direct it, but Joffé dropped out in 1993 and Miller was fired by Warner Bros in 1995. Robert Zemeckis was eventually hired to direct, and filming for Contact lasted from September 1996 to February 1997. The majority of the visual effects sequences were handled by Sony Pictures Imageworks.

The film was released on July 1, 1997 to mixed reviews. Contact grossed approximately $171 million in worldwide box office totals. The film won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and received multiple awards and nominations at the Saturn Awards. The release of Contact was publicized by controversies from the Clinton administration and CNN, as well as individual lawsuits from George Miller and Francis Ford Coppola.



Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway (Jodie Foster) is a gifted scientist, encouraged as a child by her father (David Morse), who has long since passed away. She presently is working for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. She and her colleagues listen to radio transmissions in hopes of finding signals sent by extraterrestrial life. Government scientist David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt) pulls the funding from SETI as he believes it's a futile exercise. After 13 months of soliciting funds in vain, Ellie gains funding from billionaire industrialist S. R. Hadden (John Hurt), who has been following Arroway's career and allows her to continue her studies at the Very Large Array (VLA) in Socorro County, New Mexico.

Four years later, with Drumlin pressuring to close SETI, Arroway finds a strong signal repeating a sequence of prime numbers, apparently emitting from the vicinity of the star Vega. This announcement causes both Drumlin and the National Security Council, led by National Security Advisor Michael Kitz (James Woods), to attempt to take control of the facility. As Arroway, Drumlin, and Kitz argue, the team at the VLA discover a video source buried in the signal: Adolf Hitler's welcoming address at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Arroway and her team postulate that this would have been the first significantly strong television signal to leave Earth's atmosphere, which was then transmitted back from Vega, 26 light years away.

The project is put under tight security and its progress followed fervently worldwide. President Bill Clinton and Drumlin give a television address to downplay the impact of the Hitler image, while Arroway learns that a third set of data was found in the signal; over 60,000 "pages" of what appear to be technical drawings. Government specialists unsuccessfully attempt to decode the drawings, later decoded by Hadden. He explains that the pages are meant to be interpreted in three dimensions, which reveals a complex machine allowing for one human occupant inside a pod to be dropped into three rapidly spinning rings.

The nations of the world come together to fund the construction of the machine at Cape Canaveral on top of Launch Complex 39. An international panel is put together to select a candidate (including both Arroway and Drumlin) to travel in The Machine. While Ellie is one of the top selections, her lack of religious faith is noted by Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a trusted friend and one of the panel members. Drumlin is ultimately selected. On the day of testing the machine, a religious fanatic (Jake Busey) obliterates the machine completely in a suicide bombing, killing Drumlin and everyone else onboard.

However, after the destruction, the mysterious and secretive Hadden reveals to Arroway that there is in fact a second machine, hidden in Hokkaido, Japan, and in fact Arroway will be the "pilot."

Arroway begins her journey, outfitted with several recording devices. When the pod travels through a series of wormholes, she is separated briefly and can observe the outside environment. This includes a radio array-like structure at Vega, and signs of a highly-advanced civilization on an unknown planet. She finds herself in a surreal landscape similar to a picture she drew as a child of Pensacola, Florida, and is approached by a blurry figure that resolves into that of her deceased father. Arroway recognizes him as an alien taking her father's form, and attempts to ask questions about extraterrestrial life. The alien deflects her questions, explaining that this journey was just humanity's "first step" to joining other space-faring species.

Arroway considers these answers and falls unconscious, finding herself on the floor of the pod where she is being repeatedly called by the machine's control team. She learns that from all external vantage points, she and the pod merely dropped through the machine. She insists that she was gone for approximately 18 hours, but her recording devices only show static. Kitz resigns as National Security Advisor to lead a congressional committee to determine if the machine was an elaborate hoax designed by Hadden, who has since died. Arroway is described as an unwitting accomplice in a hoax orchestrated by Hadden; she asks them to accept her testimony on faith. Kitz and White House Chief of Staff Rachel Constantine (Angela Bassett) together reflect on the fact that Arroway's recording devices not only contained static, but contained 18 hours of it. Arroway is given continued grant money for the SETI program at the Very Large Array.


  • Jodie Foster as Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Ann Arroway: SETI scientist who first discovers the alien contact message
  • Matthew McConaughey as Palmer Joss: Renowned Christian philosopher who becomes romantically involved with Arroway
  • James Woods as Michael Kitz: National Security Advisor who also heads the Congressional investigation of Arroway
  • Tom Skerritt as David Drumlin: Scientific aide to the President of the United States
  • William Fichtner as Kent Clark: A blind SETI scientist who assists Arroway in her studies
  • John Hurt as S.R. Hadden: An eccentric and reclusive billionaire industrialist who is fundamental in deciphering the alien's message, and eventually dies while aboard the Mir space station
  • Angela Bassett as Rachel Constantine: White House Chief of Staff to President Clinton
  • David Morse as Theodore Arroway: Arroway's father. He encourages his daughter to study amateur radio and the possibilities of extraterrestrial communications. He dies of a heart attack when Ellie is nine years old
  • Jake Busey as Joseph: a religious fanatic responsible for the destruction of the machine and the death of David Drumlin
  • Rob Lowe as Richard Rank: leader of the Conservative coalition
  • Geoffrey Blake as Fisher: SETI scientist
  • Max Martini as Willie: SETI scientist



Carl Sagan conceived the idea for Contact in 1979. The same year, Lynda Obst, one of Sagan's closest friends, was hired by film producer Peter Guber to be a studio executive for his production company, Casablanca FilmWorks. She pitched Guber the idea for Contact, who commissioned a development deal.[1] Sagan, along with wife Ann Druyan, wrote a 100+ page film treatment, finishing in November 1980.[2][3] Druyan explained, "Carl's and my dream was to write something that would be a fictional representation of what contact would actually be like, that would convey something of the true grandeur of the universe." They added the science and religion analogies as a metaphor of philosophical and intellectual interest in searching for the truth of both humanity and alien contact.[4]

Sagan incorporated Kip Thorne's study of wormhole space travel into the screenplay.[5] The characterization of Dr. Ellie Arroway was inspired by Dr. Jill Tarter, head of Project Phoenix of the SETI Institute; Jodie Foster researched the lead role by meeting her.[6] Tarter served as a consultant on the story, realistically portraying struggling careers of women scientists from the 1950s to 1970s. The writers debated whether Arroway should have a baby at the film's end.[7] Although Guber was impressed with Sagan and Druyan's treatment, he hired various screenwriters to rewrite the script. New characters were added, one of them a Native American park ranger-turned-astronaut.[1] Guber suggested that Arroway have an estranged teenage son, whom he believed would add more depth to the storyline. "Here was a woman consumed with the idea that there was something out there worth listening to," Guber said, "but the one thing she could never make contact with was her own child. To me, that's what the film had to be about."[1] Sagan and Druyan disagreed with Guber's idea and it was not incorporated into the storyline. In 1982, Guber took Contact to Warner Bros. Pictures and with the film laboring in development hell, Sagan started to turn his original idea into a novel, which was published by Simon & Schuster in September 1985. The film adaptation remained in development and Guber eventually vacated his position at Warner Bros. in 1989.[1]

Guber became the new president of Sony Pictures Entertainment and tried to purchase the film rights of Contact from Warners, but the studio refused. Coincidentally, in 1989, Obst was hired as a new executive at Warners and began to fast track the film, by hiring more writers.[1] Roland Joffé was eventually hired to direct,[8] using a screenplay by James V. Hart.[9] Joffé almost commenced pre-production before he dropped out[8] and Obst then hired Michael Goldenberg to rewrite the script, who finished his second draft[1] in late-1993. Goldenberg's second draft rekindled Warner Bros.' interest in Contact[8] and Robert Zemeckis was offered the chance to direct, but he turned down the opportunity[1] in favor of making a film based on the life of Harry Houdini.[10] "The first script [for Contact] I saw was great until the last page and a half," Zemeckis recalled. "And then it had the sky open up and these angelic aliens putting on a light show and I said, 'That's just not going to work.'"[1]

In December 1993, Warner Bros. hired George Miller to direct[8] and Contact was greenlighted to commence pre-production. Miller cast Jodie Foster in the lead role, approached Ralph Fiennes to play Palmer Joss and also considered casting Linda Hunt as the President of the United States. In addition to having aliens put on a laser lighting display around Earth, another version of the Goldenberg scripts had an alien wormhole swallow up the planet, transporting Earth to the center of the galaxy. Miller also asked Goldenberg to rewrite Contact in an attempt to portray the Pope as a key supporting character. Warner Bros. was hoping to have the film ready for release by Christmas 1996, but under Miller's direction pre-production lasted longer than expected.[1] The studio fired the director, blaming pushed-back start dates, budget concerns and Miller's insistence that the script needed five more weeks of rewriting. Robert Zemeckis, who previously turned down the director's position, decided to accept the offer. Warner Bros. granted Zemeckis total artistic control and the right of final cut privilege.[1] The director cast Matthew McConaughey as Palmer Joss, who dropped out of the lead role in The Jackal to take the role in Contact.[11] Despite being diagnosed with Myelodysplasia in 1994, Sagan continued to be involved in the production of the film. For the cast and main crew members, he conducted an academic conference that depicted a detailed history of astronomy.[1]

During the development of Contact, the production crew simultaneously watched Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for inspiration.[7]


Concept drawing of early NASA site idea

Principal photography for Contact began on September 24, 1996 and ended on February 28, 1997. The first shooting took place at the Very Large Array (VLA) in Socorro, New Mexico. "Shooting at the VLA was, of course, spectacular but also one of the most difficult aspects of our filming", producer Steve Starkey said. "It is a working facility so in order for us to accomplish shots for the movie, we had to negotiate with the National Science Foundation for 'dish control' in order to move the dishes in the direction we needed to effect the most dramatic shot for the story."[5] Following arduous first weeks of location shooting in New Mexico and Arizona, production for Contact returned to Los Angeles for five months' worth of location and sound stage shooting utilizing a total of nine sound stages at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank and Culver Studios. All together the art department created over 25 sets.[5]

In an attempt to create a sense of realism for the storyline, principal CNN news outlet commentators were scripted into Contact. More than 25 news reporters from CNN had roles in the film and the CNN programs Larry King Live and Crossfire were also included. Ann Druyan makes a cameo appearance as herself, debating Rob Lowe's character, Richard Rank, on Crossfire. In January 1997, a second unit was sent to Puerto Rico for one week at the Arecibo Observatory.

Other second unit work took place in Fiji and Newfoundland Canada. Also essential to the production were a host of technical consultants from the SETI Institute, the California Institute of Technology, the VLA and a former White House staff member to consult on Washington D.C. and government protocol issues.[12] Sagan visited the set a number of times, where he also helped with last minute rewrites. Filming was briefly delayed with the news of his death on December 20, 1996. Contact was dedicated in part to his legacy.[1]

Cinematographer Don Burgess shot the film in anamorphic format using VistaVision cameras. The sound designers used Pro Tools software for the audio mixing, which was done at Skywalker Sound.[13]

Visual effects

The film's (second) Machine in operation at Hokkaidō, Japan

Designing Contact's visual effects sequences was a joint effort among eight separate VFX companies. This included Sony Pictures Imageworks, Peter Jackson's Weta Digital, George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic and Effects Associates. Weta Digital, in particular, was responsible for designing the wormhole sequence.[14] Jodie Foster admitted she had difficulty with blue screen technology because it was a first for the actress. "It was a blue room. Blue walls, blue roof. It was just blue, blue, blue," Foster explained. "And I was rotated on a Lazy Susan with the camera moving on a computerized arm. It was really tough."[1]

News footage of then-President Bill Clinton was digitally altered to make it appear as if he is speaking about alien contact. This was not the original plan for the film;[1] Zemeckis had initially approached Sidney Poitier to play the President, but the actor turned the role down in favor of The Jackal.[15] Shortly after Poitier's refusal, Zemeckis saw a NASA announcement in August 1996. "Clinton gave his Mars rock speech," the director explained, "and I swear to God it was like it was scripted for this movie. When he said the line 'We will continue to listen closely to what it has to say,' I almost died. I stood there with my mouth hanging open."[1]

One of the notable features of Contact is its use of digital color correction. This helped solve continuity errors during the location shooting at the Very Large Array in New Mexico. "The weather killed us, so we were going back in and changing it enough so that the skies and colors and times of day all seem roughly the same," visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston commented.[16] The opening scale view shot of the entire Universe, lasting approximately three minutes, was inspired by the short documentary film Powers of Ten (1977). At the time, it was the longest continuous computer-generated effect for a live-action film, a distinction now held by the opening sequence from The Day After Tomorrow (2004).[17]

The decoding of the extraterrestrial message, with its architectural drawings of the Machine, was created by Ken Ralston and Sony Pictures Imageworks. This is the sixth film collaboration between director Zemeckis and VFX supervisor Ralston. Imageworks created over 350 visual effects shots, utilizing a combination of model and miniature shots and digital computer work. On designing the Machine, Zemeckis explained that "The Machine in Sagan's novel was somewhat vague, which is fine for a book. In a movie, though, if you're going to build a giant physical structure of alien design, you have to make it believable." He continued that "it had to be huge, so that the audience would feel like it was bigger than man should be tinkering with. It had to look absolutely real."[5] The machine was then designed by concept artist Steve Burg, reusing a conceptual design he had originally created to appear as the "Time Displacement Device" in Terminator 2 in a scene that didn't make it to the final cut.[18]

Early conceptual designs of the Pod itself were based, as it existed in the novel, on one of the primary shapes in geometry, a dodecahedron or a twelve-sided figure. Eventually the Pod was modified to a spherical capsule that encases the traveler. Zemeckis and the production crew also made several visits to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where officials allowed them access to sites off-limits to most visitors. Filmmakers were also brought onto Launch Complex 39 prior to the launch of the space shuttle.[5] There, they concentrated on the mechanics of the elevator and the gantry area and loading arm. The resulting photographs and research were incorporated into the design of the Machine's surrounding supports and gantry. Once the concept met with the filmmakers' approval, physical construction began on the sets for the Pod itself, the interior of the elevator and the gantry, which took almost four months to build. The remainder effects were compiled digitally by Imageworks.[5]

The climactic scene depicting the mysterious beach near the galactic core where Arroway makes "contact", in particular, called for major visual innovations. The goal was an idyllic seashore with a sky blazing with stars that might exist near the core of the galaxy. Ralston said that "the thought was that this beach would have a heightened reality. One that might make the everyday world seem like a vague daydream."[7] To keep the question alive whether any of it was real in Arroway's mind, elements such as ocean waves running in reverse and palm tree shadows swaying with sped up motion were applied.[7]

The Hitler newsreel also required digital manipulation.[7]


Contact: Music From The Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by Alan Silvestri
Released August 19, 1997 (1997-08-19)
Label Warner Bros. Records

The original score was composed by Alan Silvestri, most of which was released on 19 August 1997 by Warner Bros. Records.[19] The full score is approximately an hour long, 44 minutes of which is on the CD, including every major cue. The CD track entitled "Good to Go" features a slightly alternate opening - a brief brass motif that is not in the film, but all other cues are identical in orchestration to the mix in the film.

The Region 2 Special Edition DVD release contains a 5.1 isolated score track[20] which presents the complete score (this feature, as with many isolated scores, is not mentioned in most product descriptions of the DVD.[21][22])

Contact: Music From The Motion Picture
No. Title Length
1. "Awful Waste of Space"   1:41
2. "Ellie's Bogey"   3:23
3. "The Primer"   6:19
4. "Really Confused"   1:18
5. "Test Run Bomber"   4:25
6. "Heart Attack"   1:29
7. "Media Event"   1:24
8. "Button Me Up"   1:18
9. "Good to Go"   5:11
10. "No Words"   1:42
11. "Small Moves"   5:35
12. "I Believe Her"   2:31
13. "Contact"   7:58
Total length:

Science and religion

Contact frequently suggests cultural conflicts between religion and science would be brought to the fore by the apparent contact with aliens that occurs in the film. A point of discussion is the existence of a god, with a number of different positions being portrayed.[7] A description of an emotionally-intense experience by Palmer Joss, which he describes as seeing God, is met by Arroway's suggestion that "some part of [him] needed to have it"; that it was a significant personal experience but indicative of nothing greater. Joss compares his certainty that God exists to Arroway's certainty that she loved her deceased father, despite being unable to prove it.[7]

Contact depicts intense debate occurring as a result of the apparent contact with aliens. Many clips of well-known debate shows such as Crossfire and Larry King Live are shown, with participants discussing the implications of 'The Message,' asking whether it is proof of the existence of alien life or of God, and whether science is encroaching upon religious ground by, as one believer puts it, "talking to your god for you."[23] The head of a religious organization casts doubt on the morality of building the Machine, noting that "we don't even know whether [the aliens] believe in God." The first Machine is ultimately destroyed by a religious extremist, in the belief that building it was detrimental to humankind.[7]

Although the revelation at the end of the film that Arroway's recording device recorded approximately 18 hours of static is arguably conclusive proof of the fact of - if not the experience of - her "journey," there are a number of coincidences and indications throughout the film that cast doubt on its authenticity. Director Robert Zemeckis indicates that "the point of the movie is for there always to be a certain amount of doubt [as to whether the aliens were real]."[23] These indications mostly consist of visual cues during the "journey" which echo Ellie's experiences earlier in the film (which Ellie believed to be the result of the aliens "downloading [her] thoughts and memories"), but the timing of the Message's arrival and its eventual decoding are also highly coincidental: the Message was first received shortly before Arroway and her team were to be ejected from the VLA facility, and was only successfully decoded by S.R. Hadden (Arroway's only sponsor, who was close to death from cancer) after weeks of failed attempts by the team at the VLA.[23]

At the end of the film, Arroway is put into a position which she had traditionally viewed with skepticism and contempt: that of believing something with complete certainty, despite being unable to prove it in the face not only of widespread incredulity and skepticism (which she admits that as a scientist she would normally share), but of evidence apparently to the contrary.[23]

Zemeckis stated that he intended the message of the film to be that science and religion can co-exist rather than being opposing camps,[23] as shown by the coupling of scientist Arroway with the religious Joss, as well as his acceptance that the "journey" indeed took place. This, and scattered references throughout the film posit that science and religion are not nominally incompatible: one interviewer, after asking Arroway whether the construction of The Machine - despite not knowing what will happen when it is activated - is too dangerous, suggests that it is being built on the "faith" that the alien designers, as Arroway puts it, "know what they're doing."[7]


Box office/Home video

Contact had its premiere on July 1, 1997 at the Westwood Theater in Los Angeles, California.[24] The film was released in the United States on July 11, 1997 in 1,923 theaters, earning $20,584,908 in its opening weekend. Contact eventually grossed $100.92 million in the US and $70.2 million in foreign countries, reaching a worldwide total of $171.12 million.[25] With VHS release in early-December 1997, Contact earned an additional $49 million in rental figures.[26] Warner Home Video released Contact on DVD later that month, containing three separate audio commentaries by director Robert Zemeckis & producer Steve Starkey, another by visual effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Stephen Rosenbaum, along with one by star Jodie Foster.[27]

The release of Contact in July 1997 rekindled public interest in Sagan's 1985 novel. The book remained on the New York Times Best Seller list from July 27 to September 21, 1997.[28][29]

Contact was released on Blu-ray on October 6, 2009.

Critical analysis

Contact received a generally average-favorable response from critics.[30][31] Based on 56 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 68% of the critics enjoyed the film with an average score of 6.8/10.[30] Contact was more balanced with 12 critics with the website's "Top Critics" poll, earning a 50% approval rating with a 6.3/10 score.[32] By comparison, Metacritic calculated an average score of 62/100, based on 22 reviews.[31] Roger Ebert gave a largely positive review, believing Contact was on par with Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) to study Hollywood's most cinematic study of extraterrestrial life. "Movies like Contact help explain why movies like Independence Day leave me feeling empty and unsatisfied," Ebert commented.[33]

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film carried a more philosophical portrait of the science fiction genre compared to other films, but believed Contact still managed "to satisfy the cravings of the general public who simply want to be entertained," he said.[34] Internet reviewer James Berardinelli called Contact "one of 1997's finest motion pictures, and is a forceful reminder that Hollywood is still capable of making magic." Berardinelli also felt the film was on par with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to be one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.[35] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle largely enjoyed the first 90 minutes of Contact, but felt that director Robert Zemeckis was too obsessed with visual effects rather than cohesive storytelling for the pivotal climax.[36] Rita Kempley, writing in The Washington Post, gave a largely negative review: She did not like the film's main premise, which Kempley described as "a preachy debate between sanctity and science".[37]


Sound designers Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands and William B. Kaplan were nominated the Academy Award for Sound but lost to Titanic.[38][39] Jodie Foster was nominated the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama, but Judi Dench was awarded the category for her work in Mrs. Brown.[40] Contact won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation over The Fifth Element, Gattaca, Men in Black and Starship Troopers.[41] The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films awarded individual awards to Jodie Foster (Best Actress) and Jena Malone (Best Performance by a Younger Actor) at the 24th Saturn Awards. Director Robert Zemeckis, writers James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg, film score composer Alan Silvestri and the visual effects supervisors also received Saturn Award nominations. Contact was nominated the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, but lost to Men in Black.[42]

American Film Institute Lists

In popular culture

Due to the movie's notability, South Park's creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are well known for poking fun at the movie for its twists and turns. In the episode "Tom's Rhinoplasty" where Mr. Garrison is waking up from his nose job operation, the doctor asks if he has seen the movie. Garrison, in response, vomits in disgust of the movie. It was also referenced in the episode "Cancelled". [45] It is also briefly mentioned in the Family Guy episode "Three Kings" by Stewie.


Bill Clinton and CNN

On July 14, 1997, three days after Contact's opening day release in the United States, Warner Bros. received a letter from White House Counsel Charles Ruff protesting the use of then-President Bill Clinton's digitally composited appearance. The letter made no demands to director Robert Zemeckis or Warner Bros in terms of pulling release prints, film trailers or other marketing, but called the duration and manner of Clinton's appearance "inappropriate". No legal action was planned; the White House Counsel simply wanted to send a message to Hollywood to avoid unauthorized uses of the President's image. Zemeckis was reminded that official White House policy "prohibits the use of the President in any way ... (that) implies a direct ... connection between the President and a commercial product or service."[46]

A Warner Bros. spokeswoman explained that "we feel we have been completely frank and upfront with the White House on this issue. They saw scripts, they were notified when the film was completed, they were sent a print well in advance of the film's July 11 opening, and we have confirmation that a print was received there July 2." However, Warner Bros. did concede that they never pursued or received formal release from the White House for the use of Clinton's image. While the Counsel commented that parody and satire are protected under the First Amendment, press secretary Mike McCurry believed that "there is a difference when the President's image, which is his alone to control, is used in a way that would lead the viewer to believe he has said something he really didn't say."[46]

Shortly after the White House's complaint, CNN chairman, president and CEO Tom Johnson announced he believed that in hindsight it was a mistake to allow 13 members of CNN's on-air staff (including Larry King and Bernard Shaw) to appear in the film, even though both CNN and Warner Bros. are owned by Time Warner. Johnson added that, in the case of Contact, the CNN presence "creates the impression that we're manipulated by Time Warner, and it blurs the line." CNN then changed their policies for future films, which now requires potential appearances to be cleared through their ethics group.[46]


Director George Miller, who had developed Contact with Warner Bros. before Zemeckis' hiring, unsuccessfully sued the studio over breach of contract policies.[1]

During the filming of Contact on December 28, 1996, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola filed a posthumous lawsuit against Carl Sagan and Warner Bros. Pictures. Sagan had died that December 20, six days before Coppola filed his lawsuit.[47][48] Ann Druyan, widow of Sagan, stated, "All I can say is, when a man writes a complaint with his lawyer while your husband is dying after a third bone-marrow transplant, and then waits for him to die so he can file it - it's outrageous." Producer Lynda Obst commented: "Ann and Carl made up this idea from scratch, piece by piece. I sat in the room watching them do it. Of course Carl had been thinking about alien encounters all his life. He's the one who made the subject credible in science. And for Coppola to file a lawsuit within days after he died — it's appalling."[1]

Scott Edelman, who represented Druyan, added, "... It exceeds all bounds of decency that after waiting over 20 years, he chose to sue Sagan six days after he died."[48] Coppola claimed that Sagan's novel was actually based on a story the pair had developed for a television special[49] back in 1975,[47] titled First Contact. Under their development agreement,[49] Coppola and Sagan were to split proceeds from the project with American Zoetrope and Children's Television Workshop Productions, as well as any novel Sagan would write. The TV program was never produced, but in 1985, Simon & Schuster published Contact and Warner Bros. moved forward with development of a film adaptation. Coppola sought at least $250,000 in compensatory damages and an injunction against production or distribution of the film.[47]

In February 1998, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ricardo Torres dismissed Coppola's claim. Although Torres agreed that Sagan violated some terms of the contract, he explained that Coppola waited too long to file his lawsuit, and that the contract might not be enforceable as it was written. Coppola then appealed his suit,[49] taking it to The California Courts of Appeal (CCA). In April 2000, the CCA dismissed his suit, finding that Coppola’s claims were barred because they were brought too late. The court noted that it was not until 1994 that the filmmaker thought about suing over Contact.[48]


The scene where the NASA scientists give Arroway the "cyanide pill" caused some controversy during production and also when the film came out. Gerald D. Griffin, the film's NASA advisor, insisted that NASA has never given any astronaut a cyanide pill "just in case," and that if an astronaut truly wished to commit suicide in space, all he or she would have to do is cut off their oxygen supply.[23] However, Carl Sagan insisted that NASA did indeed give out cyanide pills and they did it for every mission an astronaut has ever flown. Zemeckis said that because of the two radically different assertions, the truth is unknown, but he left the suicide pill scene in the movie as it seemed more suspenseful that way and it was also in line with Sagan's beliefs and vision of the film.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Benjamin Svetkey (1997-07-18). "Making Contact". Entertainment Weekly.,,288672,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  2. ^ Carl Sagan (October 1985). Contact: A Novel. New York City: Simon & Schuster. pp. 432. ISBN 0-671-43400-4. 
  3. ^ "Ann Druyan". Warner Bros.. Retrieved 2009-02-01. 
  4. ^ "About the production". Warner Bros.. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Contact – High Technology Lends a Hand/Science of the Soundstage". Warner Bros.. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  6. ^ William J. Broad (1998-09-29). "Astronomers Revive Scan of the Heavens for Signs of Life". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Norman Kagan (2003). "Contact". The Cinema of Robert Zemeckis. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing. pp. 159–181. ISBN 0-87833-293-6. 
  8. ^ a b c d John Evan Frook (1993-12-16). "WB makes 'Contact'". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  9. ^ Bernard Weinraub (1997-07-06). "Using a Big Budget To Ask Big Questions". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Michael Fleming (1997-07-10). "Verhoeven eyes 'Houdini'". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  11. ^ Michael Fleming (1996-12-16). "McConaughey inks with WB". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  12. ^ "Creating Strange New Worlds". Warner Bros.. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  13. ^ Richard Buskin. "Making Contact". Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  14. ^ Ian Pryor (2003). Peter Jackson: From Prince of Splatter to Lord of the Rings. New York City: Thomas Dunne Books. pp. 206. ISBN 0-312-32294-1. 
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  17. ^ Tim Dirks. "Milestones in Film History: Greatest Visual and Special Effects and Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) - Part 16". Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
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  29. ^ "Paperback Best Sellers: September 21, 1997". The New York Times. 1997-09-21. Retrieved 2009-01-28. 
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  35. ^ James Berardinelli. "Contact". Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
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  38. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-11-19. 
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Further reading

  • Keay Davidson (1999). Carl Sagan: A Life. New York City: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471252867. 

External links

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