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kottke.org posts about Robert Zemeckis

An appreciation and reevaluation of Contact, 20 years after its theatrical release

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, is on its face a movie about science vs. religion. On the 20th anniversary of its release, Germain Lussier rewatched the film and came away with a different impression: director Robert Zemeckis wanted viewers to think about our relationship to media and technology.

Once Ellie and her team discover the signal from Vega, seemingly every scene in the film features a monitor or some kind of television-related paraphernalia. Whether that’s unpacking a TV to unveil the Olympic footage, people watching news reports on CNN, a terrorist videotaping himself, or multiple scenes in the screen-filled Mission Control, Contact is filled with monitors, forcing both the characters and the audience to watch them. Full scenes of the film are made up of fuzzy TV footage. There are numerous press conferences on TV. The selection of the Machine representative unfolds via the news. Ellie’s interactions with Hadden are almost entirely done over a monitor. Even in scenes where the camera is in a room with the characters, Zemeckis often films them watching TV, or simply puts TV monitors in the frame to constantly remind us they’re there.

But that’s not it. People video chat regularly, which was not common in 1997. The terrorist attack on the Machine is first discovered on a TV monitor and subsequently played out there too. Then, finally, what’s the smoking gun of Ellie’s whole trip at the end of the movie? Eighteen hours of video footage. I could go on and on with examples where Contact uses television and monitors, but once you start seeing the film’s obsession with video, it’s almost comical how often it’s used. Which poses the obvious question, “Why?”

In this light, the organized religion & organized science depicted in the film are just other forms of mediated experience, separate from the personal experience of seeing something with your own eyes.

Contact is one of my favorite movies — I watch it every 12-18 months or so — and this makes me appreciate it all the more. And I had forgotten how good the trailer was:

It’s dead simple: that amazingly resonant Vega signal sound over a series of quickly cut scenes that tells the story in miniature. Surely this belongs on best movie trailers lists as much as any of these.

Oh, and while I’m not generally a fan of reboots, I would love to see what Denis Villeneuve could do with Sagan’s story. I’m also not crazy about Jodie Foster — I find her less and less tolerable as Arroway with each viewing — so it would be cool to see another actress in the role. Arrival’s Amy Adams is almost too on the nose…how about Lupita Nyong’o, ?Emma Watson, Janelle Monáe, Brie Larson, or Emma Stone?

Back to the Future as period piece

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2011

Theory: Robert Zemeckis intentionally made Back to the Future not as a contemporary film set in the present but as a period piece set in 1985.

Back To The Future is both undeniably timeless (its place in pop culture is beyond question) and incredibly dated (it’s very much a product of its time). Interestingly, it’s a period piece made in 1985 that depicts 1985 as an era as distant-seeming as its version of 1955. Of course, when Back To The Future was first released, 1985 just looked like “now.” It’s entirely possible that director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale referenced Ronald Reagan and Eddie Van Halen and dressed Fox’s Marty McFly up in a denim jacket and Calvin Klein underwear because they wanted Back To The Future to exist in the same universe as The Breakfast Club, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, and other teen films from 1985. But I’m going to give them way more credit than they probably deserve. I think Zemeckis and Gale knew all the timely accoutrements signifying “the present” in Back To The Future would inevitably look like 1985 within just a couple of years; in fact, they were banking on it. Zemeckis and Gale were trying to create an archetypical representation of 1985 just like they did for 1955, with its soda fountains, social repression, and subjugated black people. In this way, Back To The Future only gets better the further we get from the ’80s. Everything that defines Marty McFly-how he walks, talks, acts, and dresses-acts as instantly recognizable shorthand for the year he comes from.

(via ★joanne)