noelbotevera wrote:Interesting stuff re: Zemeckis political views. Funny you like Contact--it's his looniest, in my view, all the more because it's so much in earnest.
I should say that it is only my idea of Zemeckis's political views based on what I've seen in the films, so I've no idea whether it would hold to be true or not, but it does seem that many of the issues dealt with are simplified, sometimes to a patronising extent - almost as if they want to put across conservative views but at the same time without offending a liberal audience too much that they won't come to see the film as well. I feel Back To The Future and the Romancing The Stone films work because they are well constructed as pure entertainment films with the subtext well hidden under all the other stuff going on. I think the problem comes when he tries to make a larger point with his films, either political, historical or moral, and then it feels as if the films are just skimming the surface trying to make contrived characterisations and plotting work at describing complex situations - this is when I usually start to feel patronised and start to feel any messages imparted do not really have any relevance to the reality outside the movie theatre.
For me only What Lies Beneath is a truly terrible film as it expends a long time building up tension with the neighbour that does not truly go anywhere, seems confused in exactly how all the elements of its ghost story fit together and is vastly overextended. All the other films, even Forrest Gump, that I have 'political' problems with I think are quite competently made (though that makes their pat observations even more worrying when they are so effectively packaged and seem to hold a wide appeal - is it any coincidence that Gump celebrates the saintly idiot who seems to have a better understanding of life than those supposedly intelligent, worldly people and then the American public votes for Bush Jnr later?
Yes, I have conflicting views over Contact but it strangely is also the Zemeckis film that I like the most, along with Back To The Future. I like the way that there is an attempt to show the excitement of discovery in contrast with all the policitical and bureaucractic problems that would then come about if something like an alien signal were actually found. I found it contrived in a good way, if that makes any sense, to see Ellie pushed nearer and nearer to her space mission - it is never really in doubt that she will be the one to go but I thought the stealing of her limelight by Drumlin and the bombing were quite exciting, if crudely done if seen through today's eyes, and it is always good to see John Hurt floating around and overacting! (Even if he almost unbalances the film, which, as you say, is treading that fine line between a po-faced serious treatment of an absurd subject!)
A lot of the fun in the film comes not only from the special effects but from the actors: I have a crush on Jodie Foster so am fated to like anything she appears in by default but it was also good to see James Woods and Angela Bassett in good supporting roles and David Morse as the father.
However I find the whole science vs religion subplot difficult to handle! Especially the early relationship scenes between Ellie and Palmer. In the end it seems like they are artificially weighting the importance of religious questions through having this character personify them (and Ellie personify pure science) and forcing Ellie to confront these issues only because of this relationship. I would have hoped she would have had these debates within herself before she met Palmer, and thankfully Ellie never really has an enormous crisis of confidence but argues her point of view. The final meeting between Ellie and Palmer, when she is confirmed as being on the mission, is the one I could really have done without, as Palmer is still trying to ask her if this is something she really wants to do, which at that late stage is a bizarre conversation to have - as if Ellie's actions to that point had not confirmed her decision.
I quite like the mission itself, with the Solaris-esque way the aliens use memories from Ellie of her father to appear to her (I wonder if they knew the resonance that held for her, not just of her father but of the way he set her off down the astronomy path as a kid? That is never made clear but that is the kind of resonance screenwriters seem to love and I think it works well, even if I've heard this is the point that some people in the audience got upset - "She travelled all that way just to see her dead father?!"). However while Solaris keeps motives unclear of whether the ocean is actually trying to communicate or whether its manifestations are just unintended due to the astronauts simply being in close proximity to it, Contact by its very title is about a conscious, planned meeting between human and alien worlds.
What I am less interested by is the message of the end of the film, in which Ellie comes to see faith rather than rationality as the most important thing, because she cannot prove that she made her voyage. She and Palmer then leave the hearing and it seems there is an attempt made to show that science and religion in their purest forms are very similar, and it is the way that the politicians inside and the media crowds outside (and the wackos surrounding the first launch pad from earlier in the film) are using science and religion for their own ends that causes all the problems and twists them into being used for bad purposes.
It is a nice message but rather simple when we consider that religion was
the most important ruling body throughout history, guiding the actions of kings and their subjects; and that science needs funding from governments to do their research, so there are much more complex issues there that the film doesn't really explore.
Then there is that strange coda of Woods and Bassett talking about how much tape Ellie's camera recorded, which works well for an audience the first time but on later viewings seems to suggest that the filmmakers did not trust enough to leave their simple message ambiguous and had to prove that Ellie actually had
been on her trip - this suggests not only that Ellie is fundamentally right but also through association makes her pleas to be believed simply on faith and her relationship with Palmer legitimate, simultaneously suggesting to an audience that science is a good thing and
that there is also a greater plan to the Universe that does not disprove the presence of God.
It is a very strange film but I really think this is the nearest Zemeckis has come to a truly great film despite, and at times because of, its flaws. I certainly enjoy revisiting that film, which I couldn't say about the rest of his films other than Back To The Future.