10 Starry Facts About Contact

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

“Are we alone in the universe?” Countless movies have asked that question, but few have given it more thought than this 1997 adaptation of Carl Sagan’s bestselling novel. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Contact.

1. ITS OPENING SHOT SET AN INDUSTRY RECORD. 

Contact begins with a close-up of our home planet. At first, a babel of '90s radio broadcasts nearly deafens the audience. But as the camera pulls back and Earth grows smaller, iconic audio clips that were recorded 20, 30, and even 100 years ago greet our ears—only to fade seconds later. By the time our galaxy recedes into an endless cosmic backdrop, there’s nothing left but silence.

This is one of the most ambitious sequences in cinema history. The completely digital intro lasted for 4170 uninterrupted frames, making it the longest computer-generated shot that had ever appeared in a live-action film at the time. Great pains were taken to capture the look of deep space. On the special edition DVD commentary, visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum recalls getting started by gathering “absolutely incredible” Hubble snapshots of “distant galaxies and stars and other interstellar phenomenon ... We laid out what we liked and said, 'Okay, how can we pass through some of this? How can we combine it together into something [that’s] visually stunning?’”

Brilliant as it is, however, the moment ignores physical law. Just ask Neil deGrasse Tyson. If one could really overtake the radio signals, he argued, “you would hear them in reverse.” Still, the good doctor acknowledges that—for artistry’s sake—everything needed to sound intelligible. “[They] couldn’t have gotten it right and still had the scene work,” deGrasse Tyson conceded, “so they had to do it the way they did.” 

2. THE NOVEL MADE CARL SAGAN $2 MILLION RICHER BEFORE HE'D WRITTEN A WORD OF IT. 

Sagan and his wife, Ann Druyan, originally envisioned Contact as a feature film. In 1980, they co-wrote the project’s first treatment. Frustrated with Hollywood’s glacial development process, the couple eventually chose to turn their story into a novel. Sagan hadn’t even begun working on the book when Simon & Schuster gave him a whopping $2 million advance for it. An instant hit, Contact sold almost 1.75 million copies within two years of its 1985 release. Sadly, we’ll never know what Sagan thought of Warner Bros.’ subsequent movie adaptation as he passed away several months before its release.

3. IN THE BOOK, AMERICA HAS A FEMALE PRESIDENT. 

Much to the White House’s annoyance, director Robert Zemeckis used footage of then-President Bill Clinton during key political scenes. He could’ve avoided the resultant controversy by following his source material a little more closely. In both the novel and an early screenplay, the Oval Office is occupied by Helen Lasker: a fictitious two-term commander-in-chief.

4. ASTRONOMER CAROLYN PORCO WAS ASKED TO HELP DEVELOP THE MAIN CHARACTER. 

Ellie Arroway, the film's star-gazing heroine, battles occupational sexism throughout the movie. Sagan knew that filming his tenacious, whip-smart protagonist wouldn’t be easy, so he recruited some help. “Carl called me up and said [that] out of all the female scientists he knew, I came closest to being like the character he wanted portrayed on the screen,” recalled planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, who collaborated with him on several occasions.

Decades later, the scientist still warmly remembers meeting with Sagan, Druyan, executive producer Linda Obst, and filmmaker George Miller—from whom Zemeckis would later take the director’s chair. “We spent a day sitting around a table in Santa Monica putting together the character of Ellie," said Porco. "They would ask me, ‘What kind of experiences have you had?’ ‘Why do you feel you’ve done well in a field dominated with men?’ I said ‘Well, I grew up with four brothers for god’s sakes. I’ve been fighting and spitting and kicking ever since I was a kid.’”

In her own words, Poroco was “brought on to lend authenticity to Ellie’s experiences in the movie.” Naturally, when Jodie Foster became Contact’s leading lady, Warner Bros. wanted the pair to meet. Though this never happened, Foster did touch base with Jill Tarter, an astronomer who—like Arroway—has spent her career scouring the universe for traces of intelligent life.

5. GEORGE MILLER WAS SET TO DIRECT THE FILM. 

The man who brought you Babe and Mad Max spent a year working with Sagan on Contact. He ultimately left the production when Warner Bros. decided to take the film in a “safer” new direction. “It was clear that [they] weren’t prepared to do the movie that I was interested in making,” Miller said.

What did he have in mind? In 2015, Miller told Collider that while he’s never actually seen Zemeckis’s version of the movie, he has read the script and feels like it needed “much, much less force-feeding exposition.” The filmmaker likened his own interpretation to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

6. SAGAN'S WIDOW MAKES A BRIEF APPEARANCE. 

Skip ahead to 0:22 in this clip and look at the upper left-hand corner. You’ll see Druyan duking it out with a conservative politician (played by Rob Lowe) on CNN’s Crossfire

7. THE MOVIE PUT CNN IN AN AWKWARD POSITION. 

The cable news giant allowed 13 of its best-known reporters and anchors to play themselves in Contact. For then-CEO Tom Johnson, that was 13 cameos too many. “I don’t think having correspondents in the movies is a good idea,” he said in retrospect, arguing that the movie gave “the impression that we’re manipulated by Time Warner, and it blurs the line.” Today, CNN staffers need to clear potential off-network appearances with an ethics group. 

8. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY REFUSED TO DELIVER A CERTAIN LINE. 

Late in the final script, McConaughey's character—a self-described “man of the cloth without the cloth” named Palmer Joss—says “My God was too small.” Though Druyan really liked this line, McConaughey called it sacrilegious and wouldn't say it. Later on, the two talked at length about faith and became good friends (despite differences of opinion).

9. NASA FLATLY DENIES ONE OF THE FILM'S INSINUATIONS. 

In the movie's third act, a stunned Arroway receives a cyanide pill before entering the pod. According to Zemeckis, Sagan swore that this just-in-case practice was observed “on every single [NASA] mission.” However, Apollo 13 veteran James Lovell has dismissed the idea, writing “many people have asked me ‘Did you have suicide pills on board?’ We didn’t, and I never heard of such a thing in the 11 years I spent as an astronaut and a NASA executive.”

10. ELLIE CONDUCTS RESEARCH AT A FACILITY THAT'S ACTUALLY BEEN USED TO INITIATE CONTACT WITH ALIENS. 

Ellie and Palmer first meet near Puerto Rico’s world-famous Arecibo Observatory. In 1974, the site’s radio telescope aimed a Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) message at a star cluster that resides some 21,000 light-years away. Using binary code, this powerful broadcast described DNA, the human body, and our solar system. Don’t expect a reply anytime soon, though—it won’t reach those heavenly bodies for another 25 millennia.

Possible Star Wars: Episode IX Leak Predicts a Traitor Within the First Order

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm

by Natalie Zamora

A rumored leak circulating the internet recently is a fresh take on most theories for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX, as it has nothing to do with Rey's true ​parentage, how Luke Skywalker will ​come back, or Poe Dameron's ​sexuality. Instead, this new bit of possibly real information is about the First Order.

An unknown source has revealed to ​​Express.co.uk that there is a traitor within the First Order, as part of the Episode IX storyline will involve Kylo Ren trying to find a mole in his team, after becoming suspicious someone is giving out information to the Resistance.

This plot point "will have a cat and mouse element to it, similar to Revenge of the Sith where the Jedi were trying to find out who the Sith lord is—which turned out to be Palpatine.”

Domhnall Gleeson in Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)
Lucasfilm

The report also references a different leak from May 2018, which claimed General Hux would be a mole inside the First Order. This wouldn't be too surprising, as Kylo and Hux have had quite the rivalry since The Force Awakens. Both parties competed to be Supreme Leader Snoke's favorite, and now with Snoke gone, the relationship between the two men should be interesting. It wouldn't be hard to see Hux turning on Kylo.

However, Hux obviously despises the Resistance. Would he help them just to betray someone who has more power than him? It might be more believable to think he would find other ways to steal the power away
from Kylo rather than disturbing the First Order. Hux wants to defeat both Kylo and the Resistance, and we don't see him compromising.

This is an interesting "leak" to keep in mind as we get more details about Episode IX, however. At the moment, we really don't have much information about the final film in the Skywalker Saga, so any rumors are worth exploring.

Star Wars: Episode IX hits theaters December 20, 2019.

LeBron James Enlists Black Panther Director Ryan Coogler to Produce Space Jam Sequel

Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images
Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images

by Dana Samuel

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler is teaming up with LeBron James to finally make a Space Jam sequel. The original, released in 1996, starred Michael Jordan, with cameos from other NBA stars and characters from Looney Tunes; it grossed more than $250 million worldwide (making it the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time, according to THR).

THR reports that the film is reportedly going to begin production in 2019, during the NBA off-season; Coogler will be the producer of the sequel and Random Acts of Flyness creator Terence Nance will direct.

Coogler's work on Black Panther was not only groundbreaking, but the film broke several box office records and it has become the highest grossing film by a black director.

James is a huge Black Panther fan. “I loved his vision," he told THR, "so for Ryan to be able to bring that to kids, it’s amazing. ... The Space Jam collaboration is so much more than just me and the Looney Tunes getting together and doing this movie ... I'd just love for kids to understand how empowered they can feel and how empowered they can be if they don't just give up on their dreams. And I think Ryan did that for a lot of people.”

This project has been highly anticipated for years, and we have our fingers crossed for more details to be revealed soon.

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