The Warner Bros. movie Contact, based on the novel

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The Warner Bros. movie Contact, based on the novel

by famousAstronomer Carl Sagan, is a fascinating journey through the human mind
and attempts to answer the question that humans have been asking since
the dawn of time, “Are we alone in the Universe?” The movie describes
with amazing accuracy the lives of astronomers and researchers who
work for the SETI program and other similar projects that explore the
possibilities of receiving extra terrestrial radio signals. Ellie
Arroway (portrayed by Jodie Foster), the main character of the movie
refers to the historic event upon which the movie is based, contact
with an alien civilization as one of the most significant events in
human history and says “This time is unique in our history, in any
civilization’s history: the moment of the acquisition of technology.

The moment when contact becomes possible.” The movie explores many
aspects of making “contact” with aliens. It explores the religious
implications of such an event as well as the faith that one has to
have afterwards. It is ironic that Arroway falls back on faith to
believe her journey took place upon her return after having shunned
faith that others had in God before. The movie did not deal with the
Cold War politics that Sagan’s book dealt with mainly because of the
release date of this movie. The movie was made well after the end of
the Cold War and the efforts to build a space pod for space travel is
depicted as being an international effort.
The feasibility of the events in Contact is not too far from reality.

The movie makes the assumption that the alien civilization that
contacted us is far more advanced than humans. If contact was made
today it could only be achieved with the assistance of a civilization
far more advanced than our human race. Radio and television signals
have been travelling in space for over 60 years and an alien
civilization that is 100 light years away would first have to be able
to recognize the waves and be able to interpret them as being signals
from another civilization and respond to them accordingly. Everything
before the construction of an alien vessel to transport a human
through space seems very possible. The alien vessel however is rather
wishful thinking upon our part. If an alien civilization were to
detect our presence, it is more likely that they would want to satisfy
their curiosity as much as we would and would not be so eager to
transport one of our own species to their planet.
Descriptions of research facilities in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and New
Mexico were very realistic and impressive. The fact that a few of the
characters were based on actual scientists made the movie even more
interesting. That and the inclusion of subtle scientific tidbits
really helped carry the movie for the avid amateur astronomer. The
attention to detail can be witnessed in the details regarding the
distance of the star regarding the transmission and reception of the
radio signal. The star “Vega” is said to be something like 26 light
years away from earth which makes probability of receiving a signal
from there after the first television transmission from Germany in
1936 very likely within the parameters of the movie. This attention
to detail is undoubtedly due to the contribution of Ann Druyan who
worked on the series “Cosmos” with Carl Sagan. Another scene that is
pure fun for the SETI aficionado is the scene where Jodie Foster’s
character is explaining to Mathew McConaughey’s character about the
Drake Equation without mentioning it in so many words and plugs in her
own numbers, revealing the possibility for millions of civilizations
in the Universe that are advanced like us. Uniquely interesting
tid-bits also made this movie an enjoyable experience for people who
have followed the exploits of SETI and Frank Drake. One of the scenes
that struck me in particular was the scene of the Woodstock-like
gathering outside the New Mexico facility after the announcement of
the signal’s discovery had been made. The spectacle was very amusing
with Elvis impersonators holding up signs that said “Viva Las VEGA”
and Neo-Nazis chanting “Hitler LIVES on Vega!”. But what was
interesting was an areal shot of the scene where one can see a huge
hot air balloon with the word “Oz” written on it. This was an obvious
reference to Drake’s Project Ozma, named after the Princess of Oz in
Frank Baum’s popular Oz series, was the first attempt by humans to
listen for messages using a radio telescope at Green Bank, W.

The first half of Contact is very realistic and very thought
provoking and the latter half is just wishful thinking based on a
series of “what ifs” which pervade the movie. The one thing that
Contact achieves is the clarification of the question of man’s
possible contact with alien civilizations from an IF to a WHEN.