Contact - 1997
Story & Screenshots
The film opens with a shot of Earth from space and an audio track of various samples of recognizable mass communications from world history. The shot suddenly begins to travel outwards from Earth at impossible speed, passing Mars, the Asteroid Belt of the Solar System, passing Jupiter, travelling through Saturn's rings and leaving our Solar System.
Travel continues even faster, seemingly faster than light, passing the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula and out of the Milky Way galaxy. The trip passes through another galaxy, finally showing us a field of thousands of galaxies. After a few moments we pass through the iris of a young girl, Ellie Arroway, who is reciting a HAM radio greeting "C-Q" ("seek you") in her bedroom.
Ellie has a gift for science and is encouraged by her kindly father to communicate with people in distant cities on her HAM. Ellie makes contact with someone in Pensacola, Florida, her longest communication yet at over a thousand miles from her home near Madison, Wisconsin. That night Ellie asks if she could ever have a transmitter powerful enough to talk to her deceased mother (who died in childbirth).
Her father says he doesn't know but suggests that Ellie is tenacious enough that she probably could accomplish such a task one day. Ellie's father dies one night while they stargaze. Ellie seems to blame herself for not getting her father his heart medication in time.
Ellie grows up to become a brilliant astrophysicist, earns her doctorate and begins her research with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute) at Arecibo in Puerto Rico.
At Arecibo, Ellie meets influential spiritual ponderer Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), and has an intense, brief, but detached (on her part) affair with him. One day while looking in a Cracker Jack box, he finds a toy compass and gives it to her, 'so she wont lose her way.' Palmer wants to get closer to Ellie in terms of a relationship, but Ellie is more preoccupied with her search for extra-terrestrial life.
Shortly after, Ellie is angered when Drumlin pulls her team's funding. She gets in a heated debate defending her work, to which Drumlin chastises her for spending time on 'nonsense.'
Taking action, Ellie and her team pool together to try and get funding for their project from private sources. Ellie and her team spend 18 months searching, before finding their benefactor in the form of S. R. Hadden (John Hurt).
Hadden is a billionaire investor who had been known for innovation and had fallen out of favor in the scientific community.
Hadden's funding allows Ellie to have access to the 'Very Large Array' (VLA) in New Mexico, a facility with 27 large radio antenna dishes which Ellie uses to continue her search. Even here, Drumlin and the scientific community are not far behind.
With four years of finding nothing, and even though all funding for the project is privatized by Hadden Industries, and because of Ellie's relentless pursuit and reputation for bizarre experiments, the project is still in danger of being shut down by Drumlin again. Even so, Ellie vows not to quit.
One evening, while listening intently, Ellie hears a powerful signal: a prime number pattern emanating from the star Vega, confirmed by others the world over, undeniable and strong in its pulsing power. Other astronomers in world-wide countries are utilized to record the signal, since the VLA is only aligned to Vega for a certain amount of time. Shortly thereafter, Drumlin inserts himself into the situation, taking credit for Ellie's work.
Ellie is also pressured by the president's National Security Adviser, Michael Kitz (James Woods) who wishes to militarize the project, feeling that due to other countries having heard the message, Ellie has compromised national security (even though the message was not specifically 'USA-only' in nature).
Kitz and his assistant Rachel Constantine (Angela Bassett) inform the President when a video feed of Hitler is found mixed into the prime number pulse pattern. It is from the 1936 Olympics, the first television signal strong enough to leave the atmosphere, but the implications are threatening. Is the alien intelligence seeing a friend in Hitler, or merely bouncing the signal back to Earth?
Religious right mouthpiece Richard Rank (Rob Lowe) reports that the fundamentalist camp is wary. At the same time, huge crowds of people descend on the VLA compound in New Mexico, trying to hear the signal. Some come for support, others, such as a religious zealot named Joseph (Jake Busey), have come to condemn Ellie and the others, preaching against science.
A short time later it is found that interlaced within the signal, are a number of pages of digital data, over 60,000 in total. Ellie is then given authority over the deciphering, but after many months, the edges of the pages do not seem capable of lining up. Ellie soon gets her answer in the form of Hadden himself, who meets with Ellie privately.
He then explains that Ellie and her team had been deciphering the pages in only two dimensions. The pages it seems, were created in three dimensions. With this revelation, Ellie is able to find the "primer", or the key to decoding the alien's message. Within the pages, there appear to be some form of blueprints.
While Ellie speculates they could be a transport, Kitz and his security detail feel it could be a weapon of some kind, falling back on speculation that any alien life forms would be hostile to mankind. The decryption team is able to determine that the plans are indeed for a type of transport and contain an image of a human-like figure.
Construction of the machine is estimated to cost as much as about 300 billion dollars, with a number of countries vying for the ability to join in construction, or to have a representative from their country vie for the chance to travel in the machine. A special panel is convened to select the appropriate candidate for the trip. Ellie is surprised when Drumlin resigns his post to become a candidate.
Ellie is also a candidate, and makes it to the final round for deciding who will go. Palmer (who is on the panel) cripples Ellie's chances of being selected by asking her if she believes in God. Ellie indirectly answers the question by not stating a direct answer. Her falter is then picked up by Drumlin, who then speaks 'passionately,' using God in his closing remarks.
His 'grandstanding' attitude towards the panel works, and he is chosen to go. Ellie feels betrayed by Palmer, who states that he couldn't choose someone who doesn't believe in God. Ellie angrily tells him that she told the truth, whereas Drumlin just told them what they wanted to hear. She then returns the compass he gave her.
After a few years of construction the machine is completed at Cape Canaveral, and it's test-run is televised on all major news networks. While Drumlin is supervising the test from the machine, Ellie is allowed to be part of the test's control team at NASA's Mission Control.
All seems to be going well in testing, until Joseph (who Ellie had seen previously preaching against the project at the VLA in New Mexico) is spotted on security cameras in the machine's gantry, with explosives strapped to his chest.
Drumlin and a number of men try to subdue him, but Joseph detonates the explosives, destroying the machine and those conducting the test inside the machine, including Drumlin.