Doctor Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is a SETI programmer at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), the President’s science advisor, pulls the funding from SETI, thinking it’s useless. But Hadden Industries, run by reclusive billionaire S.R. Hadden (John Hurt) provides the funds to continue the project at the Very Large Array in New Mexico.
Four years later, Arroway discovers a signal repeating a sequence of prime numbers, coming from the Vega System, 26 light-years away. Drumlin and the National Security Council attempt to take control of the program. Inside the signal is Adolf Hitler’s opening address at the 1936 Olympics, the first Earth signal powerful enough to have reached Vega. The project is put under tight security and followed all over the world. In 63,000 pages of data, but discovered by Arroway and Hadden, there seems to be the schematics for a complex transport device.
The nations of the world fund its construction at the Kennedy Space Centre. Arroway, as an atheist, is not thought appropriate to use the machine and Drumlin is chosen, but a religious terrorist destroys it, killing Drumlin. Hadden, cancer-stricken and living at the Mir Space Station, tells Arroway that the U.S. government is building a second machine in Japan, and Arroway will go. She enters the huge, complex device, carrying several recording devices.
She sees a communications array at Vega, and a civilization on another planet. She finds herself on a beach similar to the one she knew as a child, and her deceased father (David Morse) seems to approach her. He tells her the journey is only beginning for the human species. She falls unconscious and awakens on Earth, in the pod. The control team saw her go nowhere. She feels she was gone for 18 hours, but the recordings are nothing but static. A Congressional committee decides it was all a hoax, but the White House knows that there may have been only static, but there was 18 hours of it.
The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, based on the 1985 novel by Carl Sagan. He and his wife Ann Druyan wrote the outline for the script. The film won the Hugo and received numerous awards and nominations at the Saturn Awards. Jodie Foster’s role was based on Jill Tarter, head of Project Phoenix of the SETI Institute. Carl Sagan died before the film was finished and it was dedicated to him. Special effects were by Industrial Light and Magic, Pixar, and Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital. President Bill Clinton’s speech on the meteor from Mars was edited to show him speaking about alien contact, and it worked perfectly. The three-minute opening zoom into the universe was glorious. It was the longest continuous computer-generated effect until the opening sequence for The Day After Tomorrow. There were other amazing sequences.
The transportation device was created by Steve Burg, using his design for an unused time displacement device for Terminator 2. The music was by Alan Silvestri of Back to the Future, Predator, The Abyss, Forest Gump, The Polar Express, Night at the Museum, Captain America, and the Avengers films fame. The alien transmission sound is based on the sound of the TARDIS in Doctor Who. Apparently, Jodie Foster didn’t get an Oscar nomination because she would not reveal the identity of the father of her child. That was assumed to mean she was a Lesbian. She was, of course, but that was not the goddamn business of the Motion Picture Academy. It is not really certain that Adolf Hitler was the first human to appear in the Galaxy, though that might explain why they won’t talk to us.