Why Contact Director Robert Zemeckis Almost Passed On The Sci-Fi Classic – SlashFilm


While “Contact” features a diegetic needle-drop of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” at one point (this is a Zemeckis joint, after all, so of course there are vintage rock songs), an early version of its script incorporated this concept in a much more literal way. As Zemeckis explained to Vulture for its oral history of the movie in 2022, this is also what made him say no to directing the first time around despite his love for Sagan’s work in general:

“(…) I always shrug at the design of the aliens — how does anyone ever know what to make them look like? An early draft had the sky open up at the end and all the aliens came down to prove that Ellie’s journey was truthful. And I just said, ‘No, thank you.'”

One can understand Zemeckis’ hesitancy. For every Xenomorph or E.T., film history is littered with alien designs that are either derivative of the classics or little more than humans with some makeup. (Phasers down, Trekkies; I’m well aware “Star Trek” has a canonical explanation for why most of its aliens are humanoid.) With “Forrest Gump” under his belt, though, Zemeckis knew he would be “creatively in charge of the movie” when the “Contact” script passed his away again. In the end, he even devised a way to portray the film’s aliens without showing them (which I won’t spoil here for those who’ve yet to watch the movie).

More importantly, the way “Contact” depicts its other-worldly beings continues its core theme of reason and faith not having to be at odds with each other. The staying power of that message is only further proof that Zemeckis was operating at the height of his abilities when he made the film.

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