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Hollywood Focus: Contact's Oscar Nomination

Copyright 1998 by Larry Klaes (lklaes@coseti.org)


Published by the SETI League, Inc.


The film Contact has been nominated for Best Sound for the Academy Awards Oscars...and that is all.

I am underwhelmed.

I thought at the very least Jodie Foster would get a Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of astronomer Ellie Arroway. I guess Contact happened too far back in the distant year of 1997 for Academy judges to remember it much.

And I am sure the Academy felt that someone else should get a chance for the little golden statue, seeing as Jodie has won it before. But somehow that didn't stop Jack Nicholson from being placed in the running again, for a record eleventh time.

Ironically, though, Men in Black, which came out just days before Contact in early July, has received three Oscar nominations: For Best Art Direction, Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (Danny Elfman), and Best Makeup.

The other films of 1997 featuring aliens, The Fifth Element and Starship Troopers, have received nominations for Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects, respectively. None of these films, however, treated the concept of extraterrestrial intelligence with any serious level of scientific accuracy. Certainly not near the level of Contact or two other great films of this genre, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Andromeda Strain (1971). Not that Hollywood cares so long as the money keeps pouring in from non-discriminating audiences.

As a capper, Contact did not win any Golden Globe Awards, but The X-Files did win for Best Television Drama. See a trend here?

I realize that the Oscars are really just another way for Hollywood to congratulate itself for making lots of money again on live television to billions of viewers all over the planet Earth (and probably beyond). I am sad that Contact did not win, not only because it deserved to in at least several categories (you think any of those other films I mentioned put the thought and effort to accuracy that Contact did, not to mention a most meaningful message?), but because it will not receive the extra publicity it deserved to further spread Carl Sagan's words to humanity. When Apollo 13 was nominated for Best Picture in 1995, it gained important recognition for space exploration even though it did not win, just by being recognized by the Academy. Ironically, Apollo 13 was also released in July.

The kind of award that Contact was nominated for, Best Sound, is usually the time when most viewers are making a snack, taking a bathroom break, or sleeping until the big awards arrive. And can anyone even tell me why Contact was placed in this category and not any others?

Perhaps what matters are the people who will make the effort to see Contact and learn some valuable lessons from it. And how many other films of recent years have spawned literally dozens of meaningful Web sites as Contact has? Contact may not grab the headlines as Titanic has, but I think in the end when people see past the $200 million special effects (this film's budget could have almost paid for a single Discovery mission to the planets), they will find that Contact has the more lasting effect - and at less than half the cost of Titanic!

When Contact was released in the video stores last December, I was pleased to see that in my local store, an entire case of tapes that reached nearly to the ceiling of just Contact was empty! And this remained the case weeks later.

I am curious: Have other SETI League members encouraged others to see Contact, especially those who normally would not bother with such a film? What were the reactions to their seeing it?


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