The sci-fi genre is an opportunity. When making a “sci-fi” movie, filmmakers have the tools at their disposal to essentially tackle any subject they want. It provides an excellent foundation for anything from a father-daughter story (Interstellar) to an epic rumination on existentialism, human evolution, and artificial intelligence (2001: A Space Odyssey). In the case of the 1997 film Contact, the sci-fi genre is used as a tool to consider one of the greatest conflicts in human history: reconciling faith and science.
Director Robert Zemeckis’ movie is a solid chronicle of this push and pull between faith and science, with Matthew McConaughey standing in for the former, and Jodie Foster siding with the latter. But before Zemeckis came onboard, there was another filmmaker that was developing the adaptation of the Carl Sagan novel: George Miller.
Indeed, the Mad Max filmmaker worked on the screenplay for a year with Sagan and Sagan’s wife Ann Druyan before he parted ways with Warner Bros., so when Steve spoke with Miller in anticipation of his upcoming actioner Mad Max: Fury Road, he of course had to ask the filmmaker about his iteration of Contact.
Miller admits that he never saw Zemeckis’ version, and reveals that he wanted to make a more challenging version of the film than Warner Bros. was comfortable with:
“No [I never saw it]; not any disrespect to Bob Zemeckis. One of the peak moments of my life was to spend a year with Carl Sagan, because he and Ann Druyan wrote that screenplay, and it was just absolutely wonderful to meet those scientists and talk about the movie. But as time went on, it was clear that Warners weren’t prepared to do the movie that I was interested in making. It was gonna be safer, so we agreed to part ways. Then somebody sent me the screenplay they were going to make, and it basically regressed into a much safer, more predictable thing.”
So how would Miller’s film have differed from Zemeckis’ adaptation? The filmmaker elaborated a bit:
“I’m not saying it was going to be 2001, but it was much, much less force-feeding exposition. Most of the dramatic things in the script that they eventually made was people talking about stuff that they should be experiencing, which is seen too much in movies. I don’t think they trusted the audiences enough.”
However, Miller did note that a recent film came closer to what he had in mind:
“Interstellar’s much closer than [Zemeckis’] Contact. Not that I’ve seen Contact, but I have read the screenplay.”
After seeing what Miller did with Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s even tougher to deal with the fact that we came thisclose to having a sci-fi movie written by Carl Sagan and directed by George Miller. That said, Zemeckis’ iteration isn’t too shabby.
Look for more from Steve’s interview with Miller on Collider soon.