Category Archives: Robert Zemeckis

Contact – Robert Zemeckis

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When I decide to watch a film, I usually do my homework first. I check out the plot of the film, I watch the trailer and I go through the director’s work. It was a different story when it came to watching Contact.

In last couple of months I have been following American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and his thoughts about the Universe. The man has a very entertaining way of explaining the most difficult scientific theories. In an interview about Interstellar, this guy was asked about his favourite science fiction film. And that’s when I was introduced to Contact. When a person of this caliber assigns this position to a film, it becomes unmissable by default.

So without knowing who directed the film and who wrote the script, I immersed myself, with very high expectations… Waiting to be amazed.

Before you read any further let me tell you that the following is not a review. It is my understanding of various themes the film tries to bring forward.

Relationships:

Arroway loses her mother during her birth and her father at the age of 9. She forgets to keep her father’s medicines in the right place so she thinks of her as the reason of his death. She has all the good reasons to believe that all the people she genuinely loves, leave her. As a young and enigmatic writer Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) steps into her life, she proceeds with caution. She limits her involvement to such an extent that her relationship should never distract her from her primary purpose.

While Arroway has a very practical approach of looking at things, Joss is a spiritual person. Not just in a religious manner but also even in everyday life, he chooses his words very meticulously giving everything a deeper meaning. Joss might be the representation of those who believe in supreme powers beyond our cognition.

Science, politics and faith:

The film very profoundly tells the audience that in order to become an ideal civilization, humanity must accept the common grounds in faith and science. At the same time, faith is not to be confused with organized religion. The film highlights that it is imperative for a man to find his own version of faith and religion while politics is another major hurdle, which prevents humans from being a greater civilization.

Philanthropy:

When the lead character of the film, Eleanor Arroway finds her project in jeopardy due to the extravagant budget it proposes, Hadden Suit, a mysterious investor comes to the rescue. Hadden helps the protagonist more than once in her quest both financially and morally as well. And throughout the film the character has not shown any other interest than helping humanity. Even though the film progresses due to the efforts of Arroway, Hadden’s contribution to decoding the message sent by aliens is unparalleled. However, after Arroway returns from her visit to the exoplanet due to the lack of physical evidence, it is concluded that she never left Earth and the whole incident was a hoax played by Hadden.

Hadden’s story meets a very sad conclusion when all of his efforts are not recognized the way they should. But isn’t that the point of a selfless good deed?

Relationships (Part II)

Stuff changes when Arroway meets the alien. The alien takes a human form and appears as her father replicating several images from her memories. On Earth she finds it impossible to explain her experience to the world. The scientist in her accepts the most logical reason that she never left earth and what she felt was simply a delusion. But somewhere deep inside, she is sure that what she felt was real. She understands that her experience cannot be explained through science but through something else. This spiritual experience makes her believe in the forces, which our knowledge cannot explain right now but someday it will. She has no reasons but she develops a little bit of faith. And from being an atheist she becomes a skeptic.

Robert Zemeckis

I was completely satisfied with the film and I was just waiting for the credits to appear. As I said earlier, I had zero knowledge about the film when I decided to watch it. And I also skipped the opening credits because the first sequence is so awesome. When the first credit appeared and it said Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it was a wonderful surprise. Out of the 7 films of this man I have watched so far, not a single one has disappointed me. So in a way, it was not a surprise that I loved this one.

Where does the film stand?

The film is a science fiction, based on the novel by Carl Sagan. However, if you look from the point of view of Joss, it is a spiritual one. Arroway has that supernatural and vague experience because she needed to have one. Her devotion to find extra terrestrial intelligent life led her to a series of events which were destined only for her to experience and none other.

I had high expectations from Interstellar and it failed me. I felt the science of interstellar was great but the climax was too dumbed down and not scientific. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a brilliant film. But even after several viewings, (just like any other film by Kubrick) I cannot understand the film completely. Contact falls exactly in the middle. It is smart enough to make you think. It is sly at times. And sometimes it just teases you making you doubt. That’s what makes it even more enjoyable.

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#5 Robert Zemeckis – Cast Away

“I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up.”

~ Gayle Forman, If I Stay

 

I’ve always wanted to write about this one. A major reason being that I admire being alone on an island, literally and figuratively as well. I am the one who enjoys company of a few. I find it difficult to share my private space with others. To be very frank, just like the protagonist in the film, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) I am a workaholic, self indulgent man of many follies. I confess. Rather than explaining more about the plot of the film, I would like to make this blog post about what I take back from the film. And of course some interesting trivia!

1. Life really finds a way of surprising you: We wish that we had known all the twists and turns life has to offer. But would it be as exciting as it is? We lose things we hold so close and sometimes we are receive the rewards we never asked for. Whatever it may be, life is the only thing we have.

2. If you truly want to know a man, push him to his limits and push him some more: We do not know our capabilities. It is wrong to presume our limits based on others experiences. All of us are unique and in that all of us are the same. Same goes with one’s personality. It is easy to be good when in abundance. It is simple to follow a moral code when one lies in the cocoon of law and order.

3. All of us are a little myopic: If some things are too nearby, if they are easily available; we hardly value their presence. The smallest of conveniences bring the greatest of joys. Now these things maybe anything, even a person.

4. There are no misfortunes; there are only opportunities: Every opportunity cloaks itself as a misfortune. She has to do that in order to preserve herself from the undeserving ones. Only the few willing to take a step towards uncovering what lies beneath may find the treasure.

5. Hope is a really good thing, maybe the best of the things. And no good thing ever dies: This one comes from The Shawshank Redemption.

6. A tinge of tragedy is the reality of living: No good thing ever comes out of a story without obstacles. They have a very important role to play.


 

Did you know?

For the character of Wilson (played by a volleyball) actual lines were written. Like any volleyball, Wilson did not utter them. They were simply for Tom Hank’s reference. We see wonderful performances on screen. The hardwork that it requires comes from a lot of sources that often go uncredited.

Several crew members were abandoned on the same island for some days. Later on they were questioned on what they did with their quality time. Some of the activities were: having trouble lighting a fire, opening a coconut, talking to a volleyball, collecting packages washed up on the beach, and catching fish. All of which are essential scenes in the film.

The name Chuck Noland is kind of a pun. If you write it this way C Noland it sounds like “see no land”

When the director of the film was asked about the mysterious package that Chuck finds on the island and refuses to open; he said that there was a waterproof, solar-powered satellite phone. I think this has to be a joke. But I’d love to think what if Chuck had decided to open it while on the island.

Apart from that, I just stumbled upon this wonderful article by Drake Bennett which uses some references from the film to explain a very interesting fact.

#4 Robert Zemeckis – Forrest Gump

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring — these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”

~ John Burroughs, Leaf and Tendril

The film is ranked 14th in the IMDb top 250 list.

Twenty years ago, in 1994 there were these three movies, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump. Many consider 1994 to be such an iconic year for cinema because of these three films. All of these had their contribution to make towards the industry for what it is today. All of these were successful in their own fashion. And all of these were totally different from each other in all terms. No matter how many times I watch these I can never get enough of them.

I think The Back to the Future trilogy was how I was introduced to Robert Zemeckis. The first part of the trilogy is a very special movie for my whole family. Even as a kid, I could recognize the power of detailing and how it could enhance the overall understanding of the film. So much can be said in such a little time. That is what cinema is all about. We witness the journey of a child as he is born through his teenage right till his grave in the short span of two and a half hours. And yet we feel that the story is somewhat about us. The trick is to get the details right.

The first ten minutes of the film define how your entire film is going to be. This may or may not suit all the genres but at least in the Back to the Future trilogy and even in Forrest Gump, we were given a hint of what the film is all about in the first ten minutes or so. The opening sequence of Forrest Gump is one of the most iconic opening sequences of all times. Apart from the brilliance in the execution and stunning VFX, the relevance to the story has made it so exceptional.

Have you seen the film Guide by Vijay Anand? No matter how different the plot is, I cannot fail to recognize the similarities in the structure of both the films. Both the films have more than three acts. There is a resolution to every story and more importantly, just like in real life; events keep happening regardless of the final conclusion. What supports my argument is that the protagonists in both the films start their regular lives and circumstances take them through various adventures. Ultimately leading to an intimate, spiritual experience for them. Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

(Spoilers ahead)

Apart from the compelling performances, I admire how honestly the story is told. It is completely from Forrest’s perspective. (At times they have taken the liberty of showing us how the female lead character had been doing all this while, but there are only glimpses.) Nothing that Forrest wouldn’t understand has been said. That is where the film makes us believe that we are looking at the world through the eyes of a man who understands so little. The film makes Forrest run away from certain things and it makes him embrace some new things. Just like life. Every end is the start of a new beginning. Just like life.


Jenny Curran: Were you scared in Vietnam?

Forrest Gump: Yes. Well, I-I don’t know. Sometimes it would stop raining long enough for the stars to come out… and then it was nice. It was like just before the sun goes to bed down on the bayou. There was always a million sparkles on the water… like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny, it looked like there were two skies one on top of the other. And then in the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It’s so beautiful.

Jenny Curran: I wish I could’ve been there with you.

Forrest Gump: You were.


 

Overall, Forrest Gump is completely an American formula film. The incidences covered in it are so perfect that every American person could connect with them. It is the story of a generation. I love how apolitical they’ve managed to be while doing so. The film won the 67th Academy Awards for the Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film EditingRoger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “I’ve never met anyone like Forrest Gump in a movie before, and for that matter I’ve never seen a movie quite like ‘Forrest Gump.’ Neither has any of us. 🙂


I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.

#3 Robert Zemeckis/ Spielberg – Back to the future (Part III)

Control your anger. It is just one letter away from ‘D’anger.

~ Unknown

Our memory is selective. For us, time is highly relative. Days, months, years tend to pass before we know it and some moments tend to linger for longer than usual. When we are one day old, the next day means 1/2 of our conscious life. When we are ten years old, the same one day means only 1/3650 of our life. That is why we tend to make more memories when we are young. We are open to experiences, which will occupy a greater space in our life and hence our memory!

If we think about it, all the three parts happen within the span of two days for the rest of the world. But for Marty it takes longer. Because whatever happens to him, is relatively more important to him than the rest of the world. For him, time moves slowly!

Marty fixes the time machine with the help of Doc Brown in 1955 and he is all set to go back to his present. Instead he goes to the old west after reading about Doc’s murder. I think both the characters switched places over here. Marty became the guide and Doc became the hero. The film unveils how Marty sculpts himself into a mature adult while Doc discovers the adolescent inside him as he falls in love!

There are moments in the film which make you recall a few incidences from the prequels, which are thoroughly enjoyable. I am sure, for the people who watched the trilogy at the time of its release, it must have been  a journey through time for them, witnessing such amazing references. The first and the third part have a lot in common, structure wise. Yet, the third part seems fresh. That is very commendable.

I loved Doc more than Marty in the film. But the most interesting character for me, is Seamus McFly. Marty’s great great grandfather. I don’t think he appears for more than 10 minutes on screen. Yet, he manages to be Marty’s guide. Telling him to control his anger. The character is played by Michael J Fox himself. And this adds a lot to the story. You see, every one of us right now want to go back in time and guide our younger selves. Michael J Fox does that! How cool…

The film ends on a very positive note. Jennifer hands over the blank paper from the future to Doc and asks him, “What does it mean?” And this is where I have my moment!

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.”

I think I have no problem in believing that Marty and Jennifer lived happily ever after without any hinderances. The lines convinced me. And I enjoyed the closure!

I feel overwhelmed at the end of the third film every time I watch the trilogy. The last film was released in 1990 and in 1991 Michael J Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I find it poetic. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for him. A small incident changing someone’s life, that’s what Back to the future trilogy spoke about, and that is what happened to Fox. Cinema loves poetry. The “cinemagician”, the inventor of  multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color – Georges Méliès died penniless. Superman, Christopher Reeve ended up quadriplegic. And then we have Fox! But maybe these obstacles made them transcend boundaries and become a legend.

Even after this incident Fox has given us many more moments to cherish. Homeward Bound, Spin City, Atlantis and Stuart Little!

Back to the future (Part I)

Back to the future (Part II)

#2 Robert Zemeckis/ Spielberg – Back to the future (Part II)

Doc: The encounter could create a time paradox, the result of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe! Granted, that’s worst-case scenario. The destruction might in fact be very localized, limited to merely our own galaxy.

Marty: Well, that’s a relief.

The quote is complicated enough to convey why this film took a giant dump on the first part. It is way too complicated! Or in other words, “Heavy!”

I feel it takes time for the audience to blend into the character’s boots. Unless the audience is totally convinced, that the lead character or at least one of the main character is a reflection of themselves, it is unlikely that they will care for what they do.

Jumping from intro to pitch is good in some cases. It should’ve worked in this one too, assuming that people know the first part fairly well. Over here, it was a bit too much. Had I watched this film in theaters, I feel I would’ve missed a major part of the plot as I managed to get comfortable on my seat, figuring out which hand-rest is mine. And frankly speaking I don’t have a flying DeLorean to go back in time and catch up on what I missed.

Was it necessary?

The first part is a legend. It inspired so many films in the future. The makers have also confirmed that MIB III was inspired by Back To The Future (1985). The story had it’s proper climax. The hero has sorted out his life, he kisses his girl and they celebrate a new beginning. A perfect ending! Did we need a sequel over here? Content wise? I don’t think so. But we’re into making commercial cinema, aren’t we?

Doc himself says that Time Travel is not to be used for personal benefit. Then why is he concerned about his Son going to jail in the future? Why doesn’t Doc just use the sleep inducing machine on Marty’s son in the future himself, so that he never shows up at the restaurant? Furthermore. if he really wants to help Marty, why doesn’t he just tell him to be careful while driving his truck and not to hit the Rolls Royce. Frankly speaking that caused a chain reaction. So my problem being, ‘was it necessary?’

The film lacks a good obstacle. I understand that getting back the Almanac is the major obstacle, but come on; they have the time machine, fully functioning! Plus, there are two of them right now. If one person messes it up the the other can go to the same point in time and guide him like Morpheus guides Neo in The Matrix.

And there are several other points in the story which I am not to convinced with. But I do not want the analysis to be entirely a rant. So…

The film has several good references to the pop culture. My favourite being, the mockery of Spielberg’s own film Jaws. Remember, “Sharks never looked real”? It serves as a good base for the much better third part, giving a much more logical explanation for Marty being Clint Eastwood in the Old West. The film ends by showing what happens in the third part. Which suggests that the makers planned and shot both the parts simultaneously. So when we talk of the second part, we need to consider the trilogy as a whole. In that manner, the film does not have an end only the introduction to the last part!

Note: The best foreshadowing ever –

Doc:  Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!

To be concluded!

#1 Robert Zemeckis/ Spielberg* – Back to the future (Part I)

“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?”

He stared at me, baffled. “Why the fuck would you do that?”

~ Stephen King

The film is ranked 49th in the IMDb top 250 list.

Time is such a vague yet interesting concept. Every great mind of modern times has spent time thinking about “time”. And for me, the Back to the future trilogy remains the best work in this subject.

If we take the time travel part out of the picture, we have a simple premise – a troubled teenager trying to correct a few wrongs in his life. This is what intrigues me! A simple premise embellished with a compelling treatment. Every good film has this feature in common.

I have watched this film so many times by now that I know the film frame by frame. Yet every time I watch it, I get excited when, in Marty’s language he discovers something, “heavy”. I love explaining the intricate details to my younger brother, just the way my dad did to me. It feels like passing on a legacy.

Why is the film so special?

Foreshadowing – a sign or warning about an incident in future

If I am correct, every major event casts foreshadow. The plutonium used in the DeLorean is shown missing on the news in the very first scene. We get an idea that Marty (Michael J. Fox) will not have any plutonium in the car, as Doc (Christopher Lloyd) mentions carrying extra shards during time travel. It is like letting the audience think that they knew it was coming, so that when it actually happens they link it to the former events and as a result recall it. If your foreshadowing succeeds you have an active audience. Nothing works better than an active audience!

The film does not really highlight this theory, but still I feel the makers must have studied it while making.

The Butterfly Effect – Can the flutter of a butterfly in Brazil cause tornado in Texas? Our smallest actions, do they have strong repercussions on the Universe? Wikipedia makes it real boring. I gave a more poetic, simple version.

Lastly, talking about the theme now. Ah, again! Who would not like to go back in past and see the moments when their parents actually fell for each other. I would like to see my father sweeping my mother off her feet. I would love to check how much of it is true and how much is, you know, amplified! I love the film because I can clearly see myself as the protagonist. I always have and I always will. And I am sure I am not the only one to feel so!

* I could not help but enter Spielberg’s name in the title. You have all the ingredients to a good Spielberg film in this one although he did not actually direct it.