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Contact (1997) Poster

(1997)

Trivia

Jump to: Cameo (2) | Spoilers (18)
The remark made throughout the movie by different characters that if humans were the only life in the universe it would "be a terrible waste of space" is a famous quote by author Carl Sagan.
Author and producer Carl Sagan died during production of the film. He was reportedly taking great care to ensure that "science" was accurately depicted in the film.
Footage of a press conference by President Bill Clinton was re-edited and altered and caused some controversy. A few years later, CNN would ban the use of its logo in fictional movies, as well as bar its reporters from doing cameo appearances (although Larry King does appear from time to time).
Carl Sagan was to have a cameo as a member of the committee selecting an occupant for The Machine, but died before the scene was filmed.
The "UFO ABDUCTION INSURANCE" banner across an RV is from a real company that was paid by Warner Brothers to use their novel idea in the movie.
William Fichtner's character in the film, a blind astrophysicist with enhanced hearing as a result of his condition, is named Kent Clark, a play on the name of Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent. The character is based on a real-life blind SETI scientist, Kent Cullers.
President Bill Clinton's appearance was taken from an actual press conference on the White House South Lawn in 1997 - if you look closely at his hair, it appears brighter than that of the other people in the shot. His remarks were regarding the real-life discovery of an arctic meteorite discovered to be from Mars.
Dr. Arroway hypothesizes that the message could be an "Encyclopaedia Galactica", a concept envisioned by Carl Sagan and meant to be a database for all the worlds within the Milky Way Galaxy, which Sagan shown in his TV series Cosmos (1980). The term originates from Isaac Asimov's science-fiction novel "Foundation".
In order to make contact, intelligent life would likely choose such a "standard" cosmic frequency as hydrogen and multiply it by a transcendental number such as pi. Not only would this frequency be a common place to look for radio signals, it would be an unmistakable sign of intelligent life.
The long shot of Ellie as a child running up the stairs to get medicine is a shot that is practically impossible. The shot was actually filmed as a normal shot would have been and then flipped and placed in the mirror which, at the time of shooting was a blue screen placement in the cabinet.
The movie establishes that the signal was launched from planet Earth in 1936, during the Berlin Olympic Games' opening. Since Vega is 26 light-years from planet Earth, the earliest the signal would have returned could have been in 1988. However, since we see the characters in the film using things such as Netscape, the year in which the signal was received would have been the mid-1990s, suggesting a span of several years between the aliens on Vega receiving the signal and them sending it back to Earth.
When Ellie returns to her apartment, just before receiving the first message from Hadden, as she enters the room she is reflected in a mirror; at the bottom left of the mirror is a photo of Carl Sagan, who authored the novel on which this film is based.
The character of Dr. Arroway was modeled after two of the pioneering radio astronomers of the 1930s and 1940s, Grote Reber and John Kraus; both men were ham radio operators at an early age. Another model for the character's work was real-life SETI researcher Jill Cornell Tarter.
When Eleanor is pitching for funds at the boardroom, she is wearing the trademark turtleneck and beige suit that Carl Sagan is famous for.
The alien transmission (sound effect) that is being heard by Eleanor Arroway is a very minor variation of the sound effect made by the "T.A.R.D.I.S" as it powers up in Doctor Who (1963).
The dish at the beginning of the movie is the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, and is actually used for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research. In 1983, director Peter Hyams went there scouting for a location to film the opening scene of the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) but found that the dish was far too dirty to use as a filming location. Instead he opted to use the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, which is also featured prominently in Contact.
Just like their characters in the movie, in real life Jodie Foster is an Atheist and Matthew McConaughey is a devout Christian.
S. R. Hadden's name is taken from Esarhaddon, the ancient king of Assyria.
Palmer Joss tells Dr. Arroway that, according to Einstein's theory of special relativity, for four years travelled at the speed of light, 50 years would pass on earth and that everyone that she loved would be gone when she returned. This concept is part of Interstellar (2014), in which also starred Matthew McConaughey.
Robert Zemeckis had asked Jodie Foster to repeat the pod scene six times, each time with a different expression (intense joy, fear, sadness and so on) and then the VFX crew quickly morphed her face from one take to the next. For a moment they also used the face of Dr. Arroway as a child.
All three acts of the film begin with a zoomed out shot of a celestial body, immediately followed by a tight shot of Ellie's eyes. This echoes Carl Sagan's opinion that humans are a way for the universe to experience itself.
In the Cape Canaveral scenes, NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building is visible in the background. Its interior is vast enough that airflow must be controlled to prevent humidity from condensing on the ceiling and "raining"
Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan began the concept in 1980 as a movie treatment that was never picked up. Sagan finished the story alone and in 1985, released the book "Contact" with no further assistance from Druyan.
During the filming of the few exterior scenes at the Very Large Array, the array was actually collecting data. Most of the scenes shot at the VLA were actually done at a full scale reproduction set of the control facility in Culver City, CA.
Young Ellie's father calls her "Sparks". Sparks is a nickname given to early radio operators who used spark-gap transmitters.
Peter Jackson did some visual effects for this film, repaying the favor to Robert Zemeckis, who executive-produced his film The Frighteners (1996).
The MIT yearbook showed with Jodie Foster's character is the actual MIT undergraduate yearbook Class of 1983, and other photos are those of the actual graduating students.
Jodie Foster was interested in this movie as early as 1995. After initially deciding to drop out, her interest was resparked by a new revision of the script.
At the beginning of the movie, various TV and radio transmissions can be heard coming from Earth into outer space. As the camera moves away from Earth, these transmissions become older (i.e. the first transmissions made would be further out into space). Among the transmissions heard are:

-'Angry Days' - Lagwagon (1992)

-Third Eye Blind - Semi-Charmed Life (1997)

-Spice Girls - Wannabe (1997)

-Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet (1993)

-Mr. Mister - Broken Wings (1985)

-Theme from Dallas (1978)

-Lipps Inc. - Funkytown (1979)

-A Taste of Honey - Boogie Oogie Oogie (1978)

-The Tramps - Disco Inferno (1976)

-Neil Armstrong's iconic "One small step for a man" (1969)

-Robert Kennedy shot in hotel (1968)

-Martin Luther King's speech "I have a dream" (1963)

-President Kennedy shot in Dallas (1963)

-Theme from The Twilight Zone (1959)

-Domenico Modugno - Volare (1958)

-Theme from The Lone Ranger (1949)

-President Roosevelt's speech "A date which will live in infamy" (1941)

-Hitler's speech in the Berlin Olympic Games' opening (1936, almost unrecognizable)
Actors John Hurt (Hadden) and Tom Skerritt (Drumlin) also starred in Alien (1979), about a hostile extraterrestrial intelligence.
Jena Malone, who played the young Ellie Arroway, has brown eyes. Her eyes were colored blue (to match Jodie Foster's) by computer for the opening shot, which zooms into her eye.
The cult deaths mentioned in a newscast after it is made public that aliens have made contact with earth, is possibly a reference to the 1997 mass suicide committed by the religious UFO group "Heaven's Gate" in a mansion near San Diego. 39 people took arsenic and cyanide in order to let their souls be picked up by extraterrestrials onto a spacecraft following the comet Hale-Bopp. This would have happened about 4 months before the film's release and must have been inserted "at the last minute."
Argus Project, featuring 100+ radio telescopes, is named after a monster with a hundred eyes from Greek mythology.
The Dynamics officer, addressed only as "Gerry" in dialogue, is Gerry Griffin, who in real life was a Flight Director at Mission Control in Houston during the Apollo program.
The UNIX Party button taped to a monitor in the signal analysis scene is geek humor. UNIX is a computer operating system originally created in 1969 at Bell Labs. At the time of filming it held a certain academic counter-culture mystique, being anti-Microsoft and anti-IBM.
Gillian Anderson and Uma Thurman were considered for the role of Ellie Arroway.
This was the last movie seen by Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace mere hours before being gunned down by stalker Andrew Cunanan.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (featured in the film) has a club station which acquired Grote Reber's old call sign "W9GFZ" earlier in 1997. Robert Zemeckis, learning of this tribute, planned to use the same call sign for Arroway in the movie. In the end "W9GFO" was used.
The three ring time machine in the movie was originally designed for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).
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Ellie is based partly on real radio astronomy pioneers and extra-terrestrial intelligence researchers.There's also some Carl Sagan in her. He wanted a female hero to inspire girls to pursue science.
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Robert Zemeckis had initially approached Sidney Poitier to play the president, but the actor turned the role down in favor of The Jackal (1997). Shortly after Poitier's refusal, Zemeckis saw a NASA announcement in August 1996. "Clinton gave his Mars rock speech," the director explained, "and I swear to God it was like it was scripted for this movie. When he said the line 'We will continue to listen closely to what it has to say,' I almost died. I stood there with my mouth hanging open."
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The succession of colors in the space tunnel match the colors of the Chakra points as described in the New Age "religion", starting with red (materialism) and reaching gold (enlightenment).
Francis Ford Coppola filed breach-of-contract suits against Carl Sagan's estate and Warner Brothers, halting the film. He claimed that Sagan had developed the "Contact" premise for Zoetrope Studios (possibly for a Children's Television Workshop program).
All the beers in the Puerto Rico scenes are Medalla Light. It is produced by the only brewery in Puerto Rico larger than a brewpub, and Medalla Light was their only beer until they released a premium beer in 2011.
Jodie Foster said that if she were given the opportunity to go to space - but not come back - she would pass."I'm perfectly happy to be ignorant. Let the mysteries of the universe be clear to someone else."
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To get the technical jargon right, Jodie Foster asked for cue cards for the first time in her career.
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In 2011, Jodie Foster was part of a group of private donors that saved SETI's telescope array in California.
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At the time of filming, Conroy Chino was, in fact, a reporter for KOB-TV, the NBC affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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This was the first time Jodie Foster had ever worked with blue screen technology. "It was a blue room... blue walls, blue roof. It was just blue, blue, blue... it was really tough."
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The film put out a call for "UFO enthusiasts." Most of these extras brought their own wardrobe and props.
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George Miller was initially slated to direct.
Jodie Foster notes on her DVD commentary for the film that the first special effect seen is the changing of the younger Eleanor Arroway's eye colour to match hers. People have pointed out, however, that the opening cgi scene taking the viewer from earth to the outer cosmos would also technically be a special effect.
The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey; and three Oscar nominees: Angela Bassett, James Woods and John Hurt.
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When Ellie is going through the launch and wormhole, she repeats, "I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay." The same phrase is repeated over and over by Scott Glenn in The Right Stuff (1983). The cadence is identical.
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The filmmakers used Joan of Arc as a model for Ellie's spacesuit. They wanted it to look like armour.
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Linda Hunt was considered for the role of President of the United States.
Ralph Fiennes was considered for Palmer Joss, but not cast.
Sidney Poitier was announced for this film but was replaced before filming.
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When Ellie, Fisher and Willie discuss about the origin of the space signal and a possible civilization in Vega (source of the signal, Lyra's star at 26 light-years from Earth), Willie jokes about laser beams and "photon torpedoes". Photon torpedoes are the main weapon shown in the Star Trek (1966) franchise, about a human spacecraft crossing outer space to meet new lifeforms and civilizations.
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With a runtime of 150 minutes, this is the longest film directed by Robert Zemeckis.
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Jenny McCarthy, when her popularity was boosted when she hosted Singled Out (1995), tried to audition for the role of Eleanor.
In the movie, the young Ellie is affectionately called "Sparks" by her father. The actress who plays young Ellie, Jena Malone, is from the city of Sparks, Nevada.
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Richard Rank is based on Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition in the 1990s. Rob Lowe's liberal politics were well-known at the time and it was considered inspired casting.
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During the development of Contact, the production crew watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for inspiration.
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Jodie Foster looks at "O.K. to go" as Ellie's way of saying she's accepted she may not survive.
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Jodie Foster's research included visits with Carl Sagan and Dr. Jill Tarter, director of SETI. Sagan also held a little symposium for cast and crew, outlining the history of astronomy.
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The crew built two replicas of the VLA control center - down to the wall posters and the carpet color. They even borrowed photos of researchers' families.
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Eleanor is Greek for "shining light." So Ellie Arroway points the way to enlightenment.
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In an attempt to create a sense of realism for the storyline, principal CNN news outlet commentators were scripted into Contact. More than 25 news reporters from CNN had roles in the film and the CNN programs Larry King Live (1985) and Crossfire (1982) were also included. Ann Druyan makes a cameo appearance as herself, debating with Richard Rank, on Crossfire (1982).
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The character Eleanor Arroway lost her mother at a very young age and her father at age 9. This is similar to Jodie Foster's character Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) who also lost her mother at a very young age and her father at age 10.
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Both co-writers James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg have worked on adaptations of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan." Hart co-wrote Hook (1991), and Goldenberg co-wrote Peter Pan (2003).
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Jack Nicholson turned down a role.
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According to Robert Zemeckis, Hadden is based on what would happen if a Bill Gates-type loses his mind.
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When in reception Ellie and Palmer comes out to the balcony, Ellie tells Palmer about a basic principle of science called Occam's Razor. Palmer replies funny "Occam's Razor. Sounds like some slasher movie". This is a joke of Matthew McConaughey about himself, since then he starred the slasher movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994).
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According to producer Steve Starkey, James Woods was the only actor they ever had in mind for Kitz.
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This was Jodie Foster's first movie since Nell (1994).
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Matthew McConaughey dropped out of the lead role in The Jackal (1997) in order to be in this film.
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Matthew McConaughey was suggested for the film after A Time to Kill (1996) made him a star. After a screen test of this scene, producer Steve Starkey said, "We never thought of another actor."
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Tom Skerritt had just taken a five-year break from movies to star on Picket Fences (1992).
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Robert Zemeckis always thought of Ellie and Palmer as a classic film romance. Two people who were physically attracted to one another but separated by their ideology."
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To get the zero G effect, the set and camera are upside-down. John Hurt is actually right side up.
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The Message is received over a longer period in the book. Scientific advisers worked out a new idea for the movie, with Carl Sagan's approval.
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Ellie's supporters are in blue, symbolising serenity and showing they're all linked to her.
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During one of the several interviews to promote the movie, Jodie Foster joked saying "If I did it, it should be a four-million movie about three people closed in a room questioning between them: 'Is anybody out there?'".
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Jodie Foster was recorded ahead of time, so the actors in the control room had to time their lines to fit.
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Cameo 

Ann Druyan: Carl Sagan's widow, makes a short cameo appearance, along with former United States Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro.
Ken Ralston: Senior visual effects supervisor is visible in the shot of scientists at VLA watching Ellie testify. Ralston is in the back row in the upper left corner of the frame, with mustache and beard.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

The vehicle in which Ellie Arroway travels through the wormhole system is a sphere surrounded by a dodecahedron, the fourth Platonic solid. This beautiful figure with twelve pentagonal faces was considered by some Greek philosophers to represent the structure of the Universe.
The suicide pill scene is controversial. Carl Sagan claimed that such pills were made available on all NASA missions for use if astronauts were unable to return to Earth. Former astronaut Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, disputes this claim.
The SFX crew deliberately inserted contradicting images in the Pensacola scene at the end, to create a dreamlike feeling. So the beach is brightly lit with no sun in sight, the waves move backwards and the shadows slowly change from one scene to the next.
During one of the stops in her trip through the wormhole, Eleanor notices a crescent of four stars in the sky above an alien location. Later, when Eleanor lands on the alien beach and meets the alien who's taken the form of her deceased father, he picks up a handful of sand from the beach and four of the grains of sand sparkle briefly in the same pattern as the crescent star pattern seen in the wormhole by Eleanor. At the end of the movie as Eleanor sits on the ground looking across the canyon, she picks up a palm full of gravel. As she looks at the gravel, four small pieces of earth in the gravel briefly sparkle, again repeating the same crescent patterns that appeared earlier. The pattern is first seen as pop corn scattered on the floor in the scene when young Elle Arroway finds her dad unconscious.
When the signal's blueprints are revealed to be for a device to transport a human, the "unmistakably ... human figure" in the diagram is actually modeled after a line drawing that was attached to the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecrafts. This illustration was co-created by Carl Sagan.
The Carl Sagan book "Contact" is different from the movie in several key places. First, the book had three machines built. The second major difference is that the book's machines held five passengers, and Ellie was accompanied on the voyage by four diverse intellectuals from around the world. The book is set in 2000, 15 years "in the future" from its release date, and has a woman as President of the United States and a still-existing Soviet Union. The third major difference is that Ted Arroway results not be Ellie's father, but a man called John Staughton, second husband of Joanna, Ellie's mother, because John and Joanna had a secret long affair when she still was married with Ted. In the movie all references about Staughton were omitted, and Joanna died by complications during Ellie's childbirth.
People in the crowds at the end of the movie seem to be wearing the same exact shade of blue. It is the "machine consortium blue" (a blue used in the film by the corporate ID of the consortium which builds the huge travel devices, and suggests that those people believe in Dr. Arroway's story.
In Ellie's cabin, there is a poster of a planet with four suns; a quadruple solar system. When she travels in The Machine across the galaxy, she observes a quadruple solar system from the planet of the alien race.
When Ellie and Palmer are in the Ellie's cabin in Puerto Rico, Palmer appears talking her about an experience where he felt the presence of God, but this history appears incomplete. In the novel it is explained that a younger Palmer, when he was working on fairground rides, one day he was struck by lightning bolt and he had a near-death experience.
As part of the message, extraterrestrial intelligence sends a serial of pulses between two and a hundred one, using only prime numbers. In mathematics, prime numbers are cyphers only divisible between one and the own number. Since there doesn't exist a thing in the universe capable of generating prime numbers consecutively, it should be taken as an unequivocal sign of intelligent life.
There is a star pattern seen in multiple parts of the movie, in chronological order are: the popcorn on the floor whilst Ellie's father dies, in her cabin at Arecibo, the quadruple star system she sees in the pod, the alien picking up the sand at the alien beach, and the dirt she picks up at the end of the film.
Hawks Nest Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, is the location used for the scene where Arroway makes contact with the alien life form.
At a point of the movie, S.R. Hadden appears as astronaut in the Mir. Mir was a space station launched in February 19, 1986 from Baikonur's Cosmodrome (former USSR, actual Kazayistan), being the top of the soviet spacial program as the first place out from planet earth permanently inhabited, and it was used as experimental and investigation laboratory. It was marked as a five years program, but it was extended to thirteen years, standing in outer space until his final destruction when it crashed against Pacific Ocean in March 23, 2001. In that time Mir traveled more of 3,600 million kilometers (2,250 million miles) orbiting the planet. "Mir" is a Russian word that means "peace" or "world".
The machine uses a three-ringed system to create a wormhole and travel to another place. The same concept was used in Event Horizon (1997), released 35 days later.
The movie establishes that the origin of the signal is Vega, a star from Lyra's constellation which is 26 light-years from planet Earth. 26 light-years are 63,240 astronomical units, 245,980,800 million kilometers and 153,738,000 million miles.
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The machine is a system to open a wormhole, a hypothetical method of space travel also called a Rosen-Einstein bridge, named after scientists Nathan Rosen and Albert Einstein. According to them, the wormhole should be capable of uniting two distant points in the universe, altering space-time laws to cross from one point to another in a very brief period of time. The name "wormhole" was derived from a comparison between the universe and an apple, with a worm moving inside. The same concept was used in Stargate (1994) and the TV series Stargate SG-1 (1997), Stargate: Atlantis (2004) and SGU Stargate Universe (2009). In a strange coincidence, the first Stargate TV series was released 16 days after this movie.
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The opening of the movie is a long-take with the camera showing planet Earth, moving back away to show Mars, the rest of the planets, the solar system, the Milky Way, galaxies, super-galaxies and finally the entire universe, closing it with a head-shot of young Ellie (Jena Malone). The same idea was used in Men in Black (1997), released nine days before, but the scene is changed to stop in the Milky Way, depicting this as a little gaming rumble property of a gigantic alien being. In 2004, The Simpsons (1989) paid tribute to this scene repeating it in the Couch Gag, in The Simpsons: The Ziff Who Came to Dinner (2004). In it, after showing the entire universe, galaxies were turned in atoms, DNA's chains and cells, with the camera finally exiting from Homer's head.
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When Ellie is released and dropped into the machine she yells "Oh god!" You'll notice during the entire movie she is stating that she needs proof to believe in God, and God is the first entity she calls for.

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