Making Contact (1985) — If E.T. and Poltergeist had a German baby

“There’s no way out. Who’s got the dummy?”

Justin’s rating: Beeee… baaaaaad

Justin’s review: I grew up in a very thrifty household where we almost never spent money on full-price name brands. My mom instilled in me a love for generic products that helped me get past any shame I might have for buying cereal in a bag instead of a box.

In many situations, generics are fine and cost-effective. But sometimes you don’t want to rip off a good idea and reproduce it to the lowest price point available — especially in cinema. Because if you do, you’ll end up watching weirdo knockoffs like Making Contact instead of the much better, more professionally produced films that it’s clearly aping.

Of course, I like weirdo knockoffs, especially if they’re an early project of Independence Day director Roland Emmerich. Remember when he used to make mid-range scifi flicks that were pretty fun? Pepperidge Farm remembers!

The best way to describe the chaotic mess that is Making Contact is to speculate that Emmerich was so eager to create a blockbuster in the vein of Spielberg that he took every idea that was rattling around in his head and crammed it in the same film with obvious homages to Close Encounters, E.T., Goonies, Poltergeist, Carrie, Firestarter, Star Wars, and more. As a bonus, this was Emmerich’s first English-speaking film, and it’s not certain if all of the cast actually knew English.

Young Joey (Joshua Morrell) loses his dad and reacts to it like most kids would: By not crying at all but having coherent conversations with his dad’s photograph. Naturally, the very next thing that happens is that all of the objects in his room come to life like there was an ADD ghost messing around. Then he gets a call on a toy telephone from what he presumes to be his dead dad.

He’s also being tormented by a gang of kids at his school, but that’s OK because Joey also developed telekinesis and can move objects with his mind. He’s surprisingly cool with this, even going so far to immediately use it to flirt with a girl in his class.

Before too long, an evil ventriloquist dummy (Jack Angel) is attacking him, a little Star Wars-like droid named Charlie is trying to protect him, and the government is raiding his house. Also, a long-dead magician is doing some of this stuff in an effort to control Joey for nebulous reasons. Also also, there’s a dark void in his closet, probably leading to hell or Arby’s or something. Also also also the kid gang turns out to be good after all and stage an assault on a haunted house.

Joey’s having a busy week. You’ll have to excuse him.

Making Contact should’ve been called One Weird Thing After Another, because that’s all this movie is. Sure, it looks and sounds fantastic, but it’s saddled with so much unexplained goofiness that it’s impossible to know how to take it in. Is any of it supposed to be scary? Mystical? Adventurous? Honestly, I have no idea.

Apart from the wild genre and tonal shifts, Making Contact also has a problem with acting. Just none of it is convincing — not as acting, not as human beings communicating with their mouth-holes. Everyone speaks in one-sentence declarations that are never followed up on, and there is way too much monotonous deliveries. It’s almost like the filmmakers grabbed people off the street and started recording them… because that’s what they did.

Yet even though this falls short of a competent movie, I can’t claim that it wasn’t entertaining. Every minute is packed with gonzo developments — and as I said, it does look good and boasts a thrilling score. Sometimes a mess can be glorious to behold, after all.

Didja notice?

  • This funeral is so popular it has heavy ropes for the line queues!
  • Basketballs are oh so scary
  • This film is brought to you by stop motion
  • He’s got Return of the Jedi sheets!
  • It’s kind of scary how many toys Joey has that I had
  • Oh hey, it’s the Bates mansion, why not!
  • Toys can get bullied by other toys too
  • I love how the mom is instantly delighted by Joey’s powers
  • That’s a whole bunch of knives in the wall
  • “He’s evil. He won’t let me talk to daddy.” What, no follow-up questions? Gonna just let that lie?
  • And then the remote controlled tanks attacked the robot
  • Teachers can just walk into student’s homes uninvited
  • If you get burned, don’t use the sink — just plunge your hand into a fish tank and then dump ice in there. The fish’ll be cool with it. Trust me.
  • Yeah let’s check the driveway BEFORE your kid’s room to find him
  • Hahaha the dummy got tied up and gagged.
  • The entire government will gladly respond to a vague call from a teacher about a dummy and telekinesis.
  • “To the headquarters, men!”
  • I think they called the German government, considering the lead scientist’s accent
  • The kid with the Darth Vader outfit
  • So the generic goonies are going on the attack?
  • And now a full-fledged Darth Vader with a lightsaber
  • The obviously-not-inspired-by-The-Shining maze

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