• Making Contact

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: May 9, 2017.
    Director: Roland Emmerich
    Cast: Joshua Morrell, Eva Kryll, Tammy Shields
    Year: 1985
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    The Movie:

    More than a decade before he unleashed the overblown-in-effects/mediocre-in-story cinematic monster, Independence Day, Roland Emmerich was tooling around in his native Germany, founding a film production company and releasing his first major picture, a sci-fi/horror/kid's movie Joey. Running approximately 98 minutes, the film was cut by about 20 of those minutes to make its North American showing as Making Contact, a sci-fi/horror/kid's movie that no doubt aroused the curiosity of many a young film fan with its flashy poster art. Ventriloquist dummies, lightning bolts, and skateboards? Sign me up!

    Young Joey Collins (Joshua Morrell) is dealt an unfair hand in life when his father suddenly passes away, leaving he and his mother, Laura (Eva Kryll), to fend for themselves in a house bereft of laughter. Joey understandably thinks often of dear old daddy and the hours they spent together shooting hoops in the driveway, and is therefore understandably overjoyed when the toy telephone in his closet starts ringing amidst a flurry of supernatural toy activity, giving him the chance to talk to his deceased pop long distance from the netherworld. A team of school bullies are less than impressed with Joey's tales of his father's return, taunting the young boy endlessly in class, much to the annoyance of his teacher, Martin; but cute classmate Sally witnesses a recent change in Joey, most notably in his ability to move objects (like her adorable pigtails) with mind power.

    Things take a turn for the weird(er), however, when Joey's toy robot Charley, who demonstrates incredible advances in AI, teams up with Joey's dog Scooter to lead him to the creepy, abandoned house next door on the hill. Creeping through the dust and discarded furniture, Joey is led to Fletcher, a long-abandoned ventriloquist dummy who wears a monocle and suit. Joey is of course inspired to bring this creepy asshole straight back to his house to hang out with his other toys, and Fletcher returns the favour by RAHR!!!ing at Joey's toys, and making the stuffed animals attack Charley. Joey remains unaware of this, as he's downstairs showing his delighted and awestruck mom how he can control his glass of milk with his mind, but returns to his Return of the Jedi bed sheet tent to learn some disturbing information.

    Courtesy of a flying television set, Fletcher shows Joey that it hasn't really been his father calling him to talk about old times, after all; instead, it's the ventriloquist son of a famous ventriloquist who was known for using dolls reputed to be cursed with black magic, who is also supposedly dead, and this dead ventriloquist son of a dead ventriloquist somehow has ties to the creepy house next door...and if there were any doubt, the same picture of the dead ventriloquist is found throughout the house...and wants Charlie to do something that's never quite explained, but may involve opening a portal to hell. Fletcher senses that Joey may not be quite the willing subject that he wants, and so he RAHR!!!!s at him some more, and blasts lightning bolts and stuffed animals at him.

    Poor Joey has other things to worry about in the immediate future, though, like the school bullies who are now an army, and have remote-controlled tanks that they use to somehow blow up Charley, after which they flee to their base of operations, which is located for some reason at the house next door. Adding to that is Charlie's teacher, Martin, who has assured Laura that he knows a child psychologist, who somehow knows that Joey can communicate with the dead and move things with his mind, and quickly takes a page from the E.T. Science Team handbook, isolating Joey and the house from the outside world so that they can study him and his powers. But Joey senses trouble from the old house next door, probably that portal to Hell that Fletcher showed him, and heads over to use his powers to save the bullies and Sally from a host of evil apparitions that include a giant demon cheeseburger and....Darth Vader?

    Having never seen the original cut of Joey, I can only hope that Roland Emmerich's original film was some kind of masterpiece that became nonsensical when those 20 solid minutes of what would have had to have been amazing film making were cut out. As it stands, Making Contact is a collection of scenes, most involving people looking at special effects like greenscreen flying objects, that don't really make any sense, except if you figure that Emmerich was trying as hard as he could to dedicate every frame to his love of all things E.T, with a dose of Poltergeist thrown in for good measure. Along with the score, which bounces from Spielberg-y lighthearted to Spielberg-y scary, Making Contact comes off as one giant rip-off. Sure, one could argue that homage pieces like Stranger Things have been quite successful with this formula, but Emmerich's issue...at least in this version of the film...is that he doesn't seem to be able to decide if he wants to be horror, sci-fi, or lighthearted supernatural comedy. Additionally, is Making Contact an adult film, a kid's film, or somewhere in between? Much like Tobe Hooper's Invaders From Mars remake that would show up a year later, it's difficult to imagine an audience that this film is suited for.

    Lack of consistency aside, the rest of Making Contact is no great shakes, either. Joshua Morrell and the other child actors can be forgiven because of their age, but the adults don't do much better. Lines are delivered in an unrealistic manner, with silly, overly hammy voices. Fletcher's RAHR!!!!s are pretty funny eventually, but obviously not intentionally. And just about every 80's film trope is on display here, right down to a dumb-as-cotton ending delivered in as serious a manner as possible. Really, Making Contact is perhaps not bad for a first major film...and if Emmerich's later films are any indication, he didn't get any more talented...but as a viewing experience, it's most likely only going to appeal to viewers who were kids when they saw it, and for whom nostalgia counts for a lot.


    Kino brings Making Contact to Blu-ray with an AVC-encoded 2.35:1 transfer that looks pretty good for the most part. Dirt and speckling do pop up occasionally, and some scenes look downright flat, while others maintain healthy grain and a fair amount of detail. Blacks and colours are bang-on for the most part, though there is most definitely an issue with the egg scene in the classroom (early on in the film), in which the first frame of each cut is marred by a discolouration that takes up the top quarter of the frame. It's not a dealbreaker for fans, but it's most definitely noticeable even to the untrained eye.

    Audio is provided courtesy of a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track (English Subs are available as well) that is pleasant and suited for the material. Dialogue is clear and consistent, effects are nicely balanced, and the schmaltzy 80's score is given a lot of room to breathe. The track is robust with good dynamics, and doesn't venture into harsh or distorted territory.

    Extras are limited to a handful of trailers; two separate trailers for Making Contact, a trailer for the original cut known as Joey in German (with hardcoded English subs), Solarbabies and Zone Troopers.

    The Final Word:

    If you need an 80's Spielberg fix, there are plenty of 80's Spielberg films and plenty of imitators that are better than Making Contact. If it succeeds at anything, it inspires in making me want to track down the longer version to see if it's better. For those desperate to see this gem from their childhood, the Kino Blu-ray, though largely barebones, offers a decent presentation.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      This review is hilarious, Mark. I love screen cap #10. RAHR!!!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I guarantee its not as hilarious as that dummy hahaha. I was dying over here.