MAKING CONTACT (1985) Blu-ray
Director: Roland Emmerich
Kino Lorber

Before the likes of INDEPENDENCE DAY, director Roland Emmerich was toiling away in West German with Hollywood blockbuster dreams with MAKING CONTACT, on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

After his father dies, young Joey (Joshua Morrel) becomes withdrawn until at home and the object of bullying at school when he tells his classmates that he talks to his father on his toy telephone. His sympathetic teacher Martin (Jan Zierold) recommends to his mother Laura (Eva Kryll) that Joey see a child psychologist, but Laura has already discovered her son's ability to talk to the dead as well as his seeming telekinetic abilities that have animated his toys and made him a single friend in classmate Sally (Tammy Shields). When Joey, his dog Scooter, and sentient robot toy Charlie go exploring the abandoned Bates-style mansion on the hill above his Virginia Beach neighborhood, he discovers a strange ventriloquist's dummy that he brings home with him. The doll too become animated, but it seems to have a life of its own, using its powers to prevent him from speaking to his father and warning him that the voice he hears is actually that of a occultist ventriloquist Johannes Fletcher who wants to exploit the boy's abilities and possess his soul. Joey does not believe the doll, and its telekinetic threats against his mother have him believing that it is the doll that is the evil one. Meanwhile, Joey's use of his own powers has the neighborhood bullies plotting their own brand of vengeance upon him and Alice. When Martin contacts a parapsychologist colleague (Barbara Klein), but her team's efforts to study Joey's powers have the side effect of unleashing a malevolent force upon the neighborhood, and Joey may be the only one who can stop it.

A German production with location shooting in the United States originally known as JOEY, MAKING CONTACT is a family-oriented genre film in the Spielbergian mold in scope and production value, although one wonders if it was just as much motivated by the success of the German/American co-production THE NEVERENDING STORY from the previous year. It was the second directorial effort of future blockbuster trash director Roland Emmerich and the second production of his Centropolis Filmproduktion company that would go on to Hollywood efforts like STARGATE and GODZILLA (the last of the company's efforts being the well-budgeted and intriguing flop THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR). Whereas the best of the eighties American blockbusters in the same mold were transparent in their use of the fantastic to address issues of family, loss, and moving on among other concerns, MAKING CONTACT's emotional core is muddled (and this may possibly have to do with the dubbing and the reduction of the running time). What it does have is gorgeous scope photography by Egon Werdin (MUTE WITNESS) – using those older lenses that bow the image in the center during wide angle pans (all the better in this case to establish that the creepy house on the hill is a hanging glass matte rather than something added in post-production during one shot Laura stepping out of the house that pans from their driveway to reveal the rest of the neighborhood) – mostly excellent special effects aimed at provoking the same kind of wonderment that the likes of ILM and Richard Edlund's Boss Film brought to American studio pictures, picturesque Virginia Beach settings, and attempts at other Spielbergian elements from the clichéd bullying classmates who get their comeuppance to a wonderfully cluttered but idyllic view of American suburbia (including Joey's bedroom which is a kid's dream of every kind of toy from stuffed animals to toy robots and model spaceships). Like its models, the horror elements early on may be too much for younger viewers while the haunted house climax is a bit more HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II without the gore and with somewhat more absurd beasts (including a giant cheeseburger monster that stalks the fat bully). Emmerich followed up the film with another bid for American acceptance in the American-lensed comedy GHOST CHASE.

MAKING CONTACT was reduced by roughly twenty minutes for its American version, dubbed into English (the German actors do not seem to have been speaking phonetic English for post-synchronization), the doll given some more clarifying dialogue, and rescored by composer Paul Gilreath (who also rescored the American cut of the Jean-Claude Van Damme film NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER) replacing the original synth score by Hubert Bartholomae (whose "special effects supervisor" credit in the German and English titles actually refers to the film's sound design rather than its opticals or practical effects). The latter was New World's best decision as the grand orchestral score adds to the Spielbergian aspiration of the visuals and visual effects lightshows. The abrupt freeze frame for the ending was not done to change the fate of a certain character so much as to pare down the length of the finale. Belgian-born Carl Colpaert is credited with additional dialogue and as editor beneath German version editor Tomy Wigand (MOON 44), which led to New World giving Colpaert the assignment of shooting live action footage to turn forty minutes of footage extracted from the Japanese anime ANGEL'S EGG into the science fiction hodge-podge IN THE AFTERMATH.

Released theatrically and on panned-and-scanned home video by New World Pictures, MAKING CONTACT eventually got an opportunity for reassessment with Anchor Bay's 2002 DVD, a two-disc edition that presented both MAKING CONTACT and the German-language JOEY cut in anamorphic widescreen transfers with Dolby Digital 5.1 EX remixes (the company also released Emmerich's debut THE NOAH'S ARK PRINCIPLE around the same time). Sadly, Kino Lorber was unable to clear the rights to the JOEY version (available on Blu-ray in Germany without translation and only including MAKING CONTACT as a non-anamorphic letterboxed SD extra), but the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encode of the American version looks spectacular here, restoring the film's sense of grandeur while also making the outlines of blue screen projectiles and animation more evident. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track also has a wonderful presence that – like the picture – makes one lament that the German version could not also be included with similar treatment (assuming that the German master is of similar quality). Optional English SDH subtitles are a nice touch. The only extras are two trailers for MAKING CONTACT (1:28 and 0:58) and, just so we can see what we're missing, an English-subtitled trailer for JOEY (2:01) – which also allows one to hear synth score – as well as previews for SOLARBABIES and ZONE TROOPERS. (Eric Cotenas)