Only He Can See It. Only He Shares Its Magic. Only He Knows the Danger.
After the death of his father, young Joey discovers the newfound ability of telekinesis, and furthermore, an unlikely means of communicating with his deceased daddy—via a glowing red toy telephone. A short time later, Joey stumbles across a creepy ventriloquist dummy in an abandoned house, but the dummy is no mere plaything. It is housing an evil entity with powers similar to, but superior to, Joey’s own. Joey has to fend off the evil dummy’s increasingly dark magic, as well as the bullying of his peers, in order to save himself, his family, and the entire neighborhood from destruction.
MAKING CONTACT has a lot of fantastic elements that would likely have thrilled and chilled me as a child, but viewing it with adult eyes, I can’t help but notice its greatest weakness: it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Every imaginable element was thrown at the wall to see what sticks, and all of it falls flat. It has a manic pace and a dark edge, but no deftness of storytelling to back it up.
A son communicating with his dead father could have been an entire movie (see FREQUENCY). A youngster developing telekinetic abilities could have been an entire movie (see CARRIE). A boy being pursued by a doll instilled with life could have been an entire movie (see CHILD’S PLAY). But when you throw them all together, with nary a plot thread to connect them, you wind up with something a little less than coherent.
Viewing this as a child, it might not have mattered so much. There would have been an awful lot onscreen to distract you from the fact that one thing seldom, if ever, lead to another in a logical way—especially if you were an American child. Nearly every scene is absolutely littered with pop cultural Americana: Mickey Mouse, Sesame Street, and so many Star Wars toys that you would think this was produced in cooperation with George Lucas himself. Children of the era were likely too busy ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ to pay much attention to the finer points of the script. Viewed through adult eyes, though, it really starts to fall apart at the seams.
One of the more bewildering aspects of the whole movie was just how, exactly, Joey’s toy robot Charlie came to life. Assuming that Joey’s latent telekinetic ability manifested because of the emotional distress brought on by his father’s death (and I am only assuming here, because the cause of this new ability is never even hinted at), I can understand Joey using it to make his toy spaceships fly and that sort of thing. But the robot (who appears to be an adorable R2D2 knockoff) operates with its own intelligence, to the point where it becomes almost like a pet—indeed, there is even one scene that depicts the boy taking his dog and his robot out for a walk! Unfortunately, Charlie’s stay is all too brief, shot down in his prime by the local bullies. Had he stuck around long enough for the audience to develop any sort of emotional attachment to him, this might have been an impactful scene. Instead, what could have been a major plot point turns out to be just another throwaway occurrence without reason or explanation.
The villainous dummy Fletcher is only slightly more grotesque than your average ventriloquist’s partner. However, he growls an awful lot and shoots psychic lightning beams from his eyes, which elevates him to a whole new level. He never wields an actual weapon, per se, but he does use his telekinesis to hurl knives about.
Much as I would have liked to see Fletcher slicing and dicing his way through the running time, I guess the filmmakers thought that would be too intense for younger viewers. It’s an odd mix they achieve here, though, equal parts horror and flights-of-fancy. It goes from the utterly silly (a killer, sentient hamburger) to the overwhelmingly dark. This imbalance is, to say the least, unsettling…and not in a good way.
Tracing the lineage of this particular film is a bit difficult, but I will attempt it: It takes place in America, used a partially-American cast, and was originally shot in English, but only a few small parts were shot in America. It’s actually a German film, though it tries exceedingly hard to make you think otherwise. Aside from all the American pop cultural references already mentioned, Krispy Kreme donut shops are shown in the background numerous times, and there is even a scene shoehorned in where children sing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”.
Aside from the confused heritage, there are also at least two cuts of the film. There is the American cut, which utilizes an English-language track; and the German cut, which is dubbed into German (but now available with English subtitles); The American cut is shorter, some scenes are edited differently or played in a different order all together, and an alternate musical score was used, so they are, in some aspects, drastically different films.
Joey was played by Joshua Morrell, who apparently didn’t get bitten by the acting bug, because this was his one and only role. His mother, Laura, was portrayed by German actress Eva Kryll, who went on to appear in a steady stream of television series and made-for-TV movies, most of which will be completely unfamiliar to an English-speaking audience. The biggest star here is Jack Angel, who voiced Fletcher the dummy for the English language version. He voiced Hawkman, the Flash, and Samurai in the different SUPER FRIENDS incarnations of the late 1970s and early 1980s; Ultra Magnus, Ramjet and others in THE TRANSFORMERS from 1985; Wetsuit in 1986’s G.I. JOE series; and Nick Fury in 1997’s SPIDER-MAN. He also supplied additional voices for WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988), DARKWING DUCK (1991), THE IRON GIANT (1999), MONSTERS, INC. (2001) and MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013)—among countless others.
Despite all of the drawbacks, this family-oriented fantasy from Roland Emmerich (the director of INDEPENDENCE DAY!) has a peculiar magic all its own, and if it made some effort at being cohesive, it might have ranked with such fare as THE GOONIES, EXPLORERS, or E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL. As it stands, a fun but headscratching mess, it is strictly second-tier material, like 1988’S MAC AND ME.
And when was the last time you sat down to watch MAC AND ME?