POSTED October 17 2012

Your favorite Robert Zemeckis film?

Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington on the set of Flight

A recurring image in Robert Zemeckis films is that of a solitary figure surprised and delighted by human connection.

There’s Kathleen Turner as the romance writer who lives out one of her literary adventures in Romancing the Stone (1984).  There’s Michael J. Fox as the time-travelling teenager in Back to the Future (1985) who in better understanding his father’s adolescence improves his own. There’s Tom Hanks as the modern Robinson Crusoe in Cast Away  (2000) who, denied human companionship, learns its blessings.

And now there’s Denzel Washington as the high-flying airline pilot in Flight , a lone eagle who finds solace as  one in the flock.

Flight will close the Philadelphia Film Festival on October 27.  But before the PFF screening, Oscar-winning filmmaker Zemeckis will join me at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts to talk about his singular career, which includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and Contact.

A wizard who weds bleeding-edge technology to humanist narrative, Zemeckis films are as intriguing for their digital effects as they are for how he integrates them to tell primal stories. No matter how many times I watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit  (1988) I always gasp at the seamlessness of the 3-D human world of private eye Bob Hoskins and the 2-D “toon town” where he investigates a crime that might be the sequel to Chinatown.

Because Zemeckis has always been an early-adapter of the newest technology (consider the special effects he employed in 1992’s Death Becomes Her or the motion-capture animation of 2004’s The Polar Express) he has, somewhat unfairly, been tagged as one more interested in effects than story. If you look at his films in sequence, as I have, you’ll be reminded that in them character comes first and that effects are used in the service of advancing the story.

Zemeckis favors long takes that inevitably put the moviegoer into the character’s shoes and a fluid camera that communicates the character’s context.

My favorite Zemeckis movie? Glad you asked. Contact  (1997). Jodie Foster delivers one of her finest performances as the lonely radio astronomer, orphaned in her childhood. In this film that suggests the coexistence of science and faith, while listening and looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe Foster’s scientist receives a signs from a lost parent.

It’s in Contact that the filmmaker who first took us Back to the Future and then through the American Century in Forrest Gump takes us to the edge of the cosmos.

Your favorite Zemeckis film?




  1. Gary Kramer says:

    I loved USED CARS which is why I started watching Zemeckis closely, so I’ll go with that one. While I enjoyed his pop project ROMANCING THE STONE, BACK TO THE FUTURE and ROGER RABBIT, and I really appreciate CONTACT and CAST AWAY, and POLAR EXPRESS, I am mixed about FOREST GUMP and DEATH BECOMES HER. Alas, WHAT LIES BENEATH was beneath contempt.

  2. Rob Nelson says:

    I like a lot of RZ’s work, but, forced to choose, I’d vote for “Back to the Future Part II,” which has to be among the bleakest of blockbusters. Certainly by the standards of Reagan-era Hollywood product, it’s unusual for how energetically it bites the hand that feeds.

  3. USED CARS–although I might also include 1941, which qualifies as half or a third of a Zemeckis film.

  4. wwolfe says:

    “I Wanna Hold Your hand,” a wonderful depiction of the effect on America caused by the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

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