Color, 1985, 79 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Joshua Morrell, Eva Kryll, Tammy Shields, Jan Zierold, Barbara Klein, Matthias Kraus
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Universum (Blu-ray & DVD) (German RB/R2 HD/PAL), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Digital Studio Production (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Long before he broke through in Hollywood with the action favorite Universal Solider and became synonymous with world-demolishing, script-deficient epics like The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and both Independence Day films, German filmmaker Roland Emmerich was turning out some very odd films in his native country. His first two films shot in English were horror-oriented projects intended for family viewing (more or less), and both ended up being substantially transformed by the time they made it to American shores: Making Contact, which started life as a rather different film called Joey (running 97 mins. 55 secs.), and Ghost Chase, which was originally a longer, substantially weirder film called Hollywood Monster. Making Contact definitely got the wider exposure of the two as it played a respectable number of screens via New World, who ensured that their VHS release populated Blockbuster Video shelves everywhere for years.
Deeply saddened after attending his father’s funeral, lonely kid Joey (one-shot actor Morrell) is astonishing to find out that he has very inconsistent telekinetic powers and can control the toys in his room. Things get weirder when his toy phone starts relaying calls from his dead father, and a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy that one belonged to a notorious magician in the 1930s starts exerting a sinister control over the young boy and trying to kill people including his mom. Coupled with his bullying problems at school, Joey find himself dealing with way more than he can handle as he ultimately has to take a stand for himself against the supernatural forces at work in his home.
Though the American posters tried their best to make this look like an E.T. imitation, this tonally bizarre horror fantasy feels a lot more like a mash up between Poltergeist and The Neverending Story as it deals with issues like parental loss, bullying, and childhood imagination in the nuttiest fashion possible. There's definitely a Spielberg influence here and there, especially with the heavy diffused air designed to mimic that '82 alien hit, but Emmerich also tosses in loads of references to everything from Star Wars to Sesame Street all the way to the indescribable climax. Exactly why New World felt compelled to give the film a complete overhaul is anyone’s guess, but they essentially knocked out random bits of extraneous footage including an early flashback with Joey and his father and lots of footage of Joey bicycling around his neighborhood, plus a radically reedited finale that completely alters Joey's fate. The end result is a more compact genre film complete with a new, very John Williams-y score by Paul Gilreath (whose only real claim to fame is rescoring another New World film, No Retreat, No Surrender) instead of the original electronic German one by Hubert Bartholomae, which also has a really weird jingle playing over the scenes of Joey's animated toys and a loopy pop song ("Joey - We'll Meet Again") over the end credits.
The first widescreen version of Making Contact was issued as part of Anchor Bay’s barrage of New World titles in 2002, as a two-disc DVD set featuring both cuts of the film (English language for Making Contact, German with English subtitles for Joey) and the theatrical trailer. The title eventually made the leap to Blu-ray in 2013 from German label Universum as part of its three-film Emmerich set along with Hollywood Monster (the original 107-minute cut in German only and the 86-minute American Ghost Chase version), a much-needed scope version of his first bona fide sci-film Moon 44 in English. The German disc features the Joey cut (in German only with no English options, natch) and a very dupey, flat letterboxed version of the U.S. cut as a bonus; the transfer of the German version looks watchable but features some noise reduction, which makes the already stylized cinematography look too flat. Two years later, the same disc was released as a standalone title. In 2017, Kino Lorber brought the film to Blu-ray (with a DVD reissue) featuring a new HD scan that improves quite a bit in terms of detail over the German release, featuring a natural grain structure and far more texture throughout. There's also quite a bit of extra image info visible on the sides compared to past releases as well, resulted in a better composed film throughout. Only the U.S. version is included (which makes this the only way the New World cut can be seen anywhere in 1080p), so if you have the Anchor Bay release, be sure to hang on to it. Interestingly, the night scenes on the Kino Lorber (and other U.S. releases) have blue day-for-night timing during the night scenes, while the German doesn't at all and looks much darker as well. The DTS-HD MA English stereo track sounds terrific, and optional English subtitles are provided. Extras include two American trailers, the German trailer with English subs, and bonus trailers for Solarbabies and Zone Troopers.
Note: An Italian DVD also exists with English and Italian tracks but was not available for comparison; the 86-minute running time sounds like an inflation of the U.S. one as there is no German option. It also features what might be the greatest synopsis of this film ever written: “When Joey Collins's dad dies Joey starts to act strange. First he discovers he has some sort of psychic powers. The rest had started when Joey brings home a dumb doll that he found in an abandoned house. The dumb doll turns out to be possessed by an evil being with powers similar to Joey's, but only stronger! From then on Joey must battle both his problems with his peers and his problems with the doll as it makes Joey's world a living nightmare.”
GERMAN BLU-RAY FRAME GRABS
Reviewed on May 3, 2017