Making Contact (1986) poster

Making Contact (1986)


aka Joey

West Germany. 1986.


Director – Roland Emmerich, Screenplay – Roland Emmerich, Hans J. Haller & Thomas Lechner, Photography – Egon Werdin, Music – Paul Gilreath, Special Effects Supervisor – Hubert Bartholomae, Animation/Special Effects – Film and Trick, Uli Gleis, Thomas Meyer-Hermann, Helga Thamm & Herbert Umbrecht, Art Direction – Holger Schmidt. Production Company – Project-Film/Bioskop-Film/Zweiten Deutschen Fernschen


Joshua Morrell (Joey Collins), Eva Kryll (Laura Collins), Tammy Shields (Sally), Jan Kierold (Martin), Barbara Klein (Dr Barbara Haiden)


Nine-year-old Joey Collins is distraught following the death of his father. Joey then receives a call on a toy phone and realises that it is his father communicating from beyond the grave. Joey’s mother is amazed when Joey starts to demonstrate the ability to move objects with the power of his mind. At the same time, Joey’s toys come to life and direct him to an old house. There Joey finds a doll, which he brings home. However, the doll begins to act sinister, telling Joey that the voice on the telephone is not his father and threatening his mother with levitated knives.

Making Contact was the second film from German director Roland Emmerich. In the decade ahead, Roland Emmerich of course went onto become one of the A-list directors in the US, making big-budget effects-heavy films such as Universal Soldier (1992), Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), The Patriot (2000), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 10,000 BC (2008), 2012 (2009), Anonymous (2011), White House Down (2013), Stonewall (2015), Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), Midway (2019) and Moonfall (2022).

Before this however, Emmerich made a number of genre films in his native West Germany – beginning with The Noah’s Ark Principle (1984) and two children’s films with Making Contact and Ghost Chase (1987) before going onto the modestly successful interstellar prison film Moon 44 (1990). Part of what propelled Roland Emmerich to the success that he enjoyed would appear to be that he made his films for an English-speaking audience from the outset – Making Contact tries to be set in America and Emmerich even recruited kids from a local US Army base for his cast, while in Ghost Chase he actually went and shot in Hollywood using American actors.

With Making Contact, Roland Emmerich has clearly set out to make a Steven Spielberg film. Making Contact was advertised in a way that made it seem like it was a copycat of Spielberg’s E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – although in actuality it bears more resemblance to another Spielberg film, the ghost story Poltergeist (1982). Emmerich borrows many Spielbergian lighting effects and there is a copycat John Williams score.

Joshua Morrell as Joey with sinister doll in Making Contact (1986)
Joshua Morrell as Joey with sinister doll

Alas, Making Contact is not a very coherent film. It seems uncertain whether Roland Emmerich is trying to make a children’s film – where it is clearly pitched – or what, considering that the film also has a number of sinister adult moments. There is an odd mixture of elements – calls from the dead kid’s father on a toy telephone, a malevolent talking doll and toys that appear to come to life, the kid developing psychic powers from somewhere – but none of this gels on a conceptual level. Although, there is one cute scene where the mother invites the kid’s teacher for dinner and the kid keeps casually psychically moving items across the table to the teacher’s agog amazement.

However, we are never sure what is going on and Emmerich fails to offer us any explanations least of all. It is not clear, for instance, if it is the father talking to the kid from beyond the grave. If this is the case, why is the doll telling the kid otherwise? The kid also just seems to get psychic powers out of the blue without any explanation. It is not clear why the kid crosses over into the beyond or some other dimension at the end.

The sequence where the kids are attacked by some supernatural force in an old house is the height of silliness – featuring attacks by a giant hamburger, a monster boulder and a Darth Vader figure. (There are a number of Star Wars (1977) toys that appear throughout for some reason). While most of Roland Emmerich’s other films are at best cliched and mediocre, the result here is an incoherent mishmash. And for someone who made his career out of big spectacular special effects films, Emmerich’s effects here are decidedly weak.

Trailer here

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