visit the film locations
Visit the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. It's operated by Cornell University, and if you want to visit, there is a visitor centre, open Wednesday to Friday, 10am to 4pm and Saturday, Sunday and most holidays from 9am to 4pm.
Washington DC: Getting there: International flights to Dulles International Airport
Domestic: Reagan National Airport, smaller but much closer to downtown DC
The spectacular Canyon de Chelly is also featured in MacKenna’s Gold.
For more of Cape Canaveral, see Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.
Contact location: the radio telescope: Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico
Photograph: iStockphoto / TexPhoto
Rational scientist Dr Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is the recipient of apparent alien messages in this interesting but ultimately disappointing adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel.
There’s so much tricksy effects work in the film (after all, it’s directed by Robert Zemeckis who was responsible for Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and it’s not confined to the sci-fi elements, that location spotting is a dodgy business.
The huge radio telescope is the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the largest single-dish site in the world. It’s not quite as pristine as it looks in the movie and had to be cleaned up with a little computer generated help. It’s operated by Cornell University, and if you want to visit, there is a visitor centre.
The collection of telescopes is the imaginatively-named Very Large Array, 27 dishes arranged along three thirteen-mile arms on the San Augustin Plains at Socorro, New Mexico. The visitor centre is on Route 52, and there’s a walking tour of the site.
Don’t look for a nearby canyon rim to sit on and contemplate the universe, though. Despite appearances, the apparently neighbouring canyon is the spectacular Canyon de Chelly, a great gash running through Defiance Plateau, near Chinle in Arizona, previously featured in the epic Western MacKenna’s Gold. The dishes in the background were added later.
Similarly, though more obviously, tricked up is the vast machine designed to send Ellie Arroway through a wormhole in space. The CGI image was added to shots of the real Cape Canaveral coast in Florida.
The wild and wacky UFO encampment was also a good way away from the Array, this time at Victorville, a standard Hollywood desert location in the Mojave Desert, California. Also in California is the airport where Dr Arroway boards the private plane of SR Hadden (John Hurt, as the Carl Sagan character), which shot at Van Nuys Airport, Burbank, another favourite location dating back to Casablanca and before.
Washington DC locations include the Hotel Washington, 515 15th Street at Pennsylvania Avenue NW, site of the formal party – the hotel’s Rooftop Terrace has spectacular views over the White House and the Mall. The hotel has also been featured in No Way Out, with Kevin Costner, and The Godfather Part II.
The finale, which was filmed, not at the Capitol Building as it appears, but on the steps of the more easily available Treasury Building, Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 15th Street. And, yes, that’s a computer generated image of the Capitol’s dome reflected in the car window to complete the illusion.
The tropical beach 'heaven' was filmed by a Second Unit in the Yasawa Islands in Fiji.