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The time Carl Sagan helped Kubrick simulate extraterrestrial life in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

The acclaimed director asked for the scientist’s help for one of the iconic scenes in his iconic film.

Carl Sagan is one of the most important astronomers in modern history. His television series Cosmos, which broadcasted in the 1980s, made him gain popularity all over the world.

The American scientist had a special interest in life on other planets, and he even promoted the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence project, which was sponsored by NASA to explore the possibility of living beings in the galaxy.

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Due to Sagan’s prestige and success in the scientific community, it is not surprising that Stanley Kubrick, the acclaimed director sought him out to help him simulate extraterrestrial life in what is considered his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was working with Kubrick on the film’s screenplay, and one of the obstacles they faced was how they were going to present the concept of the future of humanity, as well as the life of beings from another planet.

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Because the director and author were experiencing disagreements, they turned to Sagan to help them develop the idea.

“My friend Arthur C. Clarke had a problem,” Sagan wrote in his 1973 book The Cosmic Connection. “He was writing a big movie with Stanley Kubrick, which at the time was called Journey Beyond the Stars, but a small crisis arose in the development of the story,” he explained.

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In the film, the Discovery One team was about to make contact with extraterrestrials, but Kubrick had the idea of depicting them in a more human form and even in suits, something that Clarke didn’t like.

“It’s likely that nothing will ever evolve like us again anywhere else in the universe. I suggested that any explicit depiction of an advanced extraterrestrial being had to have at least an element of fakeness and that the best solution would be to suggest, rather than explicitly show extraterrestrials,” Sagan recounted of this experience.

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In the end, it is not known if the director heeded the recommendations suggested by Sagan, but we all remember the ending in which David Bowman, played by Keir Dullea, meets his older self in a room.

Story originally published in Cultura Colectiva in Spanish

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