With the success of such films as The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, which were about Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively, it seems that Hollywood has decided that great scientist biops are in. The Tracking Board reported on Monday that the late Carl Sagan is due to get the big screen treatment, with a film to be entitled Sagan, to be produced by Warner Brothers with the cooperation of Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, who will serve as a producer.
Carl Sagan was the first celebrity scientist of the modern media age. He is most famous for being the host of the series “Cosmos” which originally ran in the early 1980s and was recently remade in 2014. He was a fixture on the late night talk show circuit, such as The Tonight Show, and published numerous popular books on science, especially focusing on space exploration and space science.
Sagan’s scientific work was closely tied to NASA’s program of planetary exploration, starting with the first Mariner probes in the 1960s. He was instrumental in creating what is in effect the first messages to possible alien intelligence consisting of a plaque and a record that were included on the Voyager space probes that were launched in the 1970s.
Sagan was a controversial figure during his career. Many of his fellow scientists looked down on him, regarding him as a self-promoter. His skill at explaining science concepts for the layperson served him in good stead in his evolution from planetary scientist to media star. He also drew ire for campaigning against President Ronald Reagan’s SDI proposal, instead advocating for a joint American-Soviet mission to Mars in the 1980s. He was an early purveyor of the theory of human-caused global warming and, paradoxically, nuclear winter, the latter of which would happen if too many nuclear weapons went off at once during a thermonuclear war.
Sagan created his own catchphrase, “billions and billions,” that often became the punchline of jokes. He was known in his lifetime for his tremendous ego and was sometimes referred to as “His High Carlness.” Yet, most people, even those who disagreed with him politically, remember Sagan with affection. Unlike many scientists, Sagan was not an atheist but was extremely skeptical of the standard Judeo-Christian conception of God. He has proven to be a model for celebrity scientists who followed, particularly Neil deGrasse Tyson, who idolized Sagan as a young man.
No word exists of when the movie will be released, who will direct and, most importantly, who will portray one of fascinating public scientists of the last century. Sagan’s one novel, Contact, was made into a major motion picture starring Jodie Foster and was released shortly after his death in the late 1990s.