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Carl Sagan
Archie Savage
William Schallert
Roy Scheider
Arnold Schwarzenegger
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SAGAN, CARL
(1934–1996). American scientist, writer, and actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Appeared in: Who's Out There? (documentary) (1975); Target … Earth? (1980); Cosmos (documentary tv series) (and wrote and produced) (1980); Carl Sagan: A Cosmic Celebrity (documentary) 1996), episode of Biography; "Cosmos" (documentary) (1997), episode of The Sky at Night; "Gethesmane" (1997), episode of The X-Files; The Planets (documentary) (David McNab 1999).

Scientific advisor: Threads (tv movie) (Mick Jackson 1984).

Film based on his work: Cosmos (and produced and received special thanks and dedicated to) (Robert ZEMECKIS 1997).

Special thanks: For All Mankind (documentary) (Al Reinert 1989); StarCraft (videogame) (Chris Metzen, Matt Samia, Mark Schwartz, Glenn Stafford, and Duane Stinnett 1998).

 
As a child, the adult Carl Sagan would say, he used to read the Mars books of Edgar Rice Burroughs and then stand outside at night, looking up at the sky and dreaming that he, like Burroughs's John Carter, might be teleported to another world of exotic aliens and thrilling adventures. Without necessarily impugning Sagan's veracity, one might simply observe that leaders or their followers often invent stories about their childhoods which serve to cast their adult pursuits as matters of lifelong destiny. The undisputable facts are these: in his thirties, seemingly embarked upon a conventional career as an astronomer and college professor, Sagan came into contact with Russian astronomer Iosif Shklovskii and learned about a book he had written about the prospects of finding intelligent alien life elsewhere in the cosmos. The enthused Sagan quickly produced a book that was in part an translation and in part an expansion of Shklovskii's work, published in 1966 as the collaborative Intelligent Life in the Universe; and although its then-unorthodox concerns soon led to his being fired by Harvard University, Sagan was on course to becoming the world's most prominent proponent of the search for alien life by means of astronomy and space probes, authoring best-selling books and appearing countless times on television to discuss aliens and various discoveries in outer space.

Although his official involvement with science fiction film was tangential, Carl Sagan remains a crucially important figure because he, more than anyone else, was able to legitimize the concept of intelligent alien life that had long dominated science fiction literature and film. If a major scientist was saying that such things might actually exist, and probably do exist, then films about such things were no longer kid's stuff or cultish fetishes. Notwithstanding the individual talents of filmmakers like George LUCAS and Steven SPIELBERG, the fact that films of the late 1970s and early 1980s like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial attracted vast audiences and critical respect testifies in part to the power of Sagan's constant proselytizing to the effect that alien encounters, on Earth or in space, might be both probable and desirable.

Since the world may never know precisely what Sagan was doing in Target … Earth?—a film so obscure that it might actually be lost—our opinions of his on-screen presence must be based primarily on the series he wrote, produced, and hosted, Cosmos—ostensibly a straightforward science documentary, though enlivened with science-fictional touches like a spaceship set and references to a posited Encyclopedia Galactica. One cannot fault the energy, sincerity, and charm of Sagan's performances as host, but the series as a whole was horribly miscalculated: instead of aiming at the people who were actually going to watch the series—space enthusiasts who already knew a great deal about the subject—Sagan addressed the people who were not going to watch the series—members of the general public who knew little if anything about astronomy. The result was a series filled with colorful visuals that devoted most of its time to condescending explaining things that I already knew in words of one syllable. Sagan's determination to agitate for increased space exploration also had a deleterious effect: I recall one interminable segment that described how the Netherlands in the Renaissance became a center for commerce and progress because of its energetic explorations of the New World, arguing by analogy that modern nations could see the same beneficial effects if they energetically explored outer space—the problem with the argument being, of course, the fact that the Netherlands soon reverted to a secondary status despite all their exploration and colonization. PBS poured a lot of money into Cosmos, expecting that schools across the country would eagerly purchase the series on videocassettes and incorporate it into their curriculum; quite predictably, they didn't.

Before Cosmos, Sagan had completed another sort of multimedia presentation of marginal interest, a compact disc intended for alien audiences that was placed on board the Pioneer space probes—although its bizarre mixture of United Nations diplomats saying hello in dozens of different languages, random photographs of Earth, and snippets of world music, if actually encountered, would confuse aliens more than it would enlighten them. But his most significant creative work was the science fiction novel Contact, finally published in 1985 after, it was whispered, some significant assistance from Theodore STURGEON. An uneven novel with some soaring moments, it was ill-served by Robert ZEMECKIS's plodding film adaptation, although at least Francis Ford Coppola's belated, and crass, attempt to claim part of the credits and the profits was indignantly tossed out of court.

Although he continued writing books and articles, Sagan embarked upon no major projects in the final decade of his life; perhaps it was the wasting effects of the leukemia that eventually killed him, or perhaps the marijuana that he had smoked throughout his career had finally dampened his spirit of initiative. Although stock footage earned him posthumous credits for appearing on The X-Files and a science documentary, efforts to keep his memory alive, including an attempted revival of Cosmos, have not been successful, and no other scientist has emerged to take over his role. Arguably, however, it is a perverse testimony to the success of Sagan's advocacy that today, the world no longer needs Carl Sagan or someone like him.

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