carl sagan's cosmic connection

My friend Arthur C. Clarke had a problem. He was writing a major motion picture with Stanley Kubrick of Dr. Strangelove fame. It was to be called Journey Beyond the Stars, and a small crisis in the story development had arisen. Could I have dinner with them at Kubrick’s New York penthouse and help adjudicate the dispute? (The film’s title, by the way, seemed a little strange to me. As far as I knew, there is no place beyond the stars. A film about such a place would have to be two hours of blank screen - a possible plot only for Andy Warhol. I was sure that was not what Kubrick and Clarke had in mind.)

After a pleasant dinner, the crisis emerged as follows: About midway through the movie, a manned space vehicle is making a close approach to either Jupiter 5, the innermost satellite of Jupiter, or to Iapetus, one of the middle-sozed satellites of Saturn. As the spacecraft approaches and the curvature of the satellite is visible on the screen, we become aware that the satellite is not a natural moon. It is an artifact of some immensely powerful, advanced civilization. Suddenly, an aperture appears in the side of the satellite; through it we see - stars. But they are not the stars on the other side of the satellite. They are a portion the sky from elsewhere. Small drone rockets are fired into the aperture, but contact with them is lost as soon as they pass through. The aperture is a space gate, a way to get from one part of the universe to another without the awkwardness of traversing the intervening distance. The spacecraft plunges through the gate and emerges in the vicinity of another stellar system, with a red giant star blazing the sky. Orbiting the red giant is a planet, obviously the site of an advanced technological civilization. The spacecraft approaches the planet, makes landfall, and then - what?

Although the human elements were nearing studio production in England, this fairly important plot line - the ending! - had not yet been worked out by the two authors. The spacecraft’s crew, or some fraction of it, was to make contact with extraterrestrials. […] Kubrick favored extraterrestrials not profoundly different from human beings. Kubrick’s preference had one distinct advantage, an economic one. […] The alternative portrayal of extraterrestrials, whatever it was, was bound to be expensive.

I argued that the number of individually unlikely events in the evolutionary history of Man was so great that nothing like us is ever to likely to evolve again anywhere else in the universe. I suggested that any explicit representation of an advanced extraterrestrial being was bound to have at least an element of falseness about it, and that the best solution would be to suggest, rather than explicitly to display, the extraterrestrials.

[…] Kubrick experimented during production with many representations of extraterrestrial life, including a pirouetting dancer in black tights with white polka dots. Photographed against a black background, this would have been visually very effective. He finally decided on a surrealistic representation of extraterrestrial intelligence. The movie has played a significant role in expanding the average person’s awareness of the cosmic perspective. Many Soviet scientists consider 2001 to be the best American movie they have seen.

During the filming of 2001, Kubrick, who obviously had a grasp for detail, became concerned that extraterrestrial intelligence might be discovered before the $10.5 million film was released, rendering the plot line obsolete, if not erroneous. Lloyd’s of London was approached to underwrite an insurance policy protecting against losses should extraterrestrial intelligence be discovered. They declined to write such a policy… and missed a good bet.

—  Carl sagan