Cosmos: Possible Worlds | Docs/ology

Cosmos: Possible Worlds

Director: Ann Druyan

Cosmos Possible Worlds is much more than a documentary about the universe we live in. It’s an exploration through space and time narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that follows the lines of thinking uncovered by applying one’s imagination to the science that is already known. Among its list of values, the thirteen-episode series shows the audience what it means to consider what’s just past our field of vision and to engage in wonder about what exists on the next level. 

Using the words of Ann Druyan, producer of all three seasons of Cosmos and wife to the late Carl Sagan, deGrasse Tyson’s soothing narration provides us a look at what scientists have come to know about the cosmos because of their persistence in mental and physical exploration, while also challenging us to consider what we can know or do know about the universe(s). Visually captivating, the show draws us in through cinematic translation of what does and could happen as the Ship of the Imagination travels through times past, present, and future, while also taking us beyond the known solar system. 

Druyan has said that Cosmos is the result of Sagan’s genius and constant exploration, that her scripts aim for skepticism mixed with wonder and humility. She and the Cosmos team want to inspire young people to dream about the future, and do the hard work of becoming scientists or engineers or explorers. Her script shows the incredibly sacrificial struggles of scientists of the past mixed with the ethereal wonderings of what the future solar systems might look like. It’s a balance of past and present with a heavy dose of artful interpretation mixed in, lavishly depicted in cinematic wonder thanks to computer-generated visuals that weren’t available to the original series forty years ago. 

Whether the show is asking us to consider the moments of creation on an atomic or microscopic level, or flying us around space to search for another habitable world should this one succumb to the dangers of climate change, it’s the unique blend of what is with what could be that makes Cosmos incredibly watchable. It certainly helps that the science does not become so complicated that the average viewer can’t follow along, but the way that the journey of each season is set up like something out of a science fiction anthology helps keep the drama moving. 

Watching Cosmos is a spiritual experience, not surprising given Sagan and Druyan’s own understanding of science as a spiritual exploration. The eye-popping special effects, the complex scientific facts broken down for the average person to understand, the overwhelming number of questions that the show is willing to ask and leave open-ended — all of them provide resources for our own imaginations. Whether it’s times past with scientists we probably haven’t heard of or the imagined future and far-reaches of the galaxy, Cosmos asks us to wonder, and to stretch our minds to wrap them around the possibilities. 

No other documentary has reached the level of visual mastery as Cosmos: Possible Worlds. It’s like watching a Star Trek film while getting a PhD-level education about micro and macrocosms, with a genius as your guide, breaking it down for you as you go, all beamed into your living room or tablet or phone. 

And daring you not to imagine and wonder.

Cosmos will premiere on National Geographic on March 9.

Written by Jacob Sahms