The Trailer for The Man Who Unlocked the Universe Is a Gorgeous Mixture of Science and Action

There’s a new docudrama coming out tomorrow about the life of Ulugh Beg, an obscure medieval astronomer who made Samarkand, now Uzbekistan, a thriving center of culture and science in the 15th century.


A full 150 years before Galileo gazed at the heavens with his telescope, Ulugh Beg (1394-1449) was building some of the largest astronomical instruments on Earth. Incredibly, he used his observatory to map the stars and create charts that are still considered highly accurate, even by today’s standards. Beg managed to measure the duration of the year to within 25 seconds of the actual figure, and he even correctly calculated the Earth’s axial tilt at 23.52 degrees. In addition to astronomy, he was a capable mathematician and biologist. He was also a Timurid ruler, transforming the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara into vibrant cultural centers.

A new 38-minute docudrama, titled Ulugh Beg: The Man Who Unlocked the Universe and directed by Bakhodir Yuldashev (Shima, Angel of Death), chronicles the life of the little-known scientist, from his birth as a prince through to his unconventional childhood and eduction, and ending with his untimely death.


Actor Armand Assante (Gotti, American Gangster) portrays Beg, and Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Shrek) provides the narration. It features some neat CGI, live-action re-enactments of historical events, and interviews with academics and astronauts.

The film will be available for rent or purchase on Amazon starting Friday, June 22.

George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.

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Very cool stuff. I always find it fascinating how various corners of the world had brilliant visionaries, scientists and explorers but still ended up as backwaters because they didn’t have the cultural framework to expand on those geniuses (or had the bad luck to be next to a less forward thinking but militarily powerful neighbor).

There are so many times in our collective history where all the pieces of modern civilizations are right there and yet they faded out. The Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, the Maya, the Abbasids, various Indian states, etc. and now Samarkand. All of them having math and science that are not far different from what the Enlightenment started with, but they could never quite take that next step.