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[BRP Sci-Fi] Thoughts on Disney's The Black Hole


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#1 seneschal

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Posted 05 January 2014 - 09:03 PM

Re-watched the much-maligned 1979 film this weekend. It was entertaining despite its flaws. The protagonists' ship, U.S.S. Palomino, and the black hole probe ship both seem to be hard science vessels -- efficient and cramped interiors, no artificial gravity, small crews. The U.S.S. Cygnus, sort of a 960-foot-long Crystal Palace/Gothic cathedral in space, is pure space opera, with artificial gravity, anti-gravity projectors capable of defying a black hole, a crew of dozens if not scores, and vast impractical interior spaces allowable only by the Rule of Cool. Whether either vessel has faster-than-light travel capability isn't addressed in the film, although the setting is apparently far beyond Earth's solar system.

The adventure supposedly takes place in 2130, where recognizable nation-states still exist and spaceships such as the Cygnus still need Congressional budget approval to be built. I found it strange that science exploration vessels designed to search for "habitable life" (by which I suppose the scriptwriters meant "alien life forms and/or worlds capable of supporting human life") would be armed to the teeth. The Palomino apparently carries "warheads" for self defense while the Cygnus has massive laser cannons. Perhaps tense national rivalry is the cause, but the Palomino doesn't look large enough to pack any extra freight unrelated to its primary mission. The crews of both ships are equipped with laser sidearms, especially strange on the Palomino since, to date, "habitable life" hasn't yet been discovered by Man. Why waste space and mass on guns when you haven't found anything or anyone out there to fight?

Critics have laughed at the Cynus for its size, girder-and-glass construction (at least it looks like glass), and tall conning towers. I dunno. If your ship gets hit by volleys of meteors, a solid metal hull isn't going to save you. And the conning tower might aid observation of exterior operations along the lengthy hull. The tube transport system seemed logical for such a long vessel -- except I would have put in on the inside of the hull rather than outside. The large garden for atmosphere regeneration and crew food is a science fiction staple, so I'll give it a pass, too. If you can defy the gravity of "the largest black hole ever discovered," maybe you can make a transparent substance that is tough, insulates efficiently, polarizes against harmful intensities of light, and resists radiation. The Cygnus obviously was constructed in space, obviously it is incapable of landing on a planet. Maybe the Victorian girder look was a byproduct of modular construction.

ESP is another science fiction staple, so I'll give Dr. Kate McCrae's mental link with the robot VINCENT another pass. The little hovering robot was on par with other sci-fi robots such as B-9 (Lost in Space) and Robby (Forbidden Planet), although giving the earlier model BOB a cowboy accent was a bit much. Maximilian was very much in the Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still) big scary robot mold -- although given all the advanced tech available, why equip your evil robot henchman with rotary saw blades?

In any event, I'd love Traveller style deck plans for both the Palomino and the Cygnus, regardless of the system used for the campaign.

Thoughts? Comments?

Edited by seneschal, 05 January 2014 - 09:07 PM.


#2 sladethesniper

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Posted 05 January 2014 - 09:43 PM

I loved that movie. Vincent was my favorite robot for years, and Maximilian was a horrendous villain equal to the Terminator in my youth. I liked the write up, and the examination of the show... Thank you.

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#3 seneschal

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Posted 05 January 2014 - 10:30 PM

Maximilian was proof that programing a mechanical being to violate Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics is a Very Bad Idea ™.

"A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

The robot "goon squad" that escorted the Palomino's pilot to the Cygnus' bridge was an early indication that something was up. Why have a large, heavily armed automaton police force on a science exploration vessel -- especially one with only a single human survivor? After all, the Sheriff's Department of rural Garvin County, Oklahoma -- which surely has a population much larger than that of the Cygnus -- is made up of only five or six (human) officers. Assuming a civilian ship needs a security force, a constable or three would be sufficient.

Edited by seneschal, 05 January 2014 - 10:42 PM.


#4 Agentorange

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 11:34 PM

I must admit if I was off exploring in space...I would have an armed ship. You can never be sure what you'll run into.

I've never bought into the whole " they're so much more advanced than us they must be peaceful " philosophy. You can just imagine some Australian aborigines standing on the shoreline a couple of hundred years ago......

" Those white fellas over there, d'you reckon they're hostile ? "
" Nah, anybody whose got the technology to build canoes that big must be peaceful.....I wonder what those wood and metal sticks they're waving around are ? "

#5 soltakss

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 02:28 PM

I must admit if I was off exploring in space...I would have an armed ship. You can never be sure what you'll run into.

I've never bought into the whole " they're so much more advanced than us they must be peaceful " philosophy. You can just imagine some Australian aborigines standing on the shoreline a couple of hundred years ago......

" Those white fellas over there, d'you reckon they're hostile ? "
" Nah, anybody whose got the technology to build canoes that big must be peaceful.....I wonder what those wood and metal sticks they're waving around are ? "


Yep, exactly.

If they developed nuclear weapons then they either nuked themselves, survived and still became technologically advanced, in which case they are a huge threat, or they managed to avoid nuking themselves and became technologically advanced, in which case they are an even bigger threat. If they didn't develop nukes then they either have something else or don't need powerful weapons, either way they are a threat.

I always assumed that any encounter with a space-faring alien species is one of weak humans vs powerful aliens. You counter their weapons superiority by severely upgrading or being extremely hostile/persistent. The other technique would be to be nice and peaceful all the while, just in case.
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#6 KingSkin

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 03:50 PM

There's also the whole argument that 'technology implies belligerence' as posited by Peter Watts in his painfully good novel Blindsight (if you like Hard SF I can't recommend it strongly enough, probably the best I've ever read, but don't read it if you can't get on board with a certain pessimistic/reductionist view of humanity, it will depress you).

Anyway, his argument is that the presence of tools and technology suggests a psychology geared around forcibly altering your environment to suit your needs and from that basis if you meet a technologically advanced species it can be assumed that they have spent a good deal of their time struggling for survival and that will tend to breed a certain conflict-response traits into their mindset. Certainly, I wouldn't want to pootle around unknown space unarmed, just in case.

As to the film, I haven't watched it when I was kid, and I loved it then. I suspect I'd find it highly cheesy to watch it now but it would be quite cool to go back and look at it through the lens of all the sci-fi I've read in the intervening time. And also my son would probably love it which would be another good reason to give it another watch.

I seem to remember a fairly harsh scene where Maximilian rammed his blender hand through some dude and the clipboard he was holding scattered shredded paper into the air. When I was a lad that was about as scary as if it had been blood flying and was quite effective at communicating his monstrous nature.

As to the question earlier of him having blades instead of lasers I'd suggest it could either be for intimidation purposes ("Guns for show, knives for the pro") or to avoid hull breaches from over-penetration.

Thanks for reminding me of this film though. I'll have to find a copy and sit down with my boy at the weekend.
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#7 seneschal

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 07:48 PM

My teens reacted the way they did when I showed them Yellow Submarine and TRON. They sort of blinked and asked, "What did we just experience?"

On the other hand, my son liked Titan A.E. even though it was just as weird and started off in the middle of things just as The Black Hole had.

Maxmilian's murder of Dr. Alex Durant was shocking, not only because of the implied violence, but because it was so random and unnecessary. After all, Durant (Anthony Perkins) was the member of the Palomino crew most sympathetic to the sinister Dr. Hans Reinhardt, the guy who was thinking about staying aboard the Cygnus. The evil red robot not only slaughtered him but shredded the research notes Reinhardt had given Durant to share with the world. It demonstrated that perhaps Reinhardt wasn't really the one in charge.

The special effects still hold up, the villains are scary, the cute robots are, well, cute robots, although Roddy McDowell manages to give VINCENT some gravitas. The Black Hole ain't 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan, but it is fun.

#8 KingSkin

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 09:37 AM

My kids are 15 and 5 so I'm guessing one is going to love Black Hole and the other will spend his time groaning and wishing he was elsewhere. ;)

I'm glad you reminded me of Titan A.E. as well, I loved that when I watched it (although most everyone I know hated it). The only real issue I had is that, enjoyable as it is, humans are clearly the villains of the piece. At the start we're told that the aliens attacked us and destroyed Earth utterly. We then find out there's a hidden superweapon that can defeat them. At the end the superweapon is activated and genocides the entire alien race in order to build a new planet. Which means their original attack is completely understandable. They discovered we'd built a weapon whose sole purpose was to wipe them out to create a new planet (and planets aren't exactly in short supply when you can go FTL) so they decided to attack us before we could unleash it. I can't fault their logic really.
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#9 seneschal

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 02:17 PM

My kids are 15 and 5 so I'm guessing one is going to love Black Hole and the other will spend his time groaning and wishing he was elsewhere. ;)

I'm glad you reminded me of Titan A.E. as well, I loved that when I watched it (although most everyone I know hated it). The only real issue I had is that, enjoyable as it is, humans are clearly the villains of the piece. At the start we're told that the aliens attacked us and destroyed Earth utterly. We then find out there's a hidden superweapon that can defeat them. At the end the superweapon is activated and genocides the entire alien race in order to build a new planet. Which means their original attack is completely understandable. They discovered we'd built a weapon whose sole purpose was to wipe them out to create a new planet (and planets aren't exactly in short supply when you can go FTL) so they decided to attack us before we could unleash it. I can't fault their logic really.


Not exactly. Young Cale Tucker rejiggered the Titan to use Drej energy at the last minute only after discovering that the derelict ship's default power supply had been drained during its 15 years in hiding. Since the entire alien war fleet was trying to vaporize him and his friends at the time, I'd say it was a case of the poor, benighted humans acting in self defense (and giving mankind a new start in the process). As far as we know, the earlier attack on Earth was unprovoked. And, like Project Genesis in the Star Trek franchise, the Titan was never intended to be used as a weapon but as an aid to terraforming new worlds. And it wasn't only humans the Drej were nasty to. In the cafeteria scene, the roach alien chef was vaporized merely for being nearby when the energy beings went hunting for Cale. (Note to self: Do not name next child after a green, leafy vegetable.)

The first time I saw the movie I praised the animation and pooh-poohed the plot, or at least its execution. I had trouble with Joseph Korso -- the Titan Project leader's right-hand man, turning traitor and attempting to bargain with the very fiends who'd destroyed his home world, then repenting at the 11th hour and becoming a good guy again. Fourteen years later, I'm more inclined to be forgiving. It was an ambitious film. The Titan universe and its denizens were a colorful and well-realized bunch.

Wish Don Bluth's run at independent movies had lasted longer and been more successful. An American Tail, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and The Secret of NIMH were excellent. Anastasia had an interesting premise but, like Titan A.E., didn't quite pull it off. Thumbelina had the usual gorgeous Bluth animation but the songs, storytelling and characterization were just bad. It's hard to root for a heroine who is so weak-willed she makes Cinderella and Snow White look like Gloria Steinem.

#10 Matt

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Posted 08 April 2014 - 07:15 PM

The only thing I disliked about that movie was the dreadfully unfunny robots which I assume were an attempt to emulate R2D2 and C3PO. The movie and its utilitarian tech was pretty neat aside from that. A cool implied setting.




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