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