Space and Film- Black Holes
Written by Bryce Waller
Space is fun. I can’t say that I have ever been there, but I tend to live vicariously through other people. Other people in this instance being, Tom Hanks, William Shatner, and Harrison Ford.
Why is space fun? An endless void of stars, galaxies, and everything else that is out there that I don’t know about. These endless possibilities open up endless opportunities for new movies and new ideas set in space. Shooting on site is a bit difficult, but if you can manage the trip to the space production studio, the space sickness wears off…so I’m told.
In the spirit of all things space, specifically Interstellar’s release date nearing (November 5th) I wanted to discuss a few of the cooler space themes in film. Specifically- black holes.
There are a lot of jokes that could be written in here, but I will leave it blank and allow your mind to run free.
Before we get to the good stuff, let us define what a black hole actually is: a black hole is a bottomless pit in space where light is nonexistent. Nothing can escape from within a black hole, and we can never again detect or observe an object that falls into a black hole….so we are told.
Now, we all know Hollywood takes their liberties while filming; sometimes taking the truth and stretching it out a little bit. But who cares when it’s awesome…am I right?!? With black holes it’s more fun to talk about what could be, because absolutely no one on the face of the planet knows what happens once you enter one. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar and you should slap them in the face. Not punch, no, they don’t deserve that.
We will take a look at five feature films that have dove into the subject that is…black holes.
*Disclaimer: Not every title or movie deals directly with black holes. There are phenomenon associated with black holes that we will discuss as well…enjoy.
1. The Black Hole (1979) “A Journey that begins where everything ends”
Follow the adventures of the USS Palomino as they travel the endless void that is space. After a long mission, the USS Palomino is on its way back to Earth when they discover a black hole. A black hole is nothing strange, but the space ship that is somehow rejecting the incredible gravitational pull that comes from a black hole is.
The mysterious ship is actually the USS Cygnus which disappeared twenty years earlier. What follows is actually a very creative plot that if viewed with the mindset that it was filmed in the 1970s, you might be able to get past some of the cheesiness that comes with some films of the decade.
The film obviously takes several cues from the semi-popular film you may have heard of that came out in 1977, Star Wars, which is ironic since Disney actually owns the rights to Star Wars now. You have a father/son relationship, droids, huge spaceships and mutiny. The fact that this article is not about the movie makes it easy not to give away anything else about this film. Watch it for yourself if you can find it any where these days.
Back to the holes that are black; one of the main plot points is the film is the crazy man on board the USS Cygnus actually wants to fly the Cygnus into the black hole.
I might yell that throughout this article. There is actually a way that a ship could resist the gravitational pull of a black hole that was the size of a solar system. With a black hole that big, the gravitational pull would not be as strong. Your ship would still need to be pulling in the opposite direction with great force.
Imagine the scene from Treasure Planet and you’ve got it. [Treasure Planet scene, they are trying to escape a supernova, not a black hole but you get the idea.]
We are never actually given the specific information about how big the black hole is in The Black Hole; I don’t know why we would be given that it is a Disney film.
But let us just say for a moment that this black hole was massive; massive enough to allow a space ship to idol within its gravitational field. Anyone aboard the USS Cygnus would never be seen or heard from again.
The cool thing is, if you were lucky enough to be left aboard the USS Palomino, you would never actually see the space ship go in to the black hole. The closer the ship gets to the black hole’s “point of no return,” known as the event horizon, the ship would appear to freeze in time because of the amount of gravity evident in the event horizon.
It would also be due to an effect of the black hole called redshift, but no one cares to hear about that.
This movie actually does not stray too far away from scientific theory. It also deals with issues of Heaven and Hell in a complex way that actually gets you thinking. I’d say a job well done, Disney.
2. Event Horizon (1997) – “Infinite Space Infinite Terror”
First of all, this movie is awesome.
It is actually a little creepy at times and the pace of the film is controlled very well. It’s also on Netflix, so make time for this one.
Event Horizon begins In 2047, the rescue vessel Lewis and Clark is dispatched to answer a distress signal received from the Event Horizon [yes, the ship is also called Event Horizon], a starship that disappeared during its maiden voyage to Proxima Centauri seven years prior. Enter Dr. Alan Grant [Sam Neill] who has decided to trade in his red handkerchief and annoying children for the ride of a lifetime on a ship he designed.
Sam Neill’s character is actually named Dr. William Weir (he’s a doctor a lot) and he has designed the ship Event Horizon to create artificial black holes that would “bridge two points in space time,” not to be confused with hammer time, that would allow travelers to greatly reduce the time it takes to get from one point to the other.
The two points in this instance would be something like traveling from Earth to Uranus in a matter of minutes. *See what I did there?!?*
The fact that this was done in 1997 is interesting because there is a movie that will be discussed in this very same article that has adopted a similar principle. But the science on this is something that cannot be verified one way or the other right now because if you have been paying attention, you cannot know what happens inside a black hole, and you will never see someone who goes in a black hole again.
Told ya. That statement I just wrote sounds contradictory because if no one knows what goes on inside of a black hole, how do we know we would never see someone again? What if it just sends them back to the first level of Super Mario Bros.?
Science aside for a second, what follows throughout this film is quite terrifying and relies on many science fiction films from the past, but knows how to use them and not abuse them. Is it too early for a Ray Rice joke?
With a stellar cast and an awesome set, complete with a nifty nook area that you can lounge around in, cuddle up to a good book, or die in.
I hate to give away too much about this film, but it’s 2014 for crying out loud. If you haven’t seen this movie yet it is your own fault.
One of the coolest scenes towards the end of the film is when the ship is split in two, on purpose, to save the remaining team members who are still alive and/or not crazy. Half of the ship is engulfed in a worm hole (if you have seen Thor you might know this as a Einstein–Rosen bridge) which will send half the ship drifting through space time to some unknown destination.
So not only does a worm hole send Thor, the California dream boat, to Earth- it can help save people from crazy guys. I’m not seeing any down sides to this worm hole thing. All’s well that ends well in space right?
Again, like The Black Hole, this movie introduces the viewer to a Heaven/Hell situation. Unfortunately for the characters in Event Horizon, they keep having visions of the latter..really creepy ones too!
But, it is interesting to see some continuity in these films that concern black holes. Religion is always fun to talk about in public with people you don’t know, am I right.
3. Star Trek (2009) “The Future Begins”
Really glad JJ gave me a tagline that has nothing to do with what I am writing about here, but whatever. I do love me some good space movies, and the revamping of the Star Trek franchise has not disappointed. I was a little worried when I heard the news they were doing another Star Trek film, but JJ Abrams understands me, he is inside my body and I like it.
Plot first, then science, because the plot of a movie set in space has a lot to do with science. Got that? Good.
The basic premise of this film follows the crew of the Enterprise, but the Enterprise hasn’t even flown in space yet, and all the characters are really young and good looking, and Kirk and Spock are totally hating on each other… It is basically a redefining of the Star Trek franchise for a new generation of viewers.
Our antagonists? Besides black holes created mistakenly by Spock, the Romulans. The Romulan’s requested Spock’s help to save their planet, and he failed…quite miserably. His failure is so grand that he sets in motion an entire alternate universe that conveniently allows us to separate ourselves from the first 10 Star Trek movies. Oh, and he kills Kirk’s dad while doing it. What a jerk!
Despite sucking so bad for so many people, Spock’s failure introduces us to the SCIENCE of this film. Spock attempted to use “red matter” to create an artificial black hole that would swallow the supernova that was threatening the Romulan planet. Red Matter does not exist in the known universe and was created entirely for this film so don’t get too excited.
For someone who is a genius, Spock should have known that a black hole was a terrible idea. Black holes cannot be controlled. They destroy everything around them, not unlike a supernova, and they never allow for tanning season. Spock traded in stage 2 cancer for stage 3 in this matter.
Because we do not know anything about black holes, Star Trek offers us an interesting theory not unlike the one offered in Event Horizon. The fact that the Romulans were sent back in time leads us to believe that the “black hole creating wormholes” theory is correct and, as we know, Sam Neill is always right.
We will come back to the black hole/wormhole theory in the next section, but Star Trek adds to the argument many science fiction creators fight for: black holes are not a bad thing.
In every movie we have discussed thus far, they have all been saying something similar. As an ESTJ, I work with concrete facts that I can get touch, like Neill’s mustache, so the fact that these people are making up theories about black holes is foreign to me.
But, I would like to point out that time is a flat circle, so the fact that all of these plots are essentially saying the same thing regarding one of the films main plot points is not surprising to me. These plots were destined to happen again- McConaughey tells us they were.
Maybe all of us are living in a black hole, or we are all just a figment of someone’s imagination that is stuck inside of a black hole…see, theories are fun.
4. Interstellar (2014) “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”
“How could you know about this movie? It hasn’t even come out in theaters yet?”
Answer: I have not seen it and I do not know what all will happen in Nolan’s next film, but I do know the details of the film. And those details let me know that this film was inspired by the works of Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist. That fact alone is exciting because it is someone educated, like myself (I took Astronomy 1000) who was in charge of making sure this film was done RIGHT!
“The film features a team of space travelers who travel through a wormhole.” That sentence was taken directly from the Interstellar web page.
The fact that there is a wormhole involved means that black holes will be a part of Interstellar. Now, I cannot say with any certainty that this film will follow suit of the first two movies we discussed, that is the idea of religion, or Heaven and Hell.
But I can say, just by watching the trailer, that this film will follow suit and will introduce viewers to the idea of a black hole allowing the traveler to pass through to distant planets in a matter of minutes. Given that technology in film gets better every year, this film will undoubtedly look better than even Star Trek from five years ago.
Not to mention the fact that Hoyte Van Hoytema is the cinematographer on Interstellar.
*I would like to point out that Van Hoytema is attached to the same role for the upcoming Bond 24 film!!!
We may never know what happens inside of black holes. Personally, I do not want to be the first human from Earth to jump inside of one. But the very idea of what they are, and what they could be, is awesome.
The way they are being portrayed is getting better and better and as time goes along, it is only natural based on what has happened, even in my lifetime, in the areas of technology that space enthusiasts will continue to find out information about black holes.
Now, no more talk about holes. Thanks for tuning in!