This weekend I saw a 2006 movie called The Black Hole. It stars no one I have ever heard of, the acting was appalling, and it had one of the worst storylines I have ever had the misfortune to endure. The IMDB rating is 3.1, but despite all my negative comments I think they’re a little bit harsh on the poor flick: it was entertaining after all!
First, let’s go through some basic physics. A black hole is a point in space where the gravitational field is so dense that nothing can escape it. Not even electromagnetic radiation such as light. So far so good – the movie described black holes pretty well, and even fit in a nice comment about why they’re called black holes. (Hint: see the previous sentence.) But then things got worse. Let’s see if I can offer a brief synopsis of the movie.
An experiment in a particle accelerator in St. Louis results in the unfortunate creation of a microscopic black hole. From this black hole, an energy-eating creature emerges and starts to gobble up all our precious electricity. Meanwhile, the black hole starts to consume first the research facility, and then most of the city. For no apparent reason the President decides that a nuclear strike will make things better, despite what an expert on black holes says. Aforementioned expert presents his theory that the energy creature is connected to the black hole, and that if the creature is sent back through the hole, both of them will disappear. After some difficulty this is exactly what’s done…and all ends well.
Oookay. Now… Let’s see where to begin.
The movie mentions that in 1999 scientists foolishly disregarded the possibility of a black hole’s creation. This refers to the disaster scenarios presented before building the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, in which they summarize the threat with the following comment:
We conclude that there are no credible mechanisms for catastrophic scenarios at RHIC
Those foolish scientists! Don’t they see the dangers of microscopic black holes, prophecied by the movie?! Well, no. As far as I know, black holes aren’t stable while they’re small; it’s speculated that they leak Hawking radiation, and if the black hole is smaller than, say, a great mountain chances are it will evaporate with time.
Then we have the small detail of the energy creature emerging from the black hole. Dude. The movie’s plot would be completely acceptable if it just contained the black hole! It would have been a more decent disaster movie, and it wouldn’t have flaunted its ignorance like it does now. Why not leave it at a black hole? Why invent an energy creature that shouldn’t be able to travel through black holes (since…well…nothing escapes)? And why invent some story about closing the hole by shoving the creature back through it. What the hell? If we accept the idea that the creature consists of some Mystical Energy(TM) that’s unknown to us, and that the presence of that energy can neutralize the gravity field of a black hole, then why in the lower blazes didn’t the black hole get neutralized when the creature passed through the first time? I could have accepted some strange speculation about Mystical Energy, and how the creation of a black hole results in the creation of this Mystical Energy Creature and it’s gravity-neutralizing effects…but the scientist in the movie mentions how the creature travels through black holes to new parts of time and space in order to eat more energy.
(But of course, if we start to accept Mystical Energy creatures, we must start to accept other strange possibilities. Like, maybe they can be Mystically Positive or Mystically Negative, and when they’re positive they can generate black holes, and when they’re negative they close them. The act of travelling through the hole would then cause the Mystical Energy creature to switch polarity. So… Let’s just disregard the whole Mystical Energy idea completely.)
Watching The Black Hole is a little surreal. It not only contains (*cough*) questionable science, but the acting, the script, and the rest of the movie makes just as little sense. Why would anyone suggest deploying nuclear weapons against a black hole? What would they hope to achieve? I would assume that even a little kid knows what a black hole is – not to mention the President of the USA and his generals!
Still, despite all its bad points, the movie was strangely amusing and entertaining. And it does bring up some interesting things: the script writers were familiar with the debate about the RHIC, and when they designed a creature they chose an energy being…which is the only reasonable choice, since all matter would have gotten torn apart by the gravity of the black hole. Sure, energy can’t escape either, but given the choice between “look, a warrior serpent emerged intact from the black hole” and “look, a weird energy life form emerged” I choose the latter. Still, it would have been nice if the script writers had chosen a subject closer at hand. This is the dangers of possessing just a little knowledge: if you don’t know anything about a subject you probably wouldn’t take the task upon you, but if you have a little knowledge you arrogantly believe that you know enough to get the work done.
(Disclaimer: I’m a programmer, not a physicist. Nothing said above is guaranteed to contain a shred of truth. I hope the irony is quite visible for everyone.)