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Sci Fi Channel Movie Review -- Black Hole

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The Black Hole
a review by JMW

The premise of this movie is a discussion of the possibility of whether a heavy ion collider experiment could result in the formation of a black hole. Based on this premise -- and Stephen Hawking's latest theory that matter could indeed escape a black hole -- a far better and more scientifically interesting movie could have been made. However, TPTB seem to have decided that establishing scientific plausibility -- much less accuracy -- was far less important than the recycled plot and stock characters.

The location of this particular heavy ion collider is the Midwestern Quantum Research Lab in St Louis. As the story opens there is an explosion in the lab and suddenly objects are being drawn toward the area of the explosion, where there is a mysterious gust of air. Predictably, the crew sent out to investigate (aka the obligatory "redshirts") are both killed; one by a mysterious energy creature which has appeared, the other by the force of what we discover is a black hole formed by the explosion.

The management of the lab is of course, stumped by these events, and has to call in a former employee, Dr. Spencer Bryce (Judd Nelson), to work on the problem. He has been in a slump due to the loss of the custody of his daughter, but with the help of his coworker Dr. Shannon (Kristy Swanson) with whom he is, coincidentally enough, romantically involved, they put the pieces together. During the course of events we find out that the probable cause of this explosion was the acceleration of the initial schedule due to competing research taking place in China (similar, if you recall, to the reason for the genetic mutation in Larva).

At about the same time as Dr Bryce arrives, a large company of army personnel arrives, led by General Ryker (David Selby). Ryker is not the stereotypical trigger happy military man of most SF movies, but a level headed, intelligent man looking for the best way to contain the situation and save lives. He has the authority from both the President and from Homeland Security to use whatever means necessary up to and including a nuclear strike, but is eager to work with the scientists to find a less drastic and catastrophic solution. (To me, he brought to mind Don S. Davis' General Hammond from Stargate SG1, and his is just about the only three dimensional character in the movie. In discussing this with a friend, the thought occurred to me that there might be quite a simple reason for this. Selby appears to have a track record of having what is called a "story mind"; when on Falcon Crest it was widely acknowledged that he had contributed a number of plot suggestions and bits of business that better developed both his character and the story as a whole. Perhaps some similar contributions are the reason for his character coming off so well in this work.)

This is an eminently reasonable man. When Dr. Bryce completely flips out at the idea of using nukes, explaining that that sort of power will just feed the black hole, perhaps creating multiple black holes and the ultimate destruction of the planet, Ryker hears him out. He then explains that this is just WHY he had Dr. Bryce brought in -- so that he can give him better options (the implication being the General dislikes the nuclear option as much as any of the scientists do).

In predictable horror/disaster movie fashion, the creature gets out, attacks those in the control room, and kills more "redshirts" before it's frightened away by a chair thrown at it by General Ryker. (Stock situations and characters again rear their heads in the escape from the facility; was anyone REALLY surprised about what happened to the two characters Ryker returned to try and rescue? I also could have done very well without the all too realistic vomiting scene.) After its escape through some ductwork, the creature heads along the high voltage lines to wreak predictable havoc in St. Louis, with the two Doctors following behind to try and thwart its efforts. From here things continue with the Bryce character worrying about his estranged wife and daughter, and, in true disaster movie fashion, diverting from his mission to try and rescue them from the free for all that was the evacuation of St. Louis. (All it was missing was the dog to have been a replay of Independence Day.) Phone communications die out -- only to come back at the most plot convenient times. And scientific information/updates on the creature disappear completely as the disaster movie plot takes over, leaving many, many loose ends by the time the picture ends.

One niftykeen and plausible plan, approved implausibly quickly and with little question by all the authorities involved, fails to work and the decision is made to go with the nukes. Astonishingly enough, when this happens Bryce does NOT point out to Homeland Security or the President the previously established fact that nukes would exacerbate the problem. In a STUNNING display of deux ex machina, Bryce SUDDENLY thinks of a plan that should have been the first plan to try, being far less convoluted than the one which had just been tried and failed. (Was this padding for time or simply bad writing? Anyone's guess.) The only thing that enables this to work -- and keeps the Earth from being destroyed -- is the fact that General Ryker is still on their side and still open to attempting the new plan. He does this at the risk of his career and a possible court martial, doing an end run around his superior officers to enable the scientists to make their attempt. When found out, he justifies this to the General who is his superior officer by saying, "Just because it's necessary doesn't mean it's right." (This second General is just one more one-dimensional character, apparently set up just to give Ryker someone to defy in order to help the heroes and also to serve as a counterpoint to the reasonableness and humanity of his character.)

In the end, all is well even after St Louis is dramatically decimated, including the Gateway Arch (which, amusingly enough, appears in a long shot AFTER it's supposed destruction). Dr. Bryce jumps from the truck JUST before it and the creature are pulled into the black hole, and he dramatically survives his last second jump from the truck -- and also manages in some unexplained manner NOT to be pulled into the black hole along with the heavier objects which it was sucking in -- much like Indiana Jones survived his trip over the cliff in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Selby did a very good job with Ryker. This was the only character that seemed real, and behaved realistically given the fantastical events he was dealing with. He seemed the best-written character of the bunch; the least like a cardboard cliché. This General is a military man, but the implication is that he is one experienced enough with real fighting to ask questions and NOT shoot everything first. He is an experienced, competent leader, but he is three dimensional enough to show real fear when he has a close call with the creature, and remorse over his men who have died trying to defeat it. There is a marked contract between Selby's playing of fright, with shaky voice, breathing and other physical reactions, and the monotone, physically expressionless deliveries of Swanson and Nelson after going through the same experience. Unfortunately, they both appear to have a very limited range, even given the thin material they were given to work with.

In short, this was an OK movie with a lot of wasted potential. It could have been much better if more care had been given to the script and casting for more talented and capable actors. The script was not by any means beyond salvaging; with a few more skilled and experienced character actors to pull it together, it might have been possible to overlook the problems in the story.

Reivew is@June 2006 By JMW. Please do not copy any part of this article without permission and attribution.

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