Meetings in Deep Space

Do this thought experiment for me. Pick a science fiction movie or a TV show. You can pick whatever you want, as long as this movie or show has space ships and contains at least one scene where 2 or more ships meet/battle in deep space. Got one? Ok, now recall this deep space scene. I will bet you that no matter what movie you picked you will see the same strange little thing. For some strange reason all the ships are aligned to some invisible plane. In other words, all the ships are situated so that you can define one direction which will mean “down” to all the ships on the screen (sans some fighters zooming around really fast).

There is also something you will never see – a ship situated so that it is perpendicular to one or more of it’s neighbors. If it’s a battle scene, you will always see ships attacking head on, or tailing the enemy – but never attacking from above or below. When a ship rams another ship, they will either ram the enemies prow, or the side. Why the hell is that? Space is 3D, yet most of movie makers treat space battles like sea battles – only with invisible water line.

Sure it makes sense that during battle ships would align to carry out an attack – but then again once they start fighting there should be considerable amount of movement up and down. Actually, the only way a pilot can define “up” is by looking at other ships – once everyone starts rolling and pivoting to get in a good shooting position, you loose that point of reference. It would not make sense to try to align to some pre-defined plane in space during battle.

Same thing goes for peaceful encounters. You always have two ships, traveling to different destinations, taking different routes and etc. Yet, when they meet they always somehow manage to end up in prow to prow position. Similarly, if you are planning to dock, or move allot of cargo from one ship to another it would make sense. Now in battle it might be useful to position yourself this way. But when you are just chattering on the comms or beaming people up and down, or send out swift moving transport pods – why bother? If you can beam someone to the other ship, does it matter if it is upside down, or perpendicular to you?

This is one of my pet peeves. I really think most of the people who make these shows, and movies simply can’t figure out that 3D space thing. I’m not even going to mention the horrible abuse of physics in most of scifi movies. This is a topic for a whole other rant… But is is really that difficult to show two ships in space that are not perfectly aligned?

BTW, if your show/movie (the one you picked at the beginning) did portray the ships perpendicular, upside down and at weird angles to each other – please let me know! I want to see it!

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6 Responses to Meetings in Deep Space

  1. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    This is an old post, I know, but I linked to it from a new one, I swear! BTW, did anyone else ever comment? I don’t see any….

    I think Babylon 5 did have some of this 3D, but not a ton. Also, doesn’t the current BSG do this some, too? Even though their tactical tracking and planning is done on a 2D table surface!
    For that matter, video games do it in 2D a lot. The strategic ones, anyway. I was horribly disappointed that the recent Empire at War SW game had 2D fleet combat, when the much-maligned Rebellion game of 10 years ago had battles in 3D. Of course, the ships in Rebellion still stayed oriented to the same horizontal plane, even as you moved them in 3 dimensions.

    I have been known to rant about this a little myself, but my real pet peeve is the way the military stuff is handled in so many of these shows…..

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    No worries, I love getting comments on these old things. :)

    I think you are right – BSG does have some small scenes where things move on different axis but usually only during the dynamic dogfights.

    On the other hand when someone jumps away and then comes back to Galactica and the fleet they are usually on the correct axis.

    The only space RTS I played was Homeworld 2 and it had some 3D combat but it was very limited – you could either go above or below by issuing a special command but by default everyone was oriented on the same plane.

    I guess they figured that an RTS game happening in full 3d would be to chaotic? Meh…

    Btw – I never been in the military so I know it mostly from TV and movies, but I bet someone who actually served for a while is super annoyed with these things. I know that I roll my eyes every time they show “hacking” on TV, and a doctor I once knew loved to complain about how unbelievably stupid and unrealistic that new generic $hospital_drama is.

    Same goes for lawyers – I mean, most people do some sort of Jury duty at one point or another so how come Holywood insists that lawyers can unveil some “really incriminating evidence” at the last minute without actually going through the paperwork, or that they can just waltz over to the bench and have a one-on-one chit-chat with the Judge at any time. Sigh…

    I guess Hollywood is equal opportunity offender.

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  3. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I guess Hollywood just wants it to look legit enough to allow us to suspend our disbelief. Sometimes they make it.

    Another related peeve is the way (especially in BSG) the main characters (almost exclusively senior officers) have to do EVERYTHING!!!! In BSG, naturally, with all the surviving marines onboard, a pilot (Starbuck) is the best sniper available. Need to raid an enemy ship? Send a bunch of pilots. Ship gets boarded? Send in the pilots! Helo on Caprica was ok because it was the kind of E&E that pilots are trained for. But the tactical combat missions?
    Star Trek is, of course, the worst offender in this, but BSG is more current.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Yeah, I loved how in Startreck the ships captain, his second in command, the ships medical officer a head engineer and one random guy in a red shirt are the preferred tactical team to do routine reconnaissance missions on unknown planets. :P

    In BSG this is less glaring, because while Starbuck is a pilot first and foremost, she also has much more experience fighting Cylon forces on the ground than most of the marines on board of Galactica.

    It might be due to the fact that most of the key characters are in fact pilots – but it seems that there are very few non-pilot officers on board who actually do have good amount of combat leadership experience. So it kinda make sense to send a seasoned veterans on missions like that.

    In fact there are not that many major characters who would be appropriate fir this type of mission. :P

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  5. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Yeah, but officer doesn’t necessarily equal combat leader. I think they did introduce a marine NCO character (female, which is mentioned for reference only) who was pretty tough/competent/experienced, but no marine officers. There would need to be a heirarchy in place. If the marine officers were killed, then that NCO would have been promoted into the slot. Pilots are officers, but they don’t really fit into the chain of command outside of the flight group. I give them more leeway on BSG, though, due to the circumstances dictated by the story, than I give stuff like ST or Stargate. I still like ‘em all, I just have to work harder to suspend my disbelief for some. ;)

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  6. Robin Stamer CANADA Mozilla Linux says:

    First off, as I recall from Serenity, the massive space battle near the end had the Reavers coming down on an agle against the Alliance fleet. Although the initial travel through the Reaver fleet had everything nice and parrallel.

    Secondly, about the Star Trek comment, I believe this is more about them only showing what would be interesting to watch. From what I gathered about the original series, Kirk would’ve been the type of person that would want to be there, and ended up showing favoritism to his friends. Other shoes seemed to have a more randomized away team (IE one cast memeber is not always a away-team member), this is what I remember from Voyager and TNG. Going even further, there was a specific Voyager episode where the away-team was actually the captain and 3 extras (?) where they were taken on the away mission specifically because they were the only people (excluding the captain) who hadn’t ever been on an away mission.

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