On the Vogon constructor fleet

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On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby Graham Kennedy » Wed Sep 05, 2012 12:05 pm

So I'm watching the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie (pity me)! and the destruction of Earth comes up. You can see it here.

Although the film sucks, I always loved this sequence. The destruction of Earth is gorgeous, the combination of the massive fleet being given this absurdly over the top treatment by the camera and music as they pull back... back... back... back... back... and then, finally, leading to a detonation that is comically anticlimactic. Plus, it leads into the introduction of the Guide itself, floating in space to that haunting music. Love, love, love this sequence. Which just makes it all the more disappointing that the majority of the film just sucks so badly.

Anyway, the Vogon constructor fleet always intrigued me, so I decided to do a little analysis of these ships, just for fun. Here's a still from the shot where the camera backs out away from the surface, showing the fleet hovering around the Earth :

Image

As you can see, the show shows southern England and the Northern coast of France. The ships are at various heights, but it's clear from the video clip above that the lower ones are quite close to the surface - the jumps in altitude show the lower end of a ship coming into view whilst surface features a few miles apart are visible, so the lower end of the ships are likely no higher up than 20,000 feet or so. One could argue for higher altitudes, and so smaller ships, but there really is only so far you can go with that - see later discussion for details.

I picked out two recognisable spots, one on the coast East of Cherbourg and one on the coast West of Calais. On the screen grab I took, the distance between these two points is 356.51 pixels.

Image

Then I used Google Earth to measure the distance and found that these two spots are 248 kilometres apart. That establishes a scale for these images of 1 pixel = 695 metres.

To minimise errors of perspective and foreshortening angles, I picked out a few ships that appeared to be amongst the lowest, whilst still being relatively close to the centre of the screen, and measured them. I found an average length on a side of 12-14 pixels. Going with the lower end of this, that makes the ships 9.7 kilometres on a side.

Length is more difficult; we're looking at most of these things almost top-down. But it's clear that their length is several times their height; I estimate at least a 4:1 ratio between length and height, indicating a length of 38 kilometres.

Examining a later frame, we see this view :

Image

This is a shot that shows the majority of the planet in one frame. The fact that the ships are even still visible at all, and as more than dimensionless points at that, confirms that the earlier figures were not simply due to errors in perspective. There is certainly a degree of uncertainty, but it's clear from this image that these ships are at least as large as suggested.

Now consider how many ships are in the fleet. The image shows the ships regularly spaced around the planet in a geodesic sphere pattern. It's hard to say how many there are with any degree of precision, but referring back to the earlier images the distance between any two adjacent ships varies between 110 and 200 pixels, putting the ships about 75 - 140 km apart. Taking the midpoint of this as the average, this would mean a ship every 107 km, or about 1 ship every 11,556 km^2 of surface. Given a 510,000,000 km^2 surface, that would equate to 44,000 ships.

And bear in mind, this is not some grand battle fleet come to wage war. This is the galactic equivalent of a construction crew come to knock a house down and put a road through - it intentionally parallels the crew who come to knock Arthur's house down at the start of the film. And personally, I think something like this is actually a more plausible scenario than the alien warfleet; humanity does not wage war on deer or wolves, we don't send out tanks and infantry to try and wipe them out. In terms of purposeful aggression, at most the deer and wolf face individual hunters who are killing them essentially for fun, rather like the Predator in those movies. But the real threat they face is not purposeful aggression - it's the farmer who wants them away from his crops, it's the construction crews who want to build a new road or a new suburb. Those are the people who come in and devastate the entire area, and the animals are just in the way.

Not that I regard that as being a likely scenario, mind. It's just more likely than an alien war. :)
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby Mikey » Wed Sep 05, 2012 1:52 pm

I've never seen the film, and I have no intentions of so doing. What you say, however, sure seems to be in keeping with Adams' intent in the book and the radio scripts. The idea of the Vogon ships (and fleet) being mind-bogglingly vast, juxtaposed with the idea of it merely being a work detail, served in both cases to highlight the aptness of the Guide's entry on Earth.
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Wed Sep 05, 2012 5:44 pm

Harmless or mostly harmless? ;)
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby Mikey » Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:43 pm

RK_Striker_JK_5 wrote:Harmless or mostly harmless? ;)


The entry was updated from "Harmless" to "Mostly harmless," in Mostly Harmless, IIRC.
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby Tsukiyumi » Thu Sep 06, 2012 3:04 am

Nice calcs, GK. They are frigging huge.

For the record, I rather liked the movie, but then I never have read the books...
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:33 am

Tsukiyumi wrote:Nice calcs, GK. They are frigging huge.

For the record, I rather liked the movie, but then I never have read the books...

I haven't done either. I must rectify that sometime.
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby mwhittington » Fri Sep 07, 2012 7:18 am

I love the books. The movie's okay, as long as you turn your brain off.
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Sat Sep 08, 2012 6:00 am

mwhittington wrote:I love the books. The movie's okay, as long as you turn your brain off.

That's sadly true for a lot of adaptations.
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby Granitehewer » Sat Sep 15, 2012 5:36 pm

Only film where I fell asleep in the cinema.
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby Graham Kennedy » Sun Sep 16, 2012 9:50 pm

The film did many things wrong. For one, it sucked most of the humour out. Yes, you have to cut things down when you're going from a book/radio series/miniseries to a movie, but the approach they took was to include most of the jokes, but trim down each joke. Trouble is that Adams' humour is a very delicate thing. It often depends very much on the phrasing being just right, striking just the note or surrealism or irony required.

Take this example, from Arthur's defiance of Mr Prosser :

Mr Prosser said: “You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time you know."
"Appropriate time?” hooted Arthur. "Appropriate time? The first I knew about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I asked him if he’d come to clean the windows and he said no he’d come to demolish the house! He didn’t tell me straight away of course. Oh no. First he wiped a couple of windows and charged me a fiver. Then he told me."
"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."
"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything."
"But the plans were on display..."
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them!"
"That’s the display department."
"With a torch."
"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice didn’t you?"
"Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard."

And in the movie :

Prosser : "You should have made your protest months ago! These plans have been on display at the planning office for a year.
Dent : "On display? I had to go down to a cellar!"

See what's missing? The humour, that's what is missing.

And yet, there was time to add pointless plot elements that go nowhere. Like the entire side trip to Viltvodle VI. They meet Humma Kavula, who demands that they go to Magrathea to find the Point of View gun for him and takes Zaphod's second face hostage to force the point. But... they were already going to Magrathea, and although they find the point of view gun they never take it back, never recover Zaphod's other face, and Kavula plays no further part in the movie whatsoever. So what exactly was the point of that little side trip, other than to eat up ten minutes of screen time with something that was desperately unfunny and unnecessary?

And the whole film is full of stuff like this. Bad, bad movie. Go watch the BBC TV series instead, it's far superior.
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Re: On the Vogon constructor fleet

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Sun Sep 16, 2012 11:29 pm

Yeah. A lot of adaptations cut out the good but add unnecessary bad.
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