Nothing gets my ire up as quickly as when a hunk of technology takes on the characteristics of a stubborn animal, especially one more stubborn than I. I've spend the better part of a week struggling, with little success, against a goblin that infested the innards of the MacBook Pro in my possession, and in the course of his exploits managed to shred months of hard work.
My grief did not immobilise me. I dug through a stack of raw hard drives and found an archive that brought me back to late August. I then resolved to gently open the MacBook Pro's chassis to extract the hard drive to see if it was readable elsewhere. I had assembled the notebook's service manual, the requisite tools and the will for the operation, but Apple's replacement MacBook Pro had just arrived. I went to my office to restore the August backup image onto it, and the most wonderful thing happened: It locked up after the chime, precisely as the dead MacBook Pro had done, and in which state MacBook Pro the elder remained.
I call this a wonderful event, but I didn't think so at the time. I yanked the cables out of both sides of the notebook, reached underneath and ejected the battery like a spent magazine. After a minute's rest, I powered up again and found the new MacBook Pro in good health.
The wonderful part is that in a flash of understanding, I realised three things: The MacBook Pros' USB ports were the proximate cause of death, I might be able to get the dead MacBook Pro to boot from a flyweight FireWire drive, and that if it booted, it would be the last time I'd see that machine alive.
While there is no defending this as a product of reason, it played out precisely as I had envisioned it. I was able see the internal drive and image most of its contents to an external FireWire drive, then transfer that to the new MacBook Pro.
Apart from reinforcing my longstanding disrespect for the USB implementation in Intel chipsets, the lesson, the yarn of which is too long to spin, left me with two simple bits of advice, one which you may take or leave, and one you're obliged to keep in mind. I recommend that you use FireWire drives. Apple developed it, they're understandably fussy about its implementation, and FireWire is not part of Intel's chipset. If you need to pull data from a damaged hard drive, don't use Disk Utility; it stops at the first error. Use the command-line utility ditto instead, which will plow through any read errors it encounters and copy everything it can, and with HFS+ metadata intact.
The dead MacBook Pro never boot again, and I don't believe it ever will. It is winging its way back to Cupertino, where it will be thoroughly refurbished and given a new life. I wish it well.