The Black Hole, another forgotten sci-fi oddity, was Disney’s first PG movie. Not that it contained anything remotely offending, but because they were trying to break into the then-fledgling blockbuster movie racket. Plot-wise it’s pretty simple: spaceship crew find madman with big ship who wants to fly into a black hole.
1979 was the year of its release, and while Star Wars had already dominated this field, it’s worth noting that The Empire Strikes Back had not been released yet. The reason I say that is because that trilogy basically set the stage for sci-fi films in the 80’s. There were many bad Star Wars knockoffs after the fact, but the Black Hole occupies different terrain.
While the movie is totally redeeming on a purely visual level, the rest of the film is disjointed to put it mildly. Because there wasn’t an established sci-fi formula in place exactly, the Black Hole goes all over the place. Part scientific brain twerker * ; part lasers and chases ; part disaster movie ; part moralistic treatise on humanity.
I’ll talk about each part below, but first let’s check out the big-money cast they had:
Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Roddy McDowall, and lest we forget:
Borgnine bathed in brown and beige.
Here’s some of the great space movie junk the Black Hole offers us:
Robots : smart-ass and whiny (they had figured out this part of the formula). It’s interesting to note that both the evil and good robots can be communicated with telepathically, which I believe was a new twist at the time.
Spaceships: the Cygnus is a vast expanse of space that always reminded me of the Centre Pompidou. It is run by this madman: Dr. Hans Reinhardt.
Notice the bright red associated with both him and his hench-robot Maximillian. I can’t help but think some of this is Cold War commie-baiting. Remember in the 80’s nothing said “mad genius” more than disheveled hair and an Eastern European accent. He meets his initial end not at the hand of the cosmos, but by a big-screen tv.
The Cygnus is run by robots who we learn are actually the original crew. They are *mandroids*. At one point the heroes feel a moral obligation to free these “poor souls” but quickly realize that saving their own skin will take precedent over that. The mandroids are creepy, and way outta the framework of a typical Disney move.
And what a strange finish… first we see some sort of 2001-ish (but way less cooler) head trip as they fly through the black hole itself.
Reinhardt somehow merges with Maximillian in open space and they descend to the Dante-ish vision of hell below. Totally biblical and very unnecessary.
So honestly, I haven’t seen this film since I was a child. I had totally forgotten about all the weird scientific/theoretical/morality elements. I was young and just wanted robots and lasers.
The actual look of the film is incredible. Total old school : miniatures, matte paintings, Atari-esque special effects. Peter Ellenshaw was the production designer and his C.V. will more than impress. I still recommend it as great-looking, slighty dorky, mutant slab of pre-80’s sci-fi.
* I had to look up what the Einstein-Rosen Bridge was!