The Black Hole (1979) / Sci Fi-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running time: 98 min.
Cast: Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Joseph Bottoms, Roddy McDowall (voice), Slim Pickens (voice)
Director: Gary Nelson
Screenplay: Jeb Rosebrook, Gerry Day
Review published July 22, 2007
Disney's attempt to capitalize on the sci-fi trend, especially on the rampant popularity of Star Wars, doesn't quite pan out, despite the intriguing story premise. The Black Hole is virtually undone by competing for two different audiences: the typical kid crowd and hardcore science fiction junkies. By catering to both crowds, the film appeals to neither, as the cutesy nature of it proves too unpalatable for those who deem to take the movie seriously, while those who came in expecting another Disney fun-for-all-ages adventure find the very dark plot dwarfs any good cheer one might feel during certain scenes (it's their first production not stamped for all ages, and reportedly, it is the first Disney film to show a human murder). The black hole at the center of the story could have been seen as a figurative force -- nothing was able to escape its power to suck.
Set in the distant future, The Black Hole features a crew of five, as well as a rambunctious robot, who happen upon a mysterious black hole in their space vessel, the Palomino. They soon discover they are not alone, as another space ship, Cygnus, is stationed in the vicinity, and it just so happens to be the one that Palomino crewmember Kate McRae's (Mimieux, The Time Machine) father happened to have been on before he was given up as missing for good. They find the ship is all but completely abandoned, save for a genius named Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Schell, Deep Impact), who is planning to take his robot crew where no man has gone before -- right down the black hole. As cracked as it seems, that's only the tip of the iceberg as far as Reinhardt's twisted deeds, as there's more to his story than meets the eye.
The Black Hole is a mixed bag, with some surprisingly interesting philosophical themes that get stripped away shortly after they appear by moments of cloying robot banter and extended laser gun shootouts. The special effects, while dated by today's standards, have a certain visual appeal, and it does have a solid John Barry score. The ingredients were all there for a fantastic science fiction adventure, and yet, it's hard to discern just what to make of the finished product, which tries to go too many different directions at once. Nevertheless, despite the inability of Gary Nelson (Nighthawks, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold) to maintain the proper tone with so many competing story elements, the film does manage to keep one's interest, especially as it draws near to the mystery of the black hole's vortex.
At least the film doesn't skimp out on showing us just what might be on the other side once you get through the black hole (though the science employed is bunk), although it doesn't exactly explain it either (without spoiling it, there appears to be a religious undertone to it). I think it's commendable for Disney to allow such higher brow concepts into their popcorn fantasy Star Wars attempt, even if the overall feel is of three different movies jammed together. It also delivers in the special effects department, with some very convincing models and set destruction, even if the constant matting does appear too obvious by today's more discriminating eyes. Nevertheless, the film gets a little sloppy in continuity, especially as it races toward the end, such as a scene involving a robot getting drilled by V.I.N.CENT in one shot, then seen outside the ship in the next, hurtling toward the black hole.
Too dark for most young kids and too light for most serious-minded adults, The Black Hole is a misfire that probably could have stood a chance if it didn't overreach in trying to gain a kid audience. This is especially true in the hovering, anthropomorphic robot character of V.I.N.CENT (voiced by Roddy McDowall, Circle of Iron), who looks like he came right out of "South Park", as well as his newly-found companion, Bob (voiced by Slim Pickens, 1941), who sports his cowboy accent for no apparent reason save that it ups his "cuteness" factor. Along with fairly cardboard characters and the aforementioned unevenness, it's the kind of movie that can only be truly enjoyed by ignoring the delivery in favor of the more compelling concepts. It's a tall order, considering just how far the makers of the film are willing to go to make sure that they sell enough funny robot action figures to the kids in the audience. Nevertheless, it does retain a small cult following, and can even be seen as a precursor of sorts to such films as the horror flick Event Horizon and Danny Boyle's dying sun thriller, Sunshine.
©2007, 2013 Vince Leo