The Black Hole

"If there's any justice at all, the black hole will be your grave!"

The Black Hole, Disney’s blatant attempt to cash in on the sci-fi craze of the late ‘70s, is a film that wants to be many things. Actually, scratch that. It wants to be three distinct things. It wants to be Star Wars. It wants to be 2001: A Space Odyssey. And it wants to be a Disney movie for all the family. Sadly it fails to be any of those. It’s not rousing enough to be Star Wars, not nearly as cerebral as 2001 and often far too dark for magical kingdom of Disney.

The heroes (Robert Foster and the brilliantly named Joseph Bottoms) are nothing but a pair of chiselled-jawed blandroids, their sole purpose is to do all that action stuff while their co-stars do all the proper acting. The rest of the crew are equally vanilla save for the token robot, V.I.N.CENT, who is insufferably smug for an R2-D2 rip-off.

Even the films chief villain, Dr. Reinhart, is boring. Not nearly hammy or mad enough to be even slightly entertaining. His robotic henchmen, who stomp around the ship like they’re in search of a Nazi rally, are too often played for laughs rather than menace. Luckily there’s Maximillian, Reinhart’s intimidating crimson Cylon and chief enforcer. Without a single word Maximillian steals the entire movie, easily blowing the human characters off the screen with just the simplest mechanical glare.

But Maximillian seems to come from a completely different film, one where it’s okay to skewer Norman Bates with a propeller. The other robotic characters, the smug V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and country B.O.B., are meant to be cute, loveably and easily merchandised to small children. It’s that uneven tone that cripples the film. The Black Hole is a film unsure if it wants to be dark sci-fi or fun for all the family. At a glance the plot is uncomfortably similar to sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet. Just replace Morbius with Reinhart, Robbie with Maxillian, a planet with a spaceship, a dead crew with a zombie crew and the Krell with the black hole. All that’s lacking is a bit of shameless eye candy, Frank Drebin and a few monsters from the Id.

Then along comes the end, this is where the film really delves into 2001 territory. Visually the sequence isn’t that spectacular and, most important of all, isn’t really ambiguous enough. Kubrick took his audience on a trip beyond the infinite that, even without the advent of LSD, is still pretty damn mind-blowing today. The Stargate sequence made no attempt to explain itself to the members of the audience who weren’t high on drugs. It was up to them to interpret its meaning and decide whether it was profound or psychedelic gibberish. The Black Hole takes its audience on a far too literal journey, past the fire and brimstone of hell to drop of Reinhart and Maximillian and on through the angelic corridors of heaven to salvation for our heroes.

Notes and Quotes

--Besides Maximillian, the film’s only other saving grace is the phenomenal score by the genius that is John Barry. Its one of the great man’s most underappreciated works.

--This was Disney's first PG-rated movie.

--I had a little toy Maximillian growing up. Never knew what it was from until I saw this film. Didn't play with it much afterwards. 

--When the film was released in the Soviet Union it was renamed because 'black hole' is an obscene term in Russian.

Dr. Reinhart: "The word 'impossible', Mr. Booth, is only found in the dictionary of fools."

Lt. Pizer: "When I volunteered for this mission, I never thought I'd end up playing straight man to a tin can."

Dr. Reinhart: "Maximilian, the time has come to liquidate our guests."

Two smug robot sidekicks out of four.

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