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The Black Hole (1979) – DVD Review

Disney: Black Hole DVD


Written by Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Barbash, Richard H. Landau
Directed by Gary Nelson
Starring Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, and the voices of Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens


  • Featurette: Through The Black Hole
  • Extended theatrical trailer

Released by: Walt Disney Home Video.
Rating: PG
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Fans should consider it.

[ad#longpost]The good crew of the exploratory space vessel Palomino–Capt. Dan Holland (Forster), First Officer Lt. Charles Pizer (Bottoms), Dr. Kate McCrae (Mimieux), Dr. Alex Durant (Perkins), reporter Harry Booth (Borgnine), and robotic crewmember V.I.N.CENT. (McDowall)–have just come across the mother of all black holes. While gazing at the massive warp in space, they find the impossible: a space ship just sitting there when it should be sucked into the gravity whirlpool. Even stranger, the ship is the U.S.S. Cygnus, thought lost during its own exploration mission 20 years ago. This has special significance for Dr. McCrae since her father was the first officer of the ship.

But when the board the Cygnus, they find neither Kate’s father nor its crew, they do find its captain, Hans Reinhardt (Schell), commanding robed robotic servants, stiff joined mechanical guards, and Maximillan, seemingly a demon made metal and silicon. At first Reinhardt is charismatic and charming, but his obsessions about the nearby black hole and his determination to fly the Cygnus through it seem to border on madness. As the crew of the Palomino becomes uneasy by the holes in Reinhardt’s story, the true nature of his work is revealed by B.O.B. (Pickens), an old robot with a story to tell. With the Cygnus on course for its flight to destiny or oblivion, Capt. Holland and company must fight or they will see what’s on the other side of The Black Hole.

After the success of Star Wars, everyone and his brother tried to repeat it with an effects heavy space epic. But while Lucas harkened back to the movie serials of Hollywood’s golden age, Disney seemed to call upon the gothic horror tradition. The Cygnus hovering near the black hole is a sci-fi version of the looming castle by the cliffs over a roaring sea. Reinhardt is a mix of Frankenstein seeking forbidden knowledge and the Byronic aristocrat wallowing in his obsessive madness. Sinister servants abound and awful secrets are waiting to be revealed. Even the vast interiors with their alloy buttresses aboard the ship lend to the gothic atmosphere.

I’m usually the first one to criticize people who see something just for the special effects, but the visual effects are impressive, especially considering when this was made. From the Cygnus first bringing its lights up to the heroes trying to outrun a massive asteroid to the angry maw of the black hole itself, the special effects wizards were ready to impress an audience. Yes, I know you shouldn’t be able to see it but dramatic license had to be taken. All the actors fulfill the roles they need to play; the square jawed hero, the sensitive love interest, the hot headed sidekick, all are present. It doesn’t matter that most of the characters are cardboard, they’re supposed to be. All of them pale against the forceful personality of Reinhardt. My God, Schell doesn’t just eat the scenery; he devours it like the black hole itself. The sheer magnitude of his overacting is something to behold–it’s almost worth getting the movie based on that alone.

This movie could have been an interesting juxtaposition to the heroic derring do of Star Wars. The problem was Disney was handling the project. The studio, with its reputation of family entertainment, could only go so far with the dark environment. There had to be a cute heroic robot that seems to have Bartlett’s Quotations preinstalled and another cute robot with a cute Texan accent. Add plenty of laser battles with the ship’s security robots and any sense of atmosphere is gone.

And there is the ending. Good God, what the hell were they thinking? I suspect someone must have taken some LSD while watching 2001 and had a bad trip. That drug induced delusion came back in a flashback during the script meeting and that’s how that weird detour into Dante’s Inferno was taken. I’m sorry but Star Wars and 2001 do not mix and don’t forget the open ended conclusion where you can almost feel the desperate hope of a franchise. Of course anyone with half a brain could see that was a false hope.

The only feature, besides the usual trailer, is a look behind the special effects of the movie. This demonstrates some of the techniques the filmmakers used such as making randomly sized pinpricks into a fabric background, then backlighting it to make space seem more densely populated. And it’s nice to know that even Harrison Ellenshaw, the matte effects supervisor, isn’t sure what the ending means either. It’s a shame that this is the only feature since The Black Hole is the end of an era for the Disney studio, but it’s still worth a rental.

Buy it from Amazon.