Being a science fiction lover, I found myself disappointed with Disney’s “The Black Hole.” While not a huge flop (or even a big hit on its Christmas 1979 release), it has gone underrated and I can see why. The movie has grown a cult fan base and I can understand why. One the surface, this is really impressive looking movie with huge spaceship models with an extensive use of sets and matte painting special effects. Its a shame because I wish the story was about as interesting and engaging as the robots that fly around on wires.
A crew of pilots aboard the Palomino craft discover the space vortex and among it a lonesome craft stranded in space with it. It may sound like such a small scene but what I described in the past sentence takes roughly 17 minutes of screen time. I would be fine if it was half of that but a good portion of the opening is spent floating about with boring and pointless science talk that can easily go over so many heads. Worst of all within those 17 minutes, I could barley remember anything about the crew members. A lot of time is spent floating about and avoiding the black hole in a slow pace that the only thing I can recall is that Anthony Perkins is on-board and their cute little robot assistant named V.I.N.C.E.N.T. is voiced by an non-credited Roddy McDowell. Sad really when the main focus of your first act is just floating around and less on establishing.
Once we finally get into the other spacecraft, the Cygnus, things change up a bit but the pacing of “Black Hole” becomes more prodded and slow than it ever does. The leader of the Cygnus is a mix between Captain Nemo and Dr. Moreau. He has been on stranded on the Cygnus for a long time to study the black hole and in the process goes mad to the point where his mutinous crew is lobotomized to a robotic state. He plans to drive straight into the black hole and offers the crew to join him as they try to escape the ship in the process. Oh, I’m sorry. The whole converting the crew into human droids was meant to be a big twist. Well, considering it was in the trailers and the paper-thin delivery of the story it doesn’t feel like that big of a twist when we get to it.
“The Black Hole” is clearly two stories in one as it tries to be theological like 2001 questioning the aspect of technology while trying to be action-packed like Star Wars. The idea and concepts are there but nothing is fully utilized. I’m positive the scientific stuff on the black hole is inaccurate and I could forgive it seeing it is just a science fiction/fantasy. But what I can’t forgive is how this movie is being presented and executed. The science talk is about as boring as a college lecture and the action scenes feel thrown in than add on any form of tension. Its a very uneven picture to the point you just don’t care about anything. One character gets disemboweled (in a very non-graphic way) and I feel like I should feel something but I don’t. We spend time with the Palomino crew before they board on but nothing feels like we connect with them. Its just the cliche archetype with the band of people that have personality by traits like the all-knowing professor and the hot shot kid that wants to be another Han Solo. These are personalities but they just feel generic and done before.
Even the captain of the Cygnus who is also the villain is uninteresting. Again, he has a fascination with the black hole like Captain Nemo’s fascination with the sea but then you have that Moreau twist where he converts the crew into machines. The ideas are there but there is no motivation behind it. In argument, this could make for a scary and tragic character but I feel more depth should have been added. Why is he fascinated by the black hole? What does he expect upon entering it? Unless I missed something during the endless conversations, it doesn’t matter to me in the end.
The only good thing I can remember that is remotely enjoyable is Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens as two floating robots. Its an unlikely paring that is interesting but even they can’t save much of the movie. They already are channeling RD-D2 even though they speak and don’t resort to sounds. But even considering the round design and utilities they have, it starts to become questionable. Regardless, the special effects and puppet work on these two are interesting considering how pre-dated CGI was back then. Sure you see some strings here and there but you have to admire the effort put into its effect work.
But even then I shouldn’t praise it too much for that aspect. The robot designs and sets look iconic but at the helm is a done to death story with great ideas that are tossed into the mix and nothing really comes together. I know I shouldn’t compare this movie too much to Star Wars but a lot of studios at the time where jumping on with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Moonraker. The difference is that those movies knew what they wanted to be. Star Trek was more 2001 while Moonraker was action-orientated like Star Wars. The Black Hole tries to be two in one but it doesn’t work.
Even when we do go into the black hole in the finale there is nothing unique or spectacular about it. Our heroes go in, have a trippy 2001 moment and come out scratch free. And considering the lack of effort in story and characters, it doesn’t matter talking about the way it concludes seeing how it quickly ends after about 80 minutes of boredom. And to see it wrap up a plot element so fast, perhaps its the only positive thing aside from the robots and special effects I can highlight it for. But even then what you don’t want a movie to do is make you glad is that it ended and you can move on with your life. A movie should get you engaged into its world and give you the feeling that you wish it went on longer to enjoy it. The Black Hole on the other hand, I was more happy when the end credits appeared than when it first started. And that is a feeling I never want to experience again.