The Black Hole review by Mike Long

Nothing succeeds like success, and following the box-office record breaking performance of Star Wars in 1977, everyone in Hollywood was clamoring to be a part of the new sci-fi movement. The Walt Disney company wasn't about to left out of this trend and in 1979 they released their first PG-rated film The Black Hole. This came at a time when Disney was in a state of change, and that ambiguous state is reflected in The Black Hole, which remains a confusing and odd film to this day.

As The Black Hole opens, we are introduced to the crew of the Palomino -- Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster), Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms), Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux), Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins), Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine), and a robot named V.I.N.CENT. (voiced by Roddy McDowall). The Palomino's mission is to explore space to find new life. While approaching a massive black hole, they notice a huge spaceship situated in front of the enormous swirling mass. The ship appears to be a derelict, but suddenly the lights come on and the Palomino lands on-board the Cygnus, which was believed to have been lost in space some 20 years ago. The only human on the Cygnus is Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell), having surrounded himself with many drones and a menacing red robot named Maximilian. Reinhardt has been able to overcome intense gravitational pull of the black hole and plans to enter it to see where it leads. As the crew of the Palomino repair their ship (the ship was damaged by flying too close to the black hole), they begin to realize that in addition to being a scientific genius, that Reinhardt may be a maniac as well, as they find many mysterious things around the Cygnus, and Reinhardt's explanation as to the fate of the rest of the crew doesn't add up. As Reinhardt goes forward with his plan to enter the black hole, the Palomino crew realizes that escape from the Cygnus before Reinhardt kills them all.

The Black Hole is a truly ambitious film that simply doesn't work and it's very easy to see why. The movie is far too silly and transparent for adults, yet it's too violent and disturbing for kids. So, what we have is a film without a target audience. While Star Wars clearly owed its story to many other films, at least it put them together in an original way. In contrast, The Black Hole is nothing but a "creepy, old house" movie set in space. Reinhardt is the eccentric old man, Maximilian is the creepy butler, and the crew of the Palomino are the travelers who get stranded in the mansion overnight. On top of this hackneyed premise, the makers of The Black Hole have attempted to put a layer of serious science-fiction, especially regarding the science of the black hole. (Although all science seems to fly out the window during the finale when people are functioning just fine out in space.) The result is a story that in many ways feels lazy. The only really interesting aspect of the script is the mystery of what happened to the crew of the Cygnus. The shenanigans of V.I.N.CENT. and another robot named BOB (voiced by Slim Pickens) seem strangely out of place compared to some of the more macabre parts of the story.

Bad story aside, The Black Hole does have its moments. While most of the special effects look bad and cheap today (especially the constant use of blue screen), some aspects of the film are still impressive. The bulk of the interesting moments come in the last act, which include a shoot-out with sentry robots and an amazing meteor shower, which culminates with the best shot in the film. But, the film's ambiguous ending, which to this day I don't understand, will most likely leave a bad taste in most viewer's mouths. Despite it's many flaws, The Black Hole is still a touchstone for many Generation X-ers, as we remember it as the movie that our parents probably shouldn't have taken us to see.

The Black Hole flies onto DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. This DVD replaces a previous disc released by Anchor Bay in 1999. Unlike that old release, this new disc contains an anamorphic transfer of the film, which has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image looks pretty good, given the age of the film, although there are some occasional defects on the picture from the source material. Otherwise, the image is fairly clear, showing only minimal grain. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark. There is some minor artifacting, but nothing distracting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track (as did the old disc). This is one of the better re-mastered tracks that I've heard, as it features liberal use of surround sound and some nice, booming bass. The score of The Black Hole is incredibly annoying but it sounds fine on this track, as does the dialogue.

This DVD features a new documentary entitled "Through The Black Hole". This 16-minute featurette is narrated by matte effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw, who worked on the film with his father, Peter Ellenshaw. The segment contains no behind-the-scenes footage, but does have many production stills. Ellenshaw discusses the use of matte paintings in the film, the creation of the Cygnus and the use of motion controlled cameras, the black hole effects, and the robots. He also reveals that the original script had no ending. (Really?!) The DVD also contains an extended trailer for The Black Hole, which runs nearly 3 1/2 minutes and gives away most of the movie (this same trailer was on the Anchor Bay disc). The only other extra is the fact that the movie is shown with the opening overture intact. Here, it is played with a title card which reads "Black Hole Overture", whereas the Anchor Bay disc displayed a starfield while the music played.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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