The Black Hole (1979)
Are you old enough to remember the 1970s and ‘80s when the BBC used to show a special one hour program during Bank Holiday Mondays in the UK, devoted entirely to 5 minute snippets of Walt Disney cartoons and movies? Do you remember those days before video tapes, and DVDs, and downloads (and cable and satellite channels), when the only chance to see a Disney movie outside of a trip to a cinema was when you got to watch one of these programs? They always had some cheesy ‘children’s TV’ presenter doing the intros and links (Timmy Mallet or Michaela Strachan, anyone?) but they were a highlight of the week if you managed to get home early enough from school.
Most of my earliest exposure to the world of Walt Disney was through these programs and in some ways I pity children today who are saturated with kiddy channels and programs just a click away. We appreciated what we had because we got it so rarely. So these times were all the more magical to us. And one of my earliest magical memories of those times was a now little known Disney film entitled, ‘The Black Hole’. The clue to the movie’s main theme is pretty much in the title. An exploration ship from Earth discovers a lost spacecraft, captained by a famous scientist and his crew of robots. The scientist turns out to have a few screws loose (don’t they always?) and is intent on entering a nearby Black Hole, taking the crew of the exploration vessel with him.
Released in 1979 as a sort of Disney ‘Star Wars’ it was also their first PG movie, so the storyline is a little bit darker than your average Magic Kingdom affair. There is an underlying tone of menace through much of the film: a number of murders have been done, there is nasty killer robot lurking about, there is a fair degree of violence, lots of screaming and shouting and running around, and a terrific dénouement. The special effects are still fairly special, 30 years on. The main spaceship in the movie is a vast behemoth of a thing and still looks good all these years later. Ok some of the effects are a wee bit ropey. The obligatory kid-friendly ‘god guy’ robots, though cutesy and enjoyable, are sometimes very obviously suspended by wires and such like and tend to wobble and spin in some scenes. Early blue screen efforts are often less than successful – ‘Avatar’ it ain’t. There are of course other problems. The dialogue is a bit stilted or preachy. The acting is not exactly award winning, frequently going for OTT dramatics in place of underplayed subtlety (with some notable exceptions) but the cast names are still impressive: Maximilian Schell, Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Perkins and Yvette Mimeux were all fairly big hitters in their day and at times they show why.
The musical score throughout the film is excellent, suitably dark and moody, matching many of the sets. And the dramatic ending manages to create an emotional pull in the viewer, instilling a genuine pathos: it is unexpected and very non-Disney. Though somewhat unsuccessful on its theatrical release due to its darker overtones, ‘The Black Hole’ earned itself a cult following with the advent of VHS. Today on DVD and downloads that iconic status continues and it remains a fan favorite. While hardly a gem of 1970s Sci-Fi or movie making it is still an engaging nugget well worth revisiting – and enjoying.
Just watch out for that big red robot with the whirling blades, though!
- The Black Hole spaceship illustration by Robert T. McCall (conceptships.blogspot.com)