The Black Hole—Disney's 1979 "epic" science fiction movie.

The Black Hole  Black hole
Left: Yvette Mimieux and Ernest Borgnine look at the Black Hole. Right: Mimieux and Robert Forster discuss the Black Hole (well, I don't remember if they do or don't in this particular shot, but it's likely).

I admit that "The Black Hole" is a guilty pleasure, and has been since I first saw it as a teenager. It's not really that great of a film, but the combination of John Barry's ponderous (but still fabulous) score, beautiful (especially for their time) special effects, and a great cast make it a worthwhile movie for me.

 
 
 
L-R: Joseph Bottoms, the crew, Mimeuix and Forster, Mimeuix and Anthony Perkins, Forster and Ernest Borgnine, Perkins and Borgnine.

The story: The story is not unlike "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." We begin with a stranded crew in space (Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, and Joseph Bottoms). They are rescued by an enormous (and assumed long-lost) space ship, whose only human inhabitant seems to be Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell), who is determined to "study" a menacing-looking black hole nearby. The crew finds that Reinhardt has much to hide, and the story progresses from there.

   
L-R: Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster, Maximillian Schell.

Heavy-Duty Cast: The cast of "The Black Hole" includes several Oscar winners and nominees. Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for his role in "Marty." Maximillian Schell has been nominated several times, but won for "Judgment at Nuremberg." Robert Forster had to wait a while (18 years after "The Black Hole") but he got nominated for an Oscar for "Jackie Brown." Anthony Perkins was nominated for his role in "Friendly Persuasion."

No particular acting role in "The Black Hole" was in danger of earning an Oscar. The parts simply weren't that challenging—with the exception of Schell's Dr. Reinhardt. Schell chews the scenery a little and is simultaneously charming and menacing. Borgnine and Perkins do well with the material they are given—Borgnine as a down-to-earth common man, and Perkins as a head-in-the-clouds scientist who is awed by scary Dr. Reinhardt's studies. I loved Robert Forster as the middle-aged bail bondsman in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown," but had totally forgotten that he was in "The Black Hole" as well. His portrayal of Captain Dan Holland is calm, steady, and understated.

Okay, so neither Mimieux (the sole female in the cast) nor Bottoms (the film's obligatory youthful role) have an equally high falutin' reputation as the rest of the cast, but they do serviceable jobs in their roles, and are easy on the eyes.

Ellinshaw's special effects  Ellinshaw's special effects
Ellinshaw's special effects  Ellinshaw's special effects
Some of the beautiful visuals seen in "The Black Hole."

Special effects in The Black Hole: Even though the special effects sometimes seem a little outdated and creaky, you cannot deny that the design and visual concepts are stunning. Peter Ellenshaw did the production design. There's a documentary in the latest release of the DVD (interviewing Ellenshaw's son, Harrison) which elaborates on some of the creative inventiveness that went into the special effects. When you realize how limited filmmakers were back in 1979, and how much Ellenshaw was able to do in spite of that, you will admire "The Black Hole" all the more.

cutesy robots  cutesy robots
cutesy robots  cutesy robots
L-R: Mimieux with V.I.N.CENT, V.I.N.CENT and the evil Maximillian, V.I.N.CENT with Joseph Bottoms and Robert Forster, V.I.N.CENT and Bob, a "side-kick" robot (voice by Slim Pickens).

Yuk, yuk, yuk—those cutesy robots: One of the inevitable things with Disney seems to be their compulsion to add cutesy gadgets and robots. Okay, I guess that Disney is not the only studio that is guilty of that. But "The Black Hole" has more than its share of cutesy robots with too much personality. The primary character is V.I.N.CENT, and R2D2-type robot (or more like C3PO?) with the voice of Roddy McDowall. Cute, cute, cute. Too cute. Then there was the menacing evil red robot (with no voice) named Maximillian. He was a little better.

Cute robots (and robots with excess "personality") are part of the package with "The Black Hole." Kids may like them better than I did. But then, I didn't like them all that much when I was younger. Phooey on the robots!

 
Unexpected and beautiful visuals from the conclusion of the film.

That weird ending: I won't elaborate too much about the final scenes of "The Black Hole" because I don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't yet seen it yet. I only want to emphasize that I liked it. The special effects scenes—combined with the absolutely hypnotizing John Barry score—make the ending sequence a delight to watch. Just don't expect to really understand what it means. I'm not sure that even the filmmakers understood completely what it all signified. (The aforementioned DVD extra documentary explains how the filmmakers fiddled and fiddled with different endings and were not quite sure for a long while how they wanted the film to resolve.)

The Black Hole on DVD.

The picture and sound quality on the DVD are excellent. The picture quality is so sharp, as a matter of fact, that the supposed-to-be-invisible strings used to suspend actors in air (during weightless space scenes) are frequently easy to see. When I watched this film in the theatres I don't remember noticing these strings at all! The sound quality seems effective—sometimes the low roaring sounds of the spaceship were a little overpowering (but in a creepy way). The DVD extra on the making of the movie is a must-see—it helps you appreciate how innovative and daring the special effects were, in a pre-digital filmmaking era.

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