What can it be this time?
Gini is tackling a movie that Turner Classic Movies somehow chose to air on Disney Classics Week – 1979’s The Black Hole.
The Black Hole
Per the esteemed Leonard Maltin who did the intros and recap for this movie, The Black Hole was Disney’s attempt to cash in and possibly overachieve Star Wars. Also per Maltin, they didn’t achieve that lofty goal. But what goal did they achieve?
It’s the year 2130 and a crew of a small exploratory vessel, the Palomino, encounters some strangeness, and then more strangeness. They’ve discovered the biggest black hole ever, and there’s a lost ship, the USS Cygnus, just hanging out by it. What’s going on?
The crew consists of Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster), Lieutenant Charles Pizer (Joseph Bottoms), Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux), reporter (I think) Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine), Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins), and a robot named V.I.N.cent who’s voiced by an uncredited Roddy McDowell. V.I.N.cent is clearly the attempt at an R2-D2 without being nearly as cute or realistic.
The Palomino does a flyby of the Cygnus, where there’s a zero gravitational pull, then almost gets pulled into the black hole and manages to get back to the Cygnus, which suddenly comes to life. Inside, they find the captain of the vessel, Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell), a bunch of really creepy robots, particularly Maximillian (who doesn’t speak, like most of the robots) which is a big red robot with arms that have those whirling slicers on the end, and B.O.B. (Slim Pickens, uncredited) who is an older version of V.I.N.cent.
Reinhardt of course tells the Palomino folks a bunch of lies about what happened to the crew, which included Kate’s father (because of course) but B.O.B. shares the truth with V.I.N.cent – Reinhardt is a madman (! No Way!) who murdered Kate’s father and who has turned the crew into will-free robot-humans. (Apparently the words “android” and “cyborg” were not in use in 1979.)
Can the Palomino folks get away in time? Are there traitors and fools among them? Will you care? No, you will not.
The hubs and I both saw this movie first run, separately because we didn’t know each other that young, and neither one of us remembered it. I remember that I went because Timothy and Joseph Bottoms were the Baldwins of that day, so I went (as I so often do) for the visuals. But I didn’t remember how bad it was. It’s bad. So bad.
Now, there are a lot of movies that get a bad rap for being awful or failures that are still somehow entertaining. This is not one of those movies. It’s not bad ENOUGH to be camp. It’s not good enough to have warranted being made. And, to paraphrase Maltin, it’s like a late 1950’s/early 1960’s science fiction movie – but it had, for the day, a gigantic budget. So they had the MEANS to make it good, they just didn’t have a clue as to how.
How bad is this movie? Let me count the ways…
First off, there’s a noble attempt made to be “true” to science. So we see the crew floating around in zero-G. Which would be GREAT if not for two things. One: it makes everything boring and slow as hell. Two: It makes the end sequence even more ludicrous than it is. (Trust me, we’ll get there.)
Next, the acting is just this side of sombulant. The actors speak s-o-o-o s-l-o-w-l-y even when there’s exciting or life-threatening action going on. Apparently in 2130, you give your astronauts some heavy sedatives 24/7.
I’m not going to complain about what the ships look like or how ridiculous their computer systems look, because the same could be said of Alien or, really, any science fiction movie made before we started making computers smaller, not larger. That’s not their fault, for not seeing the scientific future. I give the movie a pass here, and only here.
The villain is dull. Schell has the Crazy Eyes going and the German accent helps a bit, but really, he, like the others, talks so slowly that you can’t feel much menace.
There is a mild so as to be almost inconspicuous love triangle between Alex, Kate, and Dan, but you won’t care who gets the girl, if you can even pick up that they both want the girl.
There is the predictable betrayal. You have two guesses, based on casting, for which member of the Palomino does the betrayal. I will tell you that your first guess will actually be wrong, UNLESS you saw Ice Station Zebra and then you’ll know right off.
The robots are their own special brand of awful. First off, there are 4 kinds. The Vinny and Bob kind – rounded, small, floating, and “the best ever made” – that make R2-D2 look like the most amazing thing in the world. They have googly eyes. I’ll just leave that there and go on to the next abomination.
There area two kinds of “walking” robots. The ones that are “really humans” who get to wear long, flowing black robes and mirrored facemasks (more on this later), and the ones that are the stunt team in ridiculous suits of red or black leather who do the “robot walk” thing.
The last robot is Maximillian, who is the best actor in the entire movie. Maximillian has one long red, glowing area where his eyes would be and Reinhardt insinuates to Kate that he’s terrified of Maximillian. But, other than Max leaving Reinhardt to die at the end, we don’t see anything scary that Max does TO Reinhardt. Maximillian, like the roly-poly robots, doesn’t walk but float/flies instead.
Let’s get back to those facemasks, shall we? Dr. R murdered Kate’s dad and turned the crew into will-free automatons. Meaning Dr. R is the ONLY functioning human on this ship, and he expects to never see another soul until he sends his ship through the Black Hole to discover what’s on the other side. So, why are these people in reflective facemasks? The only reason I have is that the Palomino crew has to be fooled for a while. So, it’s a stupid reason.
Dr. R is supposedly a mad genius – Alex is all thrilled with Dr. R’s achievements. And yet, he lets the Palomino crew land ONLY because he didn’t want them to crash into the Cygnus. But…the Cygnus has weapons they use to blast things. So, why not blast the Palomino and get on with your mad self? Especially since the Palomino is damaged and needs repairs.
Oh, did I mention that Dr. Kate is telepathic and has a telepathic link to…wait for it…V.I.N.cent? Because of COURSE she does. The hubs literally said, “How can she telepathically connect to a ROBOT?” but I was too engrossed with the horror to do more than snort.
In the end sequence (told you we’d get here) meteors (inaccurately called meteorites in the film – you know, something easy they got wrong, like so many other things about this movie) smash into the Cygnus because the black hole is pulling them in.
This would have been fine BUT the meteors crash into places our heroic survivors are…so they’re running through the ship, managing to not be sucked out, STILL BREATHING, in order to get to the one thing that might save them, the probe Dr. R created that can go in and out of the black hole (really). They are literally hanging onto girders while crawling up to something that is exposed to space, without the benefit of spacesuits, and they’re all just fine. Meanwhile, we have an earlier scene where a meteor opens up the area where our heroes are, that has plants growing. The heroes have time to have a laser battle with some of the walking robots, who immediately get sucked out into space once they die, and yet the humans are able to save the smaller robots and themselves. Everything is “frozen” but, you know, the PEOPLE who need AIR to breathe and warmth to stay alive? They’re just fine.
Of course, the probe is set on a course to go through the black hole. So our remaining heroes get to do that. During this sequence we see Maximillian and Dr. R combine to become the Devil (? maybe) and rule over Hell or some fire planet or something, while there’s a shot of an angel flying through pearly gates (I kid you not) and our heroes exiting the black hole…somewhere in space. Where they are is never shown, the movie just ends. Thankfully.
BTW, early in the movie, Harry makes a comment about Dante’s Inferno, and Alex makes a comment about how going into a black hole could be where you find God (find God alive, as opposed to dead, is his insinuation) or the mind of God or some such, so when we got to the Hell Scene, it wasn’t any kind of surprise or even interesting. It also has literally no place in this movie. The last couple of minutes we’re suddenly looking at Heaven and Hell and they do not fit. The rest of the movie is bad, but it’s like the screenwriter and director dropped acid for the very last sequence.
Throughout this misguided turkey, I pointed out to the hubs where parts of it were supposed to become a ride at Disneyland (oh, yes, they were). They were going to adapt the PeopleMover to make it your very own Journey into The Black Hole! You can see it, in any scene where the characters are on the 4-5 seater moving shuttle. There are so many areas where it was clear Disney was hoping to use scenes for a ride, in a similar way they also wanted to do with Tron (and are doing now for Tron, which is all around a better movie – but that’s such a low bar…) But this movie, thankfully, didn’t do well enough to warrant the expense of creating it.
This isn’t the worst movie ever made – I have a worst movie based on budgets and stars list, and this one isn’t even bad enough to hit that. But it’s the worst big-budget Disney movie I’ve ever seen. Twice. I’ve somehow seen it twice. I will never see it a third time, however, unless I need something for Bad Movie Night and my copies of more enjoyable bad films are not available.
Do yourself a favor – as in real life, avoid The Black Hole lest you get sucked into the waste of your time.
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