The Black Hole (1979)

Director: Gary Nelson
Starring: Maximillan Schell, Joseph Bottoms, Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Perkins. USA. 1h 38m

Black Hole is one of those gems from my childhood that, no matter how advanced space exploration has become, or my personal knowledge about the universe has grown, I can always return to Black Hole with a wonderment and fascination that takes me back to my youth and just makes me believe we’ll reach the stars one day.

It’s very much a Disney version of 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) or possibly their first attempt to jump into the Star Wars universe? The original story was conceived as a space themed disaster movie, but after being re-written several times and then adopted by a moderately desperate Disney for additional computerised camera technology to create the effects it slowly grew into a highly ambitious space opera. The Black Hole was finally reborn for it’s dismal box office failure not that this takes anything away from the films unique philosophy and small cult following, it still delivers a quirky look into space exploration and the mysteries of a black hole with lots of fancy additions, cute robots, sinister robots, and the moral questions that hangover he heads of those men who are willing to sacrifice everything to step into the true unknown .

It all starts as the crew of the USS Palomino had been searching deep space searching for evidence of alien life but with no results they begin to head home when they accidentally stumble on a giant black hole and the long lost legendary USS Cygnus stationed nearby. A curious crew head on board the Cygnus hoping to unlock the secrets of what happened to the ship and it’s crew only to find a brilliant Dr Reinhardt (Schell) is still on board, now acting as a captain, he’s served by a sinister robot named Maximilian and a series of faceless black cloaked robots.

It seems the charming Dr. Reinhardt has lived alone on the Cygnus for 20 years with just a robotic crew, after sending the human crew home to Earth while he investigates the black hole and intends to fly into it and finally go where no man has gone before. With a heavy sinister cloud looming over the USS Cygnus and it’s remarkable captain and crew the Palomino’s crew demand more answers, as the crew never made it home and the ship was always thought of as being missing, but also with intrepid anticipation of the potential discovery.

Pulling together many theories of how the future will work , mixing ideas of sustainable living in space through extensive gardening like Silent Running (1972), dystopian population control and a quirky psychic/robot connection there’s a lot going on under the sparkly surface. And while it’s great watching the star studded cast light up the movie, the stand out characters, for me are the robots, V.I.N.C.E.N.T is the good guy from the Palomino and is adorable round and cute, voiced by Roddy McDownall is super helpful and psychically connected to an empathic Dr Kate McCrae (Mimieux) not something seen in a lot of 70’s sci fi. On the Cygnus, their resident bad boy is Maximillion, a large deep red robot with a bad temper and weapons to back up his sinister presence, Even his creator, Dr Heinhardt doesn’t dare annoy him and is open about how afraid he is of his own creation, but despite these bad boy persona he always reminded me of my old TomyTronic 3D Sky Attack game. Their strange relationship, I find the most interesting in the movie, especially as it reaches a strange biblical crescendo in the final terrifying sequences.

Somehow in between robot battles and luxury dinners in renaissance-esque rooms on board the Cygnus, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms and Ernest Borgnine club together to be joint heroes of the expedition but there’s virtually no development within any of them, leaving Anthony Perkins to pop out as a strange but memorable character and without trying to give away too many spoilers he does have an incredible death scene involving a book and a very angry Maximilian.

Throwing caution to the wind, Black Hole is a really fun science fiction movie with a strange vibrancy and strength to it somewhere between the crazy range of cinematography, created by Frank v Phillips, it bounds from metal space stations to lavish space jungles to epic scenes of the Giant Cygnus and a psychedelic meltdown at the very end. It’s not hard science in any way but it’s a strong cohesive story with charming characters. There’s enough here to thrill any 12 year old from the 1970’s however it’s only going to give many adults a migraine with how confusing it can be at times. If you saw Black Hole at the right time in your childhood before all the sci fi cult classics there might be some warmth left for it, however I feel that with today’s standards it might just stand up as one of Disney’s darker underrated projects but with the hokey sci fi and weak heroes you’ll just manage to get through it once for that “aha” moment and probably never return again as the film becomes more about the style and possibilities with the effects more than a solid concept of black hole investigations.

Rating 6/10

Related: Sunshine (2007), Westworld (1973), Outland (1981), Logans Run (1976), Futureworld (1976), Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Fantastic Voyage (1966),

List: Space Adventures of the 70’s

Spotlight: Roddy McDowall, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Perkins

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Trailer

2 thoughts on “The Black Hole (1979)”

  1. One of the lowest points in Disney film career….the company wanted to become more adult but mistimed their cerebral explorations of space…this review makes me want to see if its on Disney+ and give it another shot!

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