The Black Hole

First unit vs. second unit
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
Gary Nelson
Starring: 
Maxilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Bottoms, Robert Forster
The Setup: 
Space crew encounters a mad scientist on the edge of a black hole.
Discussion: 

This movie is super dumb and cheesy, but I love it. It must be that 11-year-old effect, as that's the age I was when this came out. I had ALL the illustrated storybooks and models and fold-out posters. everything that was released before the movie came out. Ooh, I even had the LP that told the story of the movie with sound effects and dialogue! It was all in anticipation, however, because once I saw it I realized, even as a small [actually somewhat portly] 11-year-old, that this movie was DUMB.

Then I reevaluated as an adult. I tell you, a great deal of fun [and some small agony] can be had by going back to those Disney movies that defined your youth. For me it was the live-action period that yielded gems such as Escape to Witch Mountain [WHERE is the remake?!?!?!? Oops, here it is.] and such burnished turds as The Cat From Outer Space. And I saw them all, and for the most part, read the "novelizations."

Anyway, back to this one. This movie has some GREAT material, and some terrible material. Curiously, it seems that all the legitimately great material was provided by people who were NOT the director. The model of the Cygnus is cool. My favorite part of the movie is the shots of the huge ship silhouetted against the bluish starfields beyond, and the languid sequence in which the smaller Palomino drifts by it with its spotlight running over the latticework of the larger ship. The design of the red evil robot is awesome. The black hole itself is fascinating to look at [day-glo paint in a whirlpool]. Oh, and I love the opening music, and I like the green grid under the credits, though that's a little less defensible. So what it seems like is that you have a bunch of peripheral people, the model makers, the special effects folks, the composer, etc., giving their all and producing great work, which stands in shocking contrast to the rest of the movie!

The movie concerns a bunch of folks in the typical "about to go home after X years exploring space" mission. They find the black hole, then see the big ship near it, and go to investigate in the aforementioned favorite sequence. Then there's a slight action sequence in which they start to tumble into the black hole.

THEN you have the most hootworthy sequence of the entire film, in which it is revealed that the woman aboard is PSYCHIC. Not only that, but so is the ROBOT [with the big dumb cartoon eyes]. My favorite part of all this is the convention that the psychic woman, to convey that she's using her abilities, stares dreamily off into space, and the robot, to show that he's receiving the psychic message, suddenly snaps his eyes to face directly into the camera! That is SO precious.

Anyway, so their ship is-of course-damaged, and they have to land. They explore the ship, make it to the bridge, where the captain, who may as well be wearing an "evil genius" badge, greets them, along with his menacing red robot. Blah, blah, blah, it all follows a "haunted house in space" theme, until it is revealed that the captain made robots [cyborgs, I guess] out of all the crew and now they're-still the crew, just a bit less uppity.

It all has that charmingly naïve dippiness of those live-action Disney movies, especially in its utter obliviousness to its own clichés. The robots with the cute eyes are obviously there to appeal to the kids [like I was at the time, but even then I could see that it was. obviously there to appeal to the kids]. There's this one sequence in which the robots play a video game. against a robot called S.T.A.R.. oh dear, it hurts. But for all that there are sequences that are kind of cool, like the asteroid shower. WHY asteroids are all glowing from within, and why one is perfectly spherical, and why they all show up JUST at the right time, is left unexplained, but it's still kind of cool in a naïve way. You accept it when you know it's a Disney movie made for 10-year-olds.

Anyway, the other reason this movie is notable is for the ending. [I guess I have to put a SPOILER WARNING in here, even though in this case. anyway.] There is a lot of IDIOTIC claptrap about the black hole possibly being a PORTAL TO HELL [oooohhh!], and at the very end, the evil captain is shown INSIDE the evil robot [trapped for eternity inside his own creation! Wah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!], in this representation of a literal HELL, with red background, black jagged rocks, flames, the whole deal. The thing that cracks me up is that they just arrange the model on top of a rock and let it SIT THERE, arms in the air, utterly stationary, for at least a minute. It is kind of. appalling. I guess they REALLY didn't expect anyone over the age of 10 to attend this movie.

And WHAT'S with all that hyper-Christian moralizing, anyway? I thought we were watching a dumb space story.

Anyway, it's still fun and has a lot of good elements, all of which seem to have taken place without the participation of the director. Someone needs to take this and do a remake that takes the whole thing seriously.

Should you watch it: 

YES! But realize that its primary audience is under 14.