Insomniac Cult Movie Theater: The Black Hole

GhostAndy

You know what the best thing now about having my nocturnal bouts of sleeplessness/movie watching? Disney+! 

Yes, since becoming a charter member of the newest streaming service devised to eventually replace cable by tricking you into thinking it’s cheaper to have this than a package of stations you don’t watch, I have been hooked on watching all of these wonderful lost gems from the Disney archives while most people are swarming all over the obvious ones from the MCU, Disney Princesses, Star Wars, and Pixar.

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For me though, give me The Condorman, or The Computer that wore Tennis Shoes,  or The Cat from Outer Space, those cheesy mostly forgotten movies from Disney’s backlog that are in some ways so bad that they circle all the way around back to good. Those are the kind of cult movies that make me smile and warm my heart on these cold late autumn nights.

Luckily for me, Disney+ has some of these films including today’s entry, which recently got a shot in the arm earlier this year with it was remastered and released on Blu Ray for it’s 40th anniversary hopefully attracting a brand new generation of viewers. I’m talking about The Black Hole, which some scientists since it’s release have come out and said is probably one of the least scientifically accurate science fiction films ever made!

However, the movie does have some loyal fans and the designs of its robotic stars Maximilian, V.I.N.CENT, and B.O.B are somewhat famous among geeks & movie buffs of that era, so I decided to give it a rewatch for today’s article. So without further ado…

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The Black Hole

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Background:

First hitting movie screens in the year of my birth 1979, The Black Hole was in some ways Disney’s direct answer to the success of Star Wars, a project they originally passed on and were burnt in the process by. I will say it’s odd now that many years later, Disney owns Star Wars, so it’s almost as if the sting of letting that cash cow slip by them originally was something that never went away, like a seed in the dental work of the House of Mouse.

Anyways, it was the first Disney movie to ever get a PG rating, and in fact, because of the “violence” and “grown up subject matter”, it was also actually the impetus for Disney to create Touchstone Pictures, their movie production arm which could create more adult themed movies while keeping the family friendly Disney brand intact. Yup, so without this movie, we might not have had other great pictures like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Pretty Woman, Armageddon, Signs, and Adventures in Babysitting. I mean we probably would have still had those eventually, but The Black Hole did have something to do with it…maybe…probably…eh…I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

Originally supposed to be slated as a “disaster movie in space”, the first drafts for this movie had more in common with the Poseidon Adventure than Empire Strikes Back, as it was more or less supposed to be a story of some astronauts that encounter a black hole and their struggle to survive it.

However, what we get on screen is more of strange mix of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and scraps left over from abandoned Star Trek episodes, especially those that deal with the quasi religious aspects of outer space and its inhabitants. The basic story deals with exploration craft named the Palomino with its 4 person crew, robot helper V.I.N.CENT, and traveling journalist discovering a massive space ship called the Cygnus, orbiting a black hole.

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Upon investigation, the crew finds the Cygnus manned by an group of cloaked robotic servants under the control of Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a brilliant yet creepily obsessed scientist who managed to develop an anti gravitational equation which allows the Cygnus to study the black hole without being sucked in. Reinhardt, though, wants to go one step further and actually travel into the black hole to see what’s on the other side.

The Palomino crew discovers through an older robot name B.O.B. that the cloaked robotic servants aren’t in fact robots, but the former crew of the Cygnus, who wanted to abandon the black hole research and return to Earth. Reinhardt overpowered them with an army of real robots led by his razor blade spinning enforcer bot, Maximilian, and forced them to all undergo lobotomies, thus turning them into mindless slaves. The crap really hits the fan though when Maximilian kills one of the Palomino crew after he tries to flee following the discovery of Reinhardt’s crimes.

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After that happens, all bets are off as Reinhardt orders the rest to be captured and lobotomized as well and blows up their ship when the journalist, Harry Booth, tries to escape. These actions coupled with a random meteor storm that destroys big chunks of the Cygnus, snowball a desperate race for survival between the remaining Palmino crew and Reinhardt complete with “pew pew” laser beam fights.

In the end though, Reinhardt is crushed by a big screen TV, Maximilian is drilled to death by V.I.N.CENT, and the Palmino crew manage escape the Cygnus on a survey rocket. They then travel through the black hole to some place else in the universe thanks to an assist by an angel, while Reinhardt and Maximilian are merged into one terrible creature before being condemned to the fires everlasting in the pits of hell. Yeah, I said it. The black hole contains God stuff evidently. We’ll get to that in a moment.

In terms of stars, this movie really doesn’t have many.

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Academy award winning actor Maximilian Schell plays the part of Reinhardt, which I always found weird since his robot companion in the movie is also named Maximilian, so the guy spends most of the movie yelling out his own first name every 5 minutes.

We also get Ernest Borgnine as Harry Booth, who is sort of like a Lost in Space “Dr. Smith” type character, always getting into trouble besides being cowardly and self serving.

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We also get Roddy McDowall as Voice of V.I.N.CENT who you might recognize as Dr. Cornelius from the Planet of the Apes movies, and Slim Pickens as Voice of B.O.B. who famously rode on an Atom Bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove. However, neither of these great actors get any credit for their voice work.

The rest of the Palmino crew are a bunch of random nobodies except for Anthony Perkins who plays Dr. Alex Durant. You might recognize him from the Psycho movies as the cross dressing psychopath, Norman Bates.

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In closing, the soundtrack for the movie was composed by John Barry who most famously wrote the James Bond theme song. This movie also included an Overture section which frequented some movies as far back as silent pictures. However, the Black Hole was one of the last mainstream Hollywood movies to have one of these at the beginning of the picture.

 

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2am Thoughts and Reflections:

First off, let me say that I think this movie is bad. There’s no question about it. It’s got questionable acting which is either wooden or over the top, laughable dialogue, poor pacing, and as stated above, it’s pretty much one of the worst offenders when it comes to be scientifically inaccurate. It’s more like scientifically stupid, especially with its depiction of black holes in general. It’s like they made space a gigantic ocean, and black holes were just whirlpools. Like something out of an old timey sea shantie!

Yar! Don’t go near that black hole! It be cursed! You’ll be dragged down to Davey Jones’ locker for sure!

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Sorry folks! Space really doesn’t work like this. Although it’s hard to not to give them a pass when the science of Star Wars is so wonky as well. Maybe the issue is that Black Hole painted the picture of something “in reality” as in these are American Astronauts albeit in the future. Star Wars is set in some vague “long time ago…galaxy yadda yadda”  so it does suspense your disbelief a bit more as being high fantasy instead of hard sci-fi.

Speaking of Star Wars, boy, did this movie highlight the fact that Disney was super pissed they passed on that franchise. They say the imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and there’s no doubt that they wanted to flatter Star Wars. This was especially true for the robots, with the decision to cram C3P-O’s haughty Britishness with R2-D2’s dog like valor and steadfast companionship. Yeah, although I felt like V.I.N.CENT really did get all the best lines in this movie and was at times the best character, it was really hard not to see him for what he was: a floating rehash of our much beloved droids.

In fact, probably the most original character in the entire movie was the evil robot Maximilian.

 

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His design was sleek, distinct and highly original like some sort of cherry red mechanical Hindu god with all those arms and legs jutting out everywhere. Plus, in the end, he’s the real bad guy, even leaving his creator to die, in order to carry out his ultimate mission. It’s honestly too bad he wasn’t in a better movie as he could have really worked as one of those transcendent evil AI baddies like the Terminator that make top 10 lists later on.

But the worst offender has to be the ending with the trip through the Black Hole and the weird religious undertones that trip takes. I mean, I know that 2001: A Space Odyssey beat  this movie to the punch with it came to visually capturing the sheer bizarre and otherworldly sensation that traveling into some unknown cosmic force might place on a human, but c’mon…the best we can come up with is a stain glass corridor and some cheesy Ghostbuster style floating phantasm guiding the way.

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Please.

Whoever thought that was a good idea should be taken around the back of the barn and beat with a physics book. Crushed to a singularity, folks. That’s what happens in a black hole. Not breaking out our hymnals and singing Amazing Grace.

 

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Final Grade: C

I know, right! I’m sure with the way I just dumped all over this movie above, you were expecting me to give it a terrible grade. Well, the problem is I can’t, because for all of this movie’s faults, and trust me there are many, it’s still somewhat entertaining. Like this movie isn’t bad because the film makers didn’t try. No, its quite the opposite. They sincerely tried to make a decent movie, and some of the special effects and the sequences in the film really do show that.

There’s a great shot where a huge meteor is rolling down this massive metallic hanger bay, while the Palmino crew barely gets out of the way. I mean that’s a great visual shot. Damned if it makes no sense from a scientific standpoint given the massive depressurization that should have been occurring, but it’s still a really neat shot.

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And the decision to make all Reinhart lobotomize his entire crew for mutinying against him, that’s a ballsy move for a Disney film, and a downright creepy one. It’s like something out of Logan’s Run or other dystopian sci-fi films from that era, and does make Reinhart a pretty convincing villain.

Plus, I’m always going to have a soft spot in my heart for this movie because I owned the Disney Read A Long Record of the movie when I was just a wee little tike, and I must have played it a hundred times. That and this Read A Long Record of Rankin Bass’s animated Hobbit adaptation (raise your hand if you know what I’m talking about). Sure, I never saw the movie as a kid, but I felt like I didn’t have to, because of that dumb record.

In fact, here it is just in case you want to give it a listen. It’s goofy how it paints even a more sunshiney and kiddie picture of the story than even the film does. Probably because it was made for little kids like me.

Anyways, because of all of these things and others, this dumb movie does have somewhat of a idiotic charm to it. It’s in some ways so bad that it comes all the way around again to good, and you can sometimes just sit there and mindlessly veg while watching it. As I said, as long as you realize that what you are watching is not the best science fiction movie ever made, it just becomes somewhat silly fun.

I mean at one point all the robots have a laser beam shooting contest like they are cowboys at a saloon in the Old West. And they take the scene so seriously, that it’s almost surreal because in the end it’s just so corny.

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You can’t hate a movie completely for trying stupid junk like that!

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