The Black Hole (1979)
The Black Hole (1979)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: December 21st, 1979 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Gary Nelson Actors: Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Tommy McLoughlin, Roddy McDowall, Slim Pickens

 


 

T

he year is 2130. Captain Holland (Robert Forster), Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms), Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins), Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux), and scientist Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine), all stationed aboard the research vessel Palomino, slowly drift toward the most enormous black hole on record. Lying just on the outskirts of the space phenomenon is a lifeless derelict ship, the U.S.S. Cignus, inexplicably defying the gravity of the deadliest force in the universe. Since the Cignus shared the same mission as the Palomino – to discover habitable life in outer space (which doesn’t actually make any sense) – the crew can’t turn down the opportunity to investigate the long lost spaceship (missing for over 20 years). Plus, it was captained by Kate’s father, Frank McCrae.

After precariously attempting to dock with the motionless Cignus, the Palomino sustains considerable damage and nearly loses its robotic assistant, V.I.N.CENT. When the group finally makes it aboard, they’re shocked by what seems to be the presence of a full crew – as well as operational systems and power. In short time, they meet the sole survivor of the complement: Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell), an eccentric, secretive, creepy scientist who claims to have created a series of androids to man the various stations and to keep him company.

Although “The Black Hole” is an obvious derivation of “Star Wars” – from the villainous henchrobot Maximilian, to the sound effects, to the colorful laser blasts, to the R2-D2 rip-off of the adage-spouting V.I.N.CENT. – the look of the film is extraordinary. Special effects aside (which inevitably deteriorate with time), the costumes, the hovering robot characters, and the various cavernous locations aboard the Cignus all pose eye-popping technical wonders. Few sci-fi thrillers show this much care for visuals. Additionally, the tone is unusually dark and bleak – not just for a space opera but also for a picture crafted by Walt Disney Productions.

Where the film falters is in smaller ideas that don’t work well with the more serious, grounded science-fiction themes. Kate’s ESP capabilities somehow allow her to communicate with robots; the humanoid sentries move just stiffly enough that they seem phony; junk heap B.O.B. (voiced by Slim Pickens) shakes in fear every time a bullying superior gets too close; and John Barry’s score sounds too similar to his own James Bond theme, which couldn’t be less fitting and unintentionally anticlimactic. There’s also a lot of jargon to pair with generic scripting, and some difficulties with the pacing as the film slows to dwell on scientific achievements over suspenseful adventure. The finale becomes slightly more exciting, with death and destruction looming over everyone aboard, though it also doesn’t play by any preconceived rules, particularly when it comes to black holes, gravity, and artificial atmospheres – and its somewhat religious “2001: A Space Odyssey” type of conclusion. As something of a “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” set in space, “The Black Hole” is, sadly, more unsettling and confusing than it is fascinating.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10