- Movie Rating -

The Black Hole (1979)

| December 21, 1979

In the science fiction sweepstakes to cash in on the success of Star Wars, Disney’s The Black Hole feels very much like its trailing behind.  It’s not as cerebral as Close Encounters, nor as grounded as Alien nor as visually exuberant as Star Trek The Motion Picture.  To be honest, it doesn’t bring much to the party.

Here is a movie with a grand idea – an exploratory vessel in deep space discovers a black hole with a ship sitting just outside that has been missing for a generation.  The crew – which is comprised of expensive stars like Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimeax, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster and even the voice of Roddy McDowell – are curious about this vessel and decide to go aboard.

What they find is right out of 2000 Leagues Under the Sea, a vessel commanded by an eccentric scientist, Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell), who welcomes them aboard and talks endlessly about the black hole which resides just outside his window (and looks like a dirty tub drain), but you always sense, of course, that he’s up to something sinister.

None of this is surprising.  You know almost immediately what Reinhardt is up to and you know eventually what he will do, and of course this is one of those movies in which the heroes are very slow to catch on.  Will he turn his vessel toward the black hole and face potential suicide to explore its unknown dimensions?  Does R2D2 beep?

On the level of story and characters, the movie fails.  The people involved are about as wooden as Pinocchio’s head, what the movie does have, in its best scenes, are the tone and mood of an old dark house movie.  For long periods of time, we are left in the dark about what exactly has happened here.  Where is the crew?  Why is Reinhardt keeping them here?  Why is there a veil of secrecy hovering over everything?  We know the answer, but the suspense is palatable.  It’s also backed up by John Barry’s score which creates an appropriate sense of nausea in it’s overtones and creeping dread in the scenes where the characters are creeping around the ship.

The mystery is backed up by the impressive production design.  The Cygnus is kind of breathtaking, with its cavernous space, it’s millions of windows that look out onto the blackness of space, it feels like a great floating cathedral.  Yet, where it falls apart are in the special effects, which feel half-finished and half-realized.  There are moments when you can see the strings and the matte lines, which after the dazzling display of effects in Star Wars and Close Encounters feels like a major let down.

As for the characters, I found a great irony in the fact that while the performances are robotic, the actual robots are kind of intriguing.  I liked the character of V.I.N.CENT, who looks like a floating cousin to R2D2 and Rienhardt’s menacing metal monster Maximillian with his red glowing eye and deadly whirly-gig.

All in all, there is a good movie in here.  There are pieces that work but the overall results don’t work.  The characters are boring, the special effects are shoddy and the story is just plain stupid, yet you can always feel a better movie trying to get out, and in it’s closing scenes – an effective homage to 2001 – it kind of does, but by that point it’s too little, too late. 

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized