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Ten Word or Less Review – It certainly does suck.

I was only 3 when The Black Hole came out and I can only guess at why I didn’t grow up watching it at least in 10 or 15 times when I was a kid.  It was Disney, it was science fiction, I should have had the movie memorized by the time I was 9.  Well thank God that didn’t happen.  I’ve managed to scrub away more than a few lousy movies from my childhood memory and The Black Hole would certainly be something to make a point to forget about as quickly as possible once adolescence faded from view.  Maybe I did watch it as a kid and even then could tell what a lump of movie it was.

It was 1979 and every major studio had Star Wars fever on the brain.  They still do.  The age of the Star Wars knock off was about to go full tilt boogie and a struggling Disney studio stepped up with this massive $20 million production.  The Black Hole promised deep space adventure with floating robots, laser guns, monolithic spaceships, more robots with more laser guns, and then another robot equipped with two deadly veg-o-matics for arms as well as laser guns.  That’s a big promise.  What wound up on the screen was a turgid science fiction effort executed with all the pizzazz and excitement of an Amish funeral.  It’s a dull and laborsome movie which tries to marry the heady science fiction cinema of the era with the whiz bang factor audiences were looking for in the wake of experiencing lightsabers and Death Stars.  It winds up doing both types of film horribly wrong.

At the time of its release Black Hole’s languid pacing was probably less of the crippling issue that it is now.  The first Star Trek movie came out the same year and while equally slow paced it was much more successful.  Hole sports extremely ambitious special effects utilizing advanced motion capture model techniques, scores of matte paintings and impressive miniature work.  On the big screens of yesteryear it probably all felt epic and novel enough to not warrant too much fuss.  But no amount of visual pompousness could disguise the rickety screenplay which feels like a half-baked first draft someone rushed through the typewriter to make a deadline.  Characters and their motivations are at best poorly thought out and at worst totally senseless.  And director Gary Nelson, called up from the minor leagues of TV work to helm the most expensive movie Disney had made to date, shows no skill for visual showmanship.  Disney may have made it a point to liberally rip off Star Wars in certain places but they siphoned off none of the excitement.

Disney used its struggling coffers to assemble a mostly decent and capable cast of solid actors but subsequently had them do little but walk around large sets next to floating R2-D2s.  Robert Forester, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine shuffle through trying not to be upstaged by all the floating robots but they have no help from anything on the page.  Forester plays commanding and dull.  Perkins and Borgnine are great actors but they can’t wad through this flaccid spectacle with any rhythm.  Their characters make stupid decisions in order for the plot to move forward and one can’t help but feel happy for Perkins when he pointlessly meets his demise via the evil robot’s veg-o-matic appendage.  Lucky bastard got to go home before everyone else.  The forgotten Joseph Bottoms just plain sucks.  Some producer makes him yelp a Han Solo inspired ‘yee ha!’ as he saves his chums from robot doom.  Yvette Mimieux has nothing to do but communicate, via ESP, with floating robot VINCENT, the extremely blatant R2-D2 ripoff.  Don’t get me started on how ESP between a robot and a human is supposed to work.

Maximilian Schell gets to preen and speechify as best he can in mad scientist mode but as the movie slowly gives way to special effects and laser fights his character becomes dumb and then dumber.  The movie is so dramatically misguided that it doesn’t even give one of our diligent space heroes a chance to smack him around.  He’s crushed by his stadium sized flatscreen TV and then as his ship falls into the black hole he winds up in his own personal Hell.  His final fate is the one part of the movie which feels a little creepy and of the time.  I’m sure a few kids felt sufficiently freaked out as they watched his nefarious scientist become entombed in his own evil robot, forced to overlook his personal Hell within the black hole.  It’s as if Ken Russell or John Boreman showed up to direct things for one day and then bolted when they realized the rest of the film was a dud.

There’s not a lot of nostalgia out there for The Black Hole, but apparently there’s just enough that Disney wants to remake it and enough to make me feel odd about never having seeing it.  This is actually one case where a remake is fine by me.  You couldn’t do much worse but I’m sure someone will try.  With Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) on tap to make it I have a feeling that should it materialize the audience will once again find itself drawn into a big, dumb movie that emulates its title by sucking everything around it into lifeless void and squashing it out of existence.  Isn’t that something to look forward to?



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