By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Area of gravitational acceleration.
On their return trip to earth a crew of 5-people (Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine) on board the USS Palomino spot a large spaceship and are baffled at its ability to withstand the gravitational force of the nearby black hole. They decide to investigate the ship and find that it is being run by Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) who has been for the past 20 years the sole human survivor after the rest of the crew supposedly returned to earth, the members of the Palomino though are suspicious about this explanation since the robed android drones seem to strangely have human-like qualities. They become further alarmed when they learn that Reinhardt plans on taking the ship through the black hole, which they feel will lead to a sure death to all those on board.
For the most part the special effects look awesome and one gets a true feeling of the vastness of space in this one with Reinhardt’s ship getting captured in a way that makes it look large and impressive. Even the interiors give off a sort-of mansion-like feel and that the characters are inside of a large scale vessel with many rooms as opposed to simply being sets on a soundstage.
Unfortunately the script lacks imagination and becomes just another formulaic madman in space scenario that offers no new twists to the genre. The tone is extremely downbeat and despite being produced by Disney doesn’t seem to be something aimed for kids. The story is also devoid of action and when there finally is some it’s short and fleeting and comes off like a second-rate laser shoot-out.
The characters don’t show enough contrasting personalities and are too old. Usually pre-teens relate better to movies with performers around their same age range, but here everyone is middle-aged and in Borgnine’s case even well past that. Bottoms is the youngest and should’ve carried the film, but his acting is so transparent you end up wishing he hadn’t even been in it.
It’s also ridiculous that Mimieux could communicate with the ship’s robot via ESP even though mental telepathy cannot be substantiated by the scientific community and therefore should not be introduced into a sci-fi flick that is supposedly trying to be taken seriously. I did enjoy Perkins in his part, but he should not have been the one to turn around one of the drones and unmask them to expose a shriveled face underneath, which for trivia purposes was the film’s director Gary Nelson, since it will remind viewers too much of a similar reveal scene near the end of Psycho of which he famously starred in.
Schell as the resident nutcase is a complete bore in a performance that is so pathetically cliched that it borders on camp. He reminded me of James Mason’s character from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which was also produced by Disney and should’ve been enough to have Mason invited back to play the part here as he would’ve been far more interesting.
The robots outshine the humans particularly Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who strangely go uncredited, as the voices of the ‘good guy’ droids. However, the army of villainous androids that try to stop the crew from escaping walk too stiffly almost like mimes playing into the cliche of how people perceive robots to move, but by the year 2132, which is when this story takes place, you’d think technology would’ve improved enough to have created androids that would’ve had more fluid-like motions. They’re also too easy to pick-off almost like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, which saps the shoot-outs of any tension.
The ending is the biggest disappointment as it never clearly explains what happens to the crew when they go through the black hole. There’s a lot of heavy-handed imagery including a cool hell-like visual, but nothing conclusive, which makes the whole thing a big buildup to nothing.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: December 21, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
Director: Gary Nelson
Studio: Buena Vista
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube
As a kid, 9 years old at the time, I enjoyed The Black Hole easily enough for my parents to buy me some Black Hole wallpaper for my bedroom, some of it had survived for years even after it had to be taken down. I also had Black Hole action figures as a Christmas present. But now I sadly can’t deny its failures. Not that they were inevitable. But knowing how Disney’s sci-fi formats could of course work better for a film like Tron from a more science-fantasy-driven perspective, The Black Hole would have benefited more from the atmospherically dark sci-fi tones that worked for Alien and Stalker that year. Perhaps a remake under better management could surprisingly do it some justice. Thanks for your review.