After Star Wars was released, the sky was the limit as far as science fiction epics went. Directors were not restricted to the polar opposites if schlocky Corman-type films or artsy Kubrick flicks… they could split the difference. In 1979, Disney made the surprising decision to enter the world of adult sophisticated sci-fi film with The Black Hole. Based on the classic ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,’ the movie features a zombie cyborg crew, kill-crazy robots and a mad scientist attempting to pilot his craft into the eye of God.
Heady stuff, huh?
Disney must have been wetting the bed over the high level of sophistication this project boasted because they inserted a set of goofy robots that would appeal to the kids. The sharp-witted caffeine-addicted toddlers that stayed awake through the long drawn-out intro in time to see Anthony Perkins gutted to death then sizzled alive! I don’t mean to knock the bots because I have a soft spot for them and the voice acting by Roddy McDowell as Vincent and Slim Pickens as Old Bob is top-notch but… it definitely takes away from the dignity of the movie when wire-strung puppets ‘soar’ across the screen.
And this is where the film falls apart. It cannot decide if it is a children’s matinee feature or a high-art experiment. It comes very close to be a stunning classic, but as a movie directed toward kids it is a total mess. The finale features a panoramic vision of Hell, for God’s sake!! What were they thinking??!!
Like many kids at the time, I had the complete set of action figures released to tie into the movie. Finally I had that Ernest Borgnine action figure I always wanted… geeze. But Maximillian was tops and by far one of the most imaginatively designed robots in a very long time. Keep in mind this was the era ruled by C-3PO and R2D2, so introducing a new idea of what a robot looked like was very impressive. The acting is very impressive as well and both Perkins and Maximillian Schell deliver some very riveting scenes that are sure to creep out the poor kids waiting to see the robots fly. Special effects range from the eye-poppingly impressive to dire so randomly I have to wonder if the budget ran out of if Disney simply lost interest in the movie.
A relative success in the box office at the time, it was also the first PG Disney film to hit the screens with cursing and violent death for the whole family to enjoy, causing quite a stir.
The Black Hole was kept under the radar for years by Buena Vista Distribution but is finally on DVD in a brilliant package worthy for your shelf. Whatever else you may say about Black Hole… it’s a rarity.
The Black Hole