By Marc S. Sanders
In 1979, Walt Disney Studios must have felt compelled to respond to the resurgence of science fiction, following 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Close Encounters…, and even Moonraker, with The Black Hole. Their contribution to the genre falls flat however with shiny looking, helmeted, stiff robots that hardly use their joints and even more stiff performances from the human cast. If these actors didn’t have dialogue to speak, I would have thought they were dead.
Maximillian Schell is the deranged James Bond villain reject Dr. Reinhart, resigned to helm the mad plot of this film. His long-lost space craft is found at the border of the mysterious black hole. His intent, now that he has converted his entire human crew into mind-controlled humanoids, is to enter the unknown void that’s ahead and discover its secrets.
The small crew of another ship that discovers him consists of Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins, Joseph Bottoms and a poor imitation friendly robot named V.I.NC.E.N.T. who resembles R2D2 in shape and talks in cliche with C3PO’s voice. Their lack of personalities boards the ship simply to listen to Dr. Reinhart’s insane plan to fly into the black hole. Then in the final 30 minutes, the band of heroes run away across the pointlessly long platforms of the lost vessel as it crumbles apart during its slow-very slow-descent into the hole.
This is a film that lives up to its title. There’s no one to really rescue here. No romance or swashbuckling. No one for the villain to threaten. No reason to stop this nut job from committing his own mad suicide; Reinhart could care less if this band is with him or not. Even John Barry’s (“James Bond”) music lacks harmony, as the film contains at most two of his compositions to play over and over again.
When none of the mainstay ingredients for adventure carry any weight, then what’s the point really?
The Black Hole was Disney’s way of pushing action figures with the menacing razor blade bearing red robot Maximillan and the hardly lovable V.I.N.C.E.N.T. I recall when I was a kid the merchandising hardly made a dent in pushing the agenda for this film. A film catered towards kids, but barely entertaining for kids. There’s a lot, a whole lot, of speechifying going on here, mom and dad. What kid would be interested in listening to old farts like Ernest Borgnine or Maximillan Schell just yak away?
The Black Hole is as nothing as its title suggests. A void of a film. A franchise or cultural impact never came to be from this movie, and rightly so.
Though I do recall my mom buying me the pop-up book adaptation of the film. I wonder if that’s a valuable collector’s item these days.