Take a Drink: when the repetitive score kicks into gear
Take a Drink: for overly cutesy robot moments
Do a Shot: for tonal shifting
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Five Beers) –
A crew of a spaceship researching a nearby black hole encounters a seeming abandoned ship long thought to be lost. The crew investigates the derelict ship and soon finds that it is populated, but almost exclusively by robots. The commander of the ship, however, is the human Dr. Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) who tells the crew of his mission to cross through the Black Hole.
The Black Hole was released shortly after the Star Wars craze had kicked into high gear, and anticipation of the upcoming sequel was at a fever pitch. Disney live action films at the time were quick to jump onto popular trends to make a buck or two. The budget for this film was significantly higher than recent Disney films had been, hoping that the film would break out and be the next big thing in sci-fi fantasy. (Spoiler alert: It did not). Still, despite being a cash-in, the easy highlight of the film is Maximilian Schell’s Dr. Reinhardt. He’s a classic mad scientist character, as he pushes the campy-button in the best of ways.
While the ship model work holds up very well, the other special effects feel hopelessly out of date when compared to the Star Wars films it is attempting to take influence from. Blue-screen and rear-screen projection effects are overused, and more humorous than anything else. Whereas in Star Wars the robot characters felt and moved believably, the robots in The Black Hole all move like humans in uncomfortable costumes. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Anthony Daniels as C3PO was a mime by trade, and was therefore more at home with physical performances?
The film’s lead robot character “V.I.N.CENT” can be fun as a character, but mostly because he is voiced with aplomb by Roddy McDowall. The design of the V.I.N.CENT robot itself is clearly meant to ape the success of R2D2 from Star Wars, but giving it big, extra cute eyes. This is compounded even more when an earlier model of the V.I.N.CENT robot is introduced, “B.O.B”, which is even more cartoonish.
With the exception of Maximilian Schell, the principal cast is absolutely wasted in this film. Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, and Ernest Borgnine are there to read their lines and that’s… pretty much it. A film like this, set entirely in claustrophobic space ship settings, demands unique personalities. Perkins and Borgnine were particularly known for this trait, but you could replace the dialogue of any of the characters and it wouldn’t make a difference.
For a movie meant to capitalize on Star Wars, this film moves along at a depressingly slow pace. The first 20 or so minutes is mostly dialogue; even while exciting things are happening, the filmmakers decided that listening to exposition would be more interesting than seeing special effects. And with the budget this movie had for the time, the excuse of “it would have been too expensive” just does not apply.
The climactic finale of the film brings back imagery familiar to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey. This represents a major shift in tone, considering the rest of the movie deals with its material in a more campy way. Imagine if 2001 ended with this:
Wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it?
The Black Hole should satisfy fans of B-Science Fiction films, but those going hoping for adventure and excitement along the lines of Star Wars would do well to avoid this lumbering mess of a Space Opera.