Tuesday, May 22, 2012

REVIEW: The Black Hole

The Black Hole
Director: Gary Nelson
Year 1979
The Black Hole is a slickly done science fiction film that poses as a family friendly space opera, yet it ends up having a great deal of depth and some rather haunting and somber moments that amp up the more adult oriented aspects of the production. The approach, while refreshing, is also rather intriguing as we are provided an excellent story that cautions the audience about the price of genius and the moral vacuum that can easily come with it if driven to madness by ones aspirations. With a large focus on the pitfalls of man’s ingenuity, genius, and ambition, the film also makes time to provide a fantastically fun and humorous adventure film, making this movie quite a unique sci-fi gem and an especially enjoyable one at that.
The film follows the research ship, the USS Palomino, as it discovers a seemingly abandoned vessel, the USS Cygnus, alongside a black hole. Curios as to where this missing ship has been over the past years, the crew decides to board and investigate this mysterious anomaly. What they come to find shocks them all, for there is only one survivor, Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a mad genius who captains the ship with his army of engineered robots. With a dangerous obsession of conquering the black hole for himself and unraveling its mysteries, Reinhardt leaves the crew of the Palomino to question his sanity and his wild story that the crew were all lost, leaving him the sole survivor of this massive ship. With suspicions abound, the crew inadvertently stumbles upon a most horrific truth, one that shakes their very core and belief in mankind. This under appreciated sci-fi gem is a real treat so let’s get down to business.

Dr. Hans Reinhardt is played by the magnificently intense Maximilian Schell, who brings a brooding madness to his role as the troubled and brilliant scientist on the edge. His presence weighs heavy on the film, giving every scene that he appears in an added bonus of bona fide tension. This overwhelmingly charged atmosphere that Schell infuses into his character is essential to establishing the film’s tone. Without his powerful portrayal of a man on the precipice of insanity, I don’t think that The Black Hole would be as effective as a film. Sure it would have a wonderfully charged atmosphere, but it wouldn’t be as potent without the expertly crafted wackiness of the exceptional Maximilian Schell.
While Dr. Hans Reinhardt’s role in this movie is without a doubt, the heart and soul of the narrative, there are a great deal of important characters that come to make up the overall depth of this outstanding piece. First off we have Captain Dan Holland, played by Robert Forster, Dr. Alex Durant, played by Anthony Perkins, Lieutenant Charles Pizer, played by Joseph Bottoms, Dr. Kate McCrae, played by Yvette Mimieux, Harry Booth, played by Ernest Borgnine, and finally V.I.N.CENT, voiced by the legendary Roddy McDowall. With a cast like that, how can this film be nothing short of an entertaining masterpiece? What makes the pedigree of the actors involved so special is that they are all given important roles within the narrative of the story.
Forster’s Captain Holland is given the role of leader, while Borgnine shows a more selfish side to his character. With Anthony Perkins and Yvette Mimieux, we get a special kind of interaction, because in their cases they are the ones closest to Dr. Hans Reinhardt, with Perkins falling under the hypnotic spell of the mad scientist’s brilliance and Yvette forced to desperately snap him back to reality. Roddy McDowall, or at least his vocal chords, have probably the most screen time out of all the characters, as he brings the loveable robot V.I.N.CENT to life. All in all, the cast is amazing and they all do their individual parts to make this film feel complete and wholly exciting.

As for the effects work of the film, the visual impact of the interior and exterior sets and miniatures are absolutely out of this world fantastic. The detail and artistry on display is utterly breathtaking, providing some fabulous vistas both within the expansive ship Cygnus, to the star filled wonder that is the black hole. The practical application of these effects is excellent and it makes me wish that we would see more of these kinds of artistic techniques in more modern day movies. Even in its spectacular representation, there are a few embarrassing moments, like when V.I.N.CENT is hovering by the camera and you can clearly see the strings holding him up, but having seen the film for the first time since its release, I’m willing to put up with a few measly strings rather than be bombarded with the overwhelming special effects in most current blockbuster hits. I was highly satisfied by the look and feel of the movie’s practical approach and I thought that it perfectly captured the ominous tone that held this film in a tension filled death grip.
The film’s atmosphere is also something that somewhat perplexed me when first viewing it. When initially checking out the trailer I got the impression that it was going to be a fanciful space adventure, filled with silly robots and harmless antics, but when actually sitting down and watching the feature I got something far more deep and meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, the fanciful space adventure is there, filled with silly robots and antics alike, but there’s a dark undertone to the narrative that I just wasn’t anticipating. Contrary to what I was expecting, the cast of characters are in real danger here, pitted against some insurmountable odds with a good many of them not making it out alive. It was this unexpected sense of danger that really turned this film into something special for me. Add onto that the intriguing premise of a crew of ghostly robots led by a maniacal mad man coupled with the prospect of exploring a black hole and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one hell of an entertaining space romp.

The Black Hole is a film that really caught me off guard. When expecting a run of the mill space opera filled with camp and retro flare, I instead got a movie that incorporated all of those aspects, but added on an extra layer of atmosphere, scientific intrigue, and a heightened sense of doom. With a spectacular visual look and an emphasis on vivid colors during the closing chaotic moments of the film, this science fiction entry is anything but ordinary.
The cast is picture perfect, garnering a long line of talent that captures each character in an extremely memorable light. Having all of these wonderful resources, the filmmakers don’t waste a second of the film’s runtime in giving each player in the game their much needed respect and attention, and when it comes to the robots, they’re absolutely fantastic. They may not be very expressive in the facial department, but damn do you grow attached to those little bastards. I love you V.I.N.CENT! The Black Hole is an……

Have you two shitheads been drinking the fizzy lifting drink?

This looks cool.

Don't ever correct me in front of the robot!

V.I.N.CENT wasn't told that farting in elevators is rude.

I'm sorry am I boring you?

What gives? Where's my piggy-back ride?

Would you do me the honor of being my BFF?

How do you like my chandelier hat?

Calm down there V.I.N.CENT! Don't go blowing a gasket.

Anthony Perkins...... You PSYCHO!

What the shit did you just say to me?

Looks like the ride ends here guys.

That's no way to treat a book you savage.

This game of laser tag is intense!

I want to SING!

V.I.N.CENT..... the badass!

All hail this guy!


  1. I just watched this myself for the first time in over two decades, and I was astounded at how good it was. It's beautiful and brooding (if a little stilted at times.)

    And V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B. are now two of my all-time favourite cinematic robots.

  2. I know what you mean Jamie. I was also blown away by my first viewing and instantly fell in love with the film and its characters. Like you said it's beautiful and brooding and not what you would first expect from a late 70's Disney space adventure.

    Hahaha... how could you not love V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.? They're just so damn loveable!