After Star Wars kick-started the science fiction boom of the late 70s, there seemed to be no end to the countless movies set in space. Space was hip, robots where hot, and Disney wanted a piece of this action too. Thus, for better or worse, The Black Hole was born.
The Palamino is an exploratory spaceship that discovers a missing ship called The U.S.S. Cygnus, which is good because The Cygnus is just about to be sucked in to a massive black hole never to be seen or heard from again. When the crew of the Palamino board The Cygnus, they discover that there is only one human aboard the ship, commanding a legion of robot workers. This lone man, Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell sporting some seriously crazy hair), has been missing for the last two decades.
It seems that Reinhardt had actually hoped to enter into the aforementioned black hole, but why he wanted to do this isn't exactly clear to the crew of The Palamino, who soon discover that Reinhardt may be quite mad.
Kind of a cross between Star Wars and Silent Running, Disney's attempted sci-fi epic runs the gamut from brilliant to absurd hitting all stops in between during its ninety-eight minute running time. What it gets right are some absolutely beautiful sets and matte paintings that, combined with some truly innovative and breathtaking cinematography give the film a very distinct look. Plenty of primary colors are used to almost painterly effect in the film, The film attempts to break new ground at least on a visual level and in that respect, it is quite a successful endeavor.
The Black Hole also features some great character actors in some interesting roles. Anthony Perkins, forever known as Norman Bates from Hitchcock's pioneering slasher film Psycho, turns in an equally creepy and sad performance as Dr. Alex Durant, crewmember of the Cygnus. Ernest Borgnine of The Wild Bunch and Robert Forster of Jackie Brown and Vigilante are dependable as always in their respective roles of Harry Booth and Capt. Dan Holland respectively. But the real star of the show, aside from the sheer coolness of bad boy robot Maximilian, is Schell as Dr. Reinhardt. He convinces us that his character is part madman, part genius, and makes us wonder about him more so than any of the other characters. The voice actors are also instantly recognizable, with Roddy McDowall of Planet Of The Apes fame voicing the R2 D2 rip off robot V.I.N.C.E.N.T. (which stands for Vital Information Necessary CENTralized!) and Slim Pickens voicing his beat up run down cousin BOB. No one is really Oscar worthy here, but they do a good job with the material they have.
Unfortunately the story has too many holes for The Black Hole to be considered a classic science fiction movie the way something like 2001: A Space Odyssey (which I never really cared for) or Lucas' famous trilogy are. There are also a whole lot of technical goofs that are a tad distracting. For example, there is a scene where certain characters are exposed to the atmosphere of space, yet nothing happens to them. Shouldn't something have happened to them? If not, why? It's one of a few careless little goofs that could have been avoided easily enough if there'd been more time spent on the script.
This new anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfer looks fantastic. Blacks are rich and deep, as are the very important reds used predominantly throughout the film. Color reproduction in general looks excellent, and the image is highly detailed and very clean without any serious compression artifacts or edge enhancement. The only real issue with the transfer is actually the fault of the film elements themselves, as some of the optical effects are very obviously dated by the clarity of the image. That's to be expected a bit though and you can't fault Disney for making this DVD look as good as it does.
The Black Hole is presented in your choice of an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, a French Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, or a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Optional French subtitles and English closed captioning option are also included. Overall, it's not a bad mix, though there is too much going on in some of the high end in a few scenes and it can get a bit harsh sounding. The use of the surround speakers does add some nice depth to the action scenes and some of the space-travel scenes, though these instances are few and far between. Bass response is lively and active, and there aren't any issues as far as hearing the dialogue overtop the sound effects and background music.
There are two extra features on this DVD – the theatrical trailer, which runs about three minutes, and an all new sixteen minute 'making of' featurette entitled Through The Black Hole which is centered on the effects work used in the film. It's an interesting look back at the effects done for the movie before CGI and computers came into play the way they are used now (though the computers of the time were used quite extensively in the film), and it's actually quite an interesting little piece of work. Through interviews with effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw and a lot of archival footage, this segment shows us how they did what they did to make the movie look as cool as it does.
The Black Hole is one of those fabulous disasters of a film that could have been so much more but really wasn't meant to be that way. Those who can appreciate the film for what it is should dig the great new transfer on this DVD as well as the interesting featurette in the extras. While the movie is goofy, a lot of us hold a soft spot for it and that makes this DVD recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.