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• The Black Hole (1979)

The Black Hole was suggested by a friend of mine as one of those rare classics that most people haven’t heard about or seen, and so we decided to give it a go. At the time of its release, The Black Hole was Disney’s most expensive film ever, billed at nearly $30 million dollars. Despite the poor critical reception it managed to make a profit and was even nominated by the Academy Awards for its special effects, which required motion control cameras built by Disney after a deal with Industrial Light and Magic fell through. Like Star Wars, it is fondly remembered by robot fans for V.I.N.CENT (Vital Information Necessary Centralized) and its other robot characters.

The crew of an exploration space ship discover another Earth ship floating in perpetual equilibrium with a nearby black hole.  They decide to investigate because the crew’s telepathic scientist’s father was supposed to be on board the other ship, which didn’t return to Earth despite orders 20 years prior.  They discover that the ship is run by the mysterious Dr. Hans Reinhardt and a crew of mostly silly robots, including Maximilian, a red security guard robot that seems to have a mind of its own.  The Doctor tells them that the human crew mutinied when he refused to return to Earth in order to study the black hole.

Of course, all is not right aboard the USS Cygnus – some of the robots are quietly observed holding what appears to be a funeral.  Half of the robots aboard the ship are true robots that enjoy a round of shootin’ at the arcade gallery and look like a mix between Darth Vader and Daft Punk.  Others, however, are actually the zombified human crew members that underwent “treatment” by the Vampire-like Doctor.  The Doctor’s horrifying secret is revealed just as he is preparing to enter the black hole, and around this time everything starts to go to hell.  In quite violent (though bloodless) fashion, Maximilian suddenly kills one of the human characters with his retractable spinning blades – a scene made all the more shocking due to the film’s tone leading up to it.

Eventually everything gets sucked into the black hole, followed by a sequence ripped off from 2001: A Space Odyssey infused with unmistakably Christian imagery.  The special effects aren’t terrible given the film’s age but, given that you can clearly see wires holding up floating characters, the USS Cygnus looks like it was built out of toothpicks, and matte paintings stick out like a sore thumb, they mostly add to the film’s inherent camp value.  At first appearing to be a run of the mill kid’s space adventure designed to ride Star Wars‘ coattails, The Black Hole breaks all the rules of the typical Disney family film.  Apparently this led Disney to create other labels for its more adult-oriented films that wouldn’t gel with the traditional Disney image.  At an hour and forty minutes it’s a bit long, but worth checking out with friends if the mood is right.

A remake by some of those involved with the TRON reboot was announced in November 2009 (the film’s 30th Anniversary).

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