While on a deep-space mission, the crew of the Palamino stumbles across the U.S.S.Cygnus. Lost for over twenty years, it defies all laws of physics as it hovers motionlessly on the edge of an immense black hole. Once aboard, they find the ship manned by robots under the leadership of one Dr. Hans Reinhardt; an eminent scientist who is obsessed with entering the Black Hole. Whether a genius or a mad-man, one thing is for sure, he will not be denied his life's dream. And what does lie beyond the Black Hole? Immortality... or, Oblivion...?
Directed by: Gary Nelson
. Starring: Maximilian Schell
, Anthony Perkins
, Robert Forster
, Joseph Bottoms
, Yvette Mimieux
, Ernest Borgnine
, Tom McLoughlin
, Roddy McDowall
, Gary Nelson
, Slim Pickens
. Music by: John Barry
This is one of those films I've been waiting to see for years. Almost 27 years. I love Disney, including their live-action films. I'm a sci-fi fan. I'm fascinated by the idea and theory of black holes. Over the years, I've come to be a fan of Robert Forster, and I like the rest of the cast alright insofar as I'm familiar with their work.
Maybe it was all the anticipation, but I was extremely disappointed on finally watching The Black Hole. It's pretty much a mess that's transparently derivative of a number of other films. It feels like calculated product when you watch it. And it has a very odd cast for a sci-fi film. That could be a pleasant surprise, but here, it never stops feeling odd. You get the feeling that everyone got lost on their way to sets for other films. Or that it was some kind of quirky practical joke.
The script is another big problem. You're plopped into the middle of the lives of a crew exploring deep space in a modest ship with little exposition. We don't know when this is supposed to be, what the crew is supposed to be doing, really, or what their relationships are. We just get plunged into a dilemma with lots of gobbledy-gooky dialogue and the kind of sci-fi physics for which many people would have nominated Armageddon (1998) for a Razzie, if only that were a category. Of course, I don't mind fictional physics, but the spinning and lurching and all kinds of other, later events just tended to be ridiculous in a way that I wouldn't call "good".
In any event, I could have lived with that, and even with having to fill in big gaps of exposition inferentially, but there are other aspects of the script and the film in general that are more difficult to smooth over. One thing that really drove me crazy was the floating R2-D2-ish robot whose speech capabilities consisted almost entirely of somewhat obliquely selected Bartlett's Quotations and clichés. Robert Forster's character kept saying, "Right", in response to these, as if the robot had just explained some complicated scientific principle or otherwise said something profound. Other people and robots got into the Bartlett's and clichés act later.
The script references a couple more technical aspects of black hole theory, like Einstein-Rosen Bridges, so someone had to at least crack open a book or a Scientific American article on black holes. But not only is this mixed with the ridiculous literary pretense, but certain characters can communicate with each other via ESP, and this turns out to be a plot hinge later on. So it's kinda new-age-fi as much as sci-fi.
Many elements and even entire scenes are "borrowed" from popular films. For example, the robots, androids, and the atmosphere and militarism of Reinhardt's ship are straight out of Star Wars (1977), with a touch of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). The ending is straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), ridiculously enough. To its credit, The Black Hole managed to beat Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) by two years with what's essentially the "giant boulder scene", but that's not much to credit it with, especially given how much better Steven Spielberg uses the idea. Unlike many other films, The Black Hole does not feel like it's paying homage to artistic influences in the above references. It feels merely like it's trying to ape content that was commercially successful, to hopefully catch the tail end of a trend or two.
Similarly, there was an attempt to make two of the robots, V.I.N.CENT. and Bob, "cutesy" in a way that would especially appeal to kids. Vincent likes to do loop-de-loops while he flies about uttering his bad dialogue and generally acting like a speech-capable R2-D2, with a similarly spinning "head" and various extensible and retractable gadgets. More than cutesy, a lot of this and other material winds up being unintentionally humorous. This is also true of the action sequences, such as the fight against the robots who can normally shoot moving targets with incredible predictive powers and accuracy, but when it's really important, who suddenly are unable to do anything but stand there like sitting ducks.
I just realized I haven't said anything at all positive about the film. Hmmmm... well, even though it's pretty mucked up, the basic ideas in the film are intriguing--you can see them gleaming through the thick fog. There is a lot of admirable visual design throughout. I'm enough of a fan of Robert Forster that I still liked him here, despite the odd fit with the material, and Ernest Borgnine may seem lost, but he's a lot of fun--maybe because he seems lost. If you watch The Black Hole in the right frame of mind, it's a pretty decent "So bad, it's good" film.
Review by Brandt Sponseller from the Internet Movie Database.