Mind Over Dark Matter

Posted Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 9:00 AM

1979 had two science fiction adventures that couldn't be more different while being somewhat alike. On the one hand was Ridley Scott's Alien, a realistic, atmospheric, carefully crafted masterpiece of a haunted house story set in space. While on the other hand was Disney's The Black Hole, an overly serious, predictably plotted, overacted mess, executed at a mind-numbingly tedious momentum.

Once again, simulcast with JetSimian, Jamas Enright, and Alistair Hughes.

Stylistically very much a Disney movie, more like Star Trek The Motion Picture that also came out that year in its choices of photography and lighting, it leaps into the plot, such as it is, immediately, with no attempt for us to get to know any of the characters or their motivations. We can't even keep track of their names, let alone their personalities. Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster, every one of them phoning it in.

Wait! This black hole is blue! I demand a refund!

A science ship, the Palomino, searching for lifeforms on other planets, encounters a lost spaceship, the Cygnus, which, heavy exposition tells us, was captained by the reckless and scenery-chewing Dr Reinhardt, played by Maximilian Schell, and they immediately investigate. A lot of special effects porn follows as we slowly get the plot properly moving. The suspense is weak, the story is non-existent, the characters bland and boring as they meander around the spaceship, reciting dull gobbledegook-heavy dialogue in a monotonous drone.

Who said that?

A by-the-numbers "imprisoned by a madman" storyline is barely worth paying attention to. Not only is there no adventure, there's barely any science fiction; it wouldn't even make a decent Buck Rogers episode. The only bursts of excitement amount to barely-motivated shoot-outs and chases, and a protracted destruction sequence, but this is no Star Wars. It looks and feels 20 years out of date, like they hadn't learned anything from the movie-making revolution that was going on around them. Even the score feels like it's a temp track borrowed from other films, with inappropriately quiet music during action sequences, bombastic music telegraphing events before they happen, all its beats irrelevantly misplaced for the events happening on screen.

So how does an anti-gravity object float in a moving elevator anyway?

The robots provide the comic relief, if you can call it that, with VINCENT voiced by Roddy McDowall, and later his damaged "brother" BOB voiced by Slim Pickens. When I watched the film in the cinema as a kid, the cool dual-barrelled guns on the soldier robots were my strongest memory, and my friends and I had laser battles with our fingers folded to emulate them for weeks afterwards. Beyond that I haven't had any desire to revisit the film, until prompted to do so today.

The robots all move like a bad mime act.

I also had a comic book follow-up, that continued past the bizarre psychedelic cliffhanger ending (aka "we don't know how to end it, so lets copy 2001"), discovering what lay beyond the black hole, which was a mirror-galaxy, but millions of years in the past. It turned out to be more exciting than the film, and yet only managed one issue.

Any nostalgia you may have for The Black Hole is best kept to your childhood. There's no need to ever revisit this tedious waste of 90 minutes.

4 Reasoned Responses:

Jet Simian said...

Yikes! Dude, that's harsh.

Interested you had the comic follow-up of it, though. It went for, what, four issues? And was apparently not that great at all. On the other hand, I understand Jack Kirby did the official adaptation and from what I've seen it's reliably wonderful visually - but is otherwise unavailable.

I would agree the pacing's a bit uneven, and maybe my interest in this was amped up a little by it being the first proper viewing in 35 years, but he, I had a good time. I was surprised by just how ready to rumble V.I.N.CENT was, though! Not sure what the remake will be like, though. I have concerns...

GuanoLad said...

I've never been a fan of cerebral science fiction at the best of times, and this movie is trying to be more serious and important than it knows how to be. The action was tedious, and the characters were charisma-free; ultimately I didn't care about their fates.

What you said about it going through an intensive rewriting process before it was greenlit makes a lot of sense.

Jet Simian said...

It actually went through FIFTEEN drafts from 1974 through to 1979, delivering its final draft just before Star Wars was released (so, y'know - that thing that everybody says about it being a Star Wars rip-off? Grain of salt) The success of SW may have tightened up the production schedule though - I think four months' principal photography and eight weeks model work or something crazy like that? Either way, no near full year for post-production back in the day! No wonder the corridors look like tent canvas when they're making their escape...

GuanoLad said...

Just like how "Tales of the Gold Monkey" was written long before "Raiders of the Lost Ark" but was finally unearthed and greenlit on that strength.

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