The Black Hole, released in 1979, is a film from Walt Disney Studios that failed on a few different levels. The movie was Disney’s attempt to make a movie that appealed to adults. Up until that point in time Disney had never released a PG rated movie. In today’s day and age where PG-13 is the norm this may be hard to fathom. For a long time Disney’s sole focus was family oriented live action and animated movies. Disney hoped to go in a new direction with The Black Hole. The movie was released in the wake of the enormous success of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). The Black Hole had been in development for years before the release of Star Wars. However due to various delays the movie was not completed until after the release of Star Wars. The success of Star Wars made The Black Hole look like a sure bet, or so many thought.
The plot of The Black Hole is fairly straightforward. The five man and one robot crew of the USS Palomino is returning from a space mission. The crew consists of Captain Dan Holland, first officer Lieutenant Charlie Pizer, science officers Dr. Kate McCrae and Dr. Alex Durant, journalist Harry Booth and the robot V.I.N.CENT. In route back to Earth the crew encounter a large ship on the edge of a black hole. The ship appears to be abandoned. As the Palomino draws closer they realize that it is the USS Cygnus. Twenty years in the past the ship went on a mission but never returned. Two additional factors heighten the mystery of the Cygnus. Dr. Kate McCrae’s father was on board the Cygnus when the ship disappeared. The Cygnus is inexplicably unaffected by the the gravitational pull of the black hole. As the Palomino moves closer to explore it gets pulled into the black hole’s gravitational pull. The crew manages to escape, however the ship sustains damage as a result. With some reluctance the ship docks on the Cygnus hoping to quickly make repairs. Once onboard the Cygnus the crew of the Palomino soon discover that things are not as they appear. The crew meet Dr Hans Reinhardt, the last survivor of the Cygnus. Dr. Reinhardt is not alone on the large ship. He has created robots and androids to help run the ship and to be his companions. There is far more to the mysterious story of Dr. Reinhardt and the Cygnus. As the story unfolds the crew of the Palomino slowly undercover the truth.
Overall The Black Hole, as a science fiction movie, has a unique look and feel. The visual influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Star Trek is noticeable. The Black Hole absorbs those influences and managers to carve out its own niche in the science fiction genre. The far reaching success of Star Wars had many in the film industry scrambling to attempt to replicate its success. Many inferior knockoffs followed in the ensuing years. The creative team for The Black Hole made a conscious effort to be different from Star Wars. Many of the outer space sequences are amazing visual feats. The design of the various robots strives to be different. The end result was mostly successful, but it is impossible not to think of R2-D2 whenever the robot V.I.N.CENT is on the screen. On the flip side, The Black Hole has one of the great science fiction movie antagonists in the hulking red robot Maximilian. The quiet menace of Maximilian is equally matched by the madness of the his creator, Dr. Reinhardt.
Unfortunately for Disney, The Black Hole was not the success that many foresaw. Despite the darker tone of the movie some felt The Black Hole was still too family friendly. The inevitable Star Wars comparisons were made. The film has two enormous flaws. At a running time of ninety eight minutes the movie is too short. There is not enough time to fully develop the story or the main characters. Outside of Dr. Reinhardt, the personalities and motivations of the other characters are under developed. The crew of The Palomino gets plenty of screen time, however we do not get to know them. We do not know why Lieutenant Charlie Pizer is a hothead. There seems to be some sort of relationship between Captain Dan Holland and Dr. Kate McCrae, but nothing is made clear. The reasons for the extreme actions and reactions of Dr. Alex Durant and Harry Booth are unclear. We are barely given any time to get to know the crew. Caring about their fate is hampered by our lack of knowledge. During their time on the Cygnus the crew meets a robot similar to V.I.N.CENT named Old B.O.B. The viewer gets more backstory on Old B.O.B. then we do with the crew of The Palomino. The second and biggest flaw is the movie’s ending. The Black Hole went into production without a definitive ending. Apparently no one could decide on how to conclude the story. The ending that ultimately wound up in the movie makes little sense. There is a lot happening visually, but the meaning is open to many different interpretations. The movie’s conclusion is a confusing disappointment.
There have been talks for the last several years about a remake or a reboot of The Black Hole. Forty plus years later seems like an ideal time to revisit this flawed, but highly enjoyable, movie. With the advancement of CGI technology a new version would look light years better than the original. The original is still a good looking movie, but it is a product of its time. One of the biggest issues to tackle with a remake/reboot would be a proper ending. The second biggest issue to correct would be the film’s pacing. The movie would need more than ninety eight minutes to fully develop the story and the characters. The Black Hole has a great story and an interesting cast of characters. The overall tone of the movie leans closer in the direction of Star Trek. But there are moments that encapsulate the feel of the action Star Wars: A New Hope. The story line has an dark undercurrent as the crew attempts to solve the mystery of the Cygnus. Watching the crew slowly discover the various activities and mysteries onboard the Cygnus are some of the best scenes in the movie. The viewer just does not get enough time with each crew member to get to know who they are. The film spends too much time on Dr. Reinhardt, his backstory, his motivations and his intentions. A remake/reboot could remedy these flaws. There is more than enough good material in The Black Hole that is rip for a new movie. The potential to create an incredible science fiction movie is available.