The Black Hole
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|The Black Hole|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gary Nelson|
|Produced by||Ron Miller|
|Music by||John Barry|
|Edited by||Gregg McLaughlin|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|Box office||$35 million
The Black Hole is a 1979 American space opera film directed by Gary Nelson and produced by Walt Disney Productions. The film stars Maximilian Schell, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Anthony Perkins, and Ernest Borgnine, while the voices of the main robot characters are provided by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens (both unbilled). The music for the film was composed by John Barry. It was the first film from Walt Disney Productions to receive a PG rating. The film was released on December 18, 1979 in the United Kingdom and on December 21, 1979 in the United States.
Nearing the end of a long mission exploring deep space, the spacecraft USS Palomino is returning to Earth. The crew consists of Captain Dan Holland, First Officer Lieutenant Charlie Pizer, journalist Harry Booth, ESP-sensitive scientist Dr. Kate McCrae, the expedition's civilian leader Dr. Alex Durant and the robot V.I.N.CENT ("Vital Information Necessary Centralized").
The Palomino crew discovers a black hole in space with a spaceship nearby, somehow defying the hole's massive gravitational pull. The ship is identified as the long-lost USS Cygnus, the ship McCrae's father served aboard when it went missing. Deciding to investigate, the Palomino encounters a mysterious null gravity field surrounding the Cygnus. The Palomino becomes damaged when it drifts away from the Cygnus and into the black hole's intense gravity field, but the ship manages to move back to the Cygnus and finds itself able to dock to what initially appears to be an abandoned vessel.
The Palomino crew cautiously boards the Cygnus and soon encounters the ship's commander, Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a brilliant scientist. Aided by a crew of faceless, black-robed android drones and his sinister-looking robot Maximilian, Reinhardt explains that he has lived all alone on the Cygnus for years. After the ship encountered a meteor field and was disabled, he ordered the human crew to return to Earth, but Kate's father chose to remain aboard and has since died. Reinhardt then reveals that he has spent the past 20 years studying the black hole and intends to fly the Cygnus through it. Only Durant believes it is possible and asks to accompany Reinhardt on the trip.
The rest of the Palomino crew grows suspicious of the faceless drones' human-like behavior: Booth sees a robot limping and Holland witnesses a robot funeral and discovers the Cygnus crew's personal items in the ship's living quarters. Old B.O.B. (BiO-sanitation Battalion), a battered early model robot similar to V.I.N.CENT, explains that the faceless drones are in fact the human crew, who mutinied when Reinhardt refused to return to Earth and had been lobotomized and "reprogrammed" by Reinhardt to serve him. McCrae's father had led the mutiny and was killed. Using telepathy, V.I.N.CENT tells Kate the truth about what happened. When Kate tells Durant, he removes the reflective faceplate from a "drone" to reveal the zombie-like face of a crew member. Appalled, Durant tries to flee the bridge with Kate, but Maximilian kills him. Reinhardt takes Kate prisoner, ordering his sentry robots to take her to the ship's hospital bay to be lobotomized.
Just as the process begins, Holland, along with V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B., rescues Kate. Meanwhile, fearing the situation is escalating dangerously, Booth attempts to escape alone in the Palomino. Reinhardt orders the craft shot down, but the weapons fire sends the ship crashing into the Cygnus, destroying its port-side anti-gravity forcefield generator. A meteor storm then destroys the starboard generator. Without its null-gravity bubble, the Cygnus starts to break apart under the black hole's huge gravitational forces.
Reinhardt and the Palomino survivors separately plan their escape aboard a small probe ship used to study the black hole. Reinhardt orders Maximilian to go and prepare the probe ship, but then a large viewscreen falls on Reinhardt, pinning him down. His lobotomized crew stand motionless as he struggles helplessly. Maximilian confronts the others and fatally damages B.O.B. moments before he himself is damaged by V.I.N.CENT and drifts out of the broken ship into the black hole. Holland, Pizer, McCrae and V.I.N.CENT reach the probe ship and launch, only to discover the controls locked onto a flightpath that takes them into the black hole.
In a surreal sequence inside the black hole which resembles Heaven and Hell, Reinhardt becomes merged with Maximilian in a burning, hellish landscape populated by dark-robed spectres resembling the Cygnus drones. Next, a floating, angelic figure with long flowing hair passes through a cathedral-like arched crystal tunnel. The probe ship carrying Holland, Pizer, McCrae and V.I.N.CENT then emerges from a white hole and is last seen flying through space towards a planet near a bright star.
- Maximilian Schell as Dr. Hans Reinhardt
- Anthony Perkins as Dr. Alex Durant
- Robert Forster as Captain Dan Holland
- Joseph Bottoms as Lieutenant Charlie Pizer
- Yvette Mimieux as Dr. Kate McCrae
- Ernest Borgnine as Harry Booth
- Tom McLoughlin as Captain S.T.A.R. ("Special Troops/Arms Regiment").
- Roddy McDowall as Voice of V.I.N.CENT (uncredited)
- Slim Pickens as Voice of Old B.O.B. (uncredited)
Although Star Wars had revolutionized the use of computerized motion control miniature effects, The Black Hole was shot using a blend of traditional camera techniques and newly developed computer-controlled camera technology. Disney wanted to rent equipment from Industrial Light and Magic, but it was unavailable during the film's production period and was prohibitively expensive. In the end, Disney turned to its own engineering department, which created the A.C.E.S. (Automated Camera Effects System), the Mattescan system (which enabled the camera to move over a matte painting), and a computer-controlled modeling stand. The movie's opening credit sequence featured what was then the longest computer-graphics shot yet filmed.
Some mild swearing (a first for a Disney film) and scenes of human death earned The Black Hole a PG ('Parental Guidance suggested') rating. It was the first for a Disney production, although Buena Vista Distribution's sports drama Take Down, an outside production released earlier the same year, also earned the rating. The version of the film broadcast on the Disney Channel was edited for language, with all uses of the words "damn" and "hell" removed. The film also features some subtext and metaphysical and religious themes that reflected the company's interest in developing more adult-oriented and mainstream films. This trend eventually led the studio to create its Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures banners (and later, to purchase Miramax Films), under which films considered too mature for the Walt Disney Pictures label could be released.
Along with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released the same month, The Black Hole was one of the last mainstream Hollywood films to have an overture at the start of the film. Although this was cut on subsequent TV airings, the overture is included on Disney's 2004 DVD release.
At $20 million, plus another $6 million for the advertising budget, it was at the time the most expensive picture ever produced by Disney. The movie earned nearly $36 million at the North American box office, making it the 21st highest-grossing film of 1979.
It received mixed reviews from critics. Famed critic Roger Ebert gave the film 2 stars out of 4 upon its release, saying it "takes us all the way to the rim of space only to bog us down in a talky melodrama whipped up out of mad scientists and haunted houses." The film has a 43% score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 28 reviews, though The New York Times, Time and Variety all praised the film. The visual effects were generally acclaimed by the press. The film received two Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography. Science fiction historian John Clute dismissed The Black Hole as "a silly concoction" where "the story disappears down the hole". The Aurum Film Encyclopedia also gave the film a negative review, saying The Black Hole featured "the most heavy-handed dialogue imaginable" and added that the film's climax "has no dramatic power at all".
Author John Kenneth Muir wrote an extensive review of the film that delved into some of the nuances and metaphysical ideas which marked The Black Hole as more adult-oriented fare than Disney had previously been involved with.
In 2014, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson deemed the film to be the least scientifically accurate movie of all time. Critiquing the film, he noted, "They not only got none of the physics right about falling into a black hole, had they gotten it right it would have been a vastly more interesting movie."
Adaptations and merchandising
In Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the film, as the probe ship crosses the event horizon, all matter ceases to exist. Kate's ESP links the minds of the Palomino's crew and allows them to survive (in a fashion) while the atoms of their bodies diffuse and are scattered throughout the Universe.
One comic book adaptation of the film (Whitman comics, published in 1980) bypasses the whole issue of what happens inside the black hole by having the crew enter the black hole on one page and emerge apparently unharmed on the next page into a parallel universe where they encounter alternate versions of Reinhardt, Old B.O.B., Maximilian and even Frank McCrae, Kate McCrae's father. Four issues were published. The first two issues adapted the film and the second two issues continued the story introducing a race of people called Virlights, whom they end up aiding against a rising tyrant. The rare fourth issue concludes with the promise of a fifth issue but the series was canceled before it was released. In Mexico, Editorial Novaro S.A. published the first four Whitman issues, including the fifth issue, but also released a sixth issue before the series ended. Other comic adaptations released in Europe have the crew emerging into another galaxy, thus confirming Reinhardt's theories. While wondering if they will ever return to Earth, they decide to explore this new universe.
In the official Disney Read-Along recording and illustrated story book, the crew in the probe ship emerge safely on the other side of the black hole, while the Cygnus is "crushed like an eggshell." The story ends with Captain Holland saying, "We've been trained to find new worlds. Let's go find one for ourselves!"
The children's book line, Little Golden Books, released a book entitled The Black Hole: A Spaceship Adventure for Robots. The story involves V.I.N.CENT and Old B.O.B. exploring the Cygnus, visiting its gardens, encountering the "humanoid robots", and escaping detection by Maximillian.
The Mego Corporation produced a line of 12" and 4" action figures from the movie, released in the fall of 1979.
Eight-inch magnetic figures were made of V.I.N.CENT, S.T.A.R. and Maximillian; 12-inch figures were made of Holland, Durant, Reinhardt, Booth, McCrae and Pizer.
In 1983, Disney put out a computer learning-game spinoff, Space Probe: Math. This was a cassette containing two educational games designed for use with the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer. The concept of the first game was that the Palomino had landed on an infected planet, Delta 5 Omega. All the crew were falling under "mind diffusion", basically a viral form of fatigue. The player (aged 7–14) had to solve multiplication or division problems to save the crew. In the second game, the player had to save a primitive world's crops, using (rectangular) area and perimeter problems.
The Black Hole theatrical release history
US release dates
- December 21, 1979 (original release)
- March 6, 1982
- August 16, 1985
- December 25, 1990 (11th Anniversary edition re-release)
Video release history
- 1980 (VHS & laserdisc)
- May 10, 1981 (VHS (UK only))
- August 3, 1984 (VHS & laserdisc)
- April 20, 1985 (VHS & laserdisc)
- August 22, 1985 (laserdisc (Japanese version))
- 1986 (VHS and laserdisc)
- 1987 (videodisc (Chinese version))
- 1989 (VHS and laserdisc)
- 1990 (VHS and laserdisc (re-release))
- June 18, 1997 (laserdisc)
- May 27, 1999 (VHS & DVD)
- May 7, 2000 (DVD (Japanese version))
- May 17, 2000 (videodisc (Chinese/Japanese version))
- June 8, 2002 (DVD - Anchor Bay)
- August 3, 2004 (DVD - Disney)
- March 1, 2010 (DVD Special Edition (Italy))
Silva Screen Records released compilation albums remastering some of John Barry's works, which includes some of the music ("The Overture") from The Black Hole.
"It's Not Too Beautiful," the second song on the Beta Band's self-titled debut album features a sample of the main title theme from The Black Hole.
In November 2009, it was reported that Disney had plans to remake the movie as a live-action movie. Director Joseph Kosinski, who also directed Disney's Tron: Legacy (2010) and producer Sean Bailey were attached to the production. By April 2013, Jon Spaihts, who wrote the script for the Alien prequel Prometheus, signed on as screenwriter.
In 2016, it was announced that the movie's development was put on hold because Spaihts' script was considered "too dark for a Disney movie". Spaihts commented:
"Black Hole was an amazing experience. That was one of those movies I was stuck on until I cracked the beginning, and suddenly it just started to flow. I loved that script. It sits uneasily in Disney’s world as a dark epic, and Disney is in a very colorful place.
They already have multiple big space epics going, so I don’t know how or whether it’ll find its way to light of day, but I sure wrote a heck of a movie and was thrilled to do it. It was very faithful to the original but clever in all the ways in that first film was silly, I hope."
- "The Black Hole, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- Moss, Joshua (June 2, 2000). "Does The Black Hole still suck?". Space.com. Archived from the original on February 10, 2004.
- Buzz Cinema - Touchstone Pictures Archived December 19, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- "The Black Hole review".
- "Black Hole Special Issue". Cinefantastique. Spring 1980.
- Kit, Borys (December 1, 2009). "'Tron: Legacy' Team Mount a 'Black Hole' Remake". Reuters.
- "The Black Hole Movie Review & Film Summary (1979)". Ebert, Roger. 1979-01-01.
- Turner Classic Movie commentary
- John Clute, Science Fiction : The Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York : Dorling Kindersley. (1994) ISBN 0789401851 (p.279).
- Phil Hardy, The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction London : Aurum, 1991. ISBN 1854101595 (p.346).
- "CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Black Hole (1979)". Muir, John Kenneth. 2009-04-21.
- "Neil deGrasse Tyson Thinks 'The Black Hole' Is The Most Scientifically Inaccurate Movie Ever". The Huffington Post.
- Walt Disney (1979). The Black Hole: A Spaceship Adventure for Robots (A Little Golden Book). Golden Press.
- Press release: Linda Miller (October 1983). "Educational Computing from Walt Disney Productions" (PDF). TRS-80 Microcomputer News. 5 (10). p. 6. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Cinema Treasures
- In 70mm.com
- "Intrada Announces John Barry's The Black Hole". Intrada Soundtrack Forum. August 22, 2011.
- Baxter, Joseph (April 5, 2013). "The Black Hole Remake Lands Prometheus Writer". TheFeed.
- Franklin, Garth (November 5, 2016). ""Black Hole" Remake Stalled Over Tone". Dark Horizons.
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