Final Frontierland

The Black Hole (1979)

Jimmy Stewart once said people don’t remember movies, they remember bits of movies.  I would agree.  From my childhood, I remember the menacing robot, Maximillian, the R2D2 inspired VINCent and BOB (even though why a robot would have Slim Pickens’ southern drawl didn’t register… pay attention, I was seven).  What I remember most is an image of people running across a bridge and hurling towards them is, in my seven year old mind at the time, looks like a sun. 


In the wake of Star Wars (1977) every studio that had something that resembled a science-fiction movie threw it into production.  This happens whenever someone resurrects a genre with success.  In the nineties it was teenage slasher films, now it’s comic book movies.  I am sure Disney, trying to outgrow it’s image of being a children’s studio, thought they needed they own Star Wars.  The Black Hole isn’t sure what it is.  It was Disney first non-G Rated film and knowing that, you cringe just a little when I see the words “Walt Disney Pictures Presents” on the film and I know it doesn’t involve Kurt Russell as a teenager who’s been turned into a computer.

The Black Hole follows the crew of the Palomino, a deep space craft that stumbles across the Cygnus, another ship launched years before and presumed lost.  The crew boards to find it’s crew completely replaced with ominous robots and the threatening Maximillian.  I find it hysterical that someone would design a robot to look evil with its monochrome red, slit eye, multiple arms and no feet as it just hovers there looking at me like I owe it money.  My favorite feature are blades that pop out of its wrists and spin gutting an unsuspecting Anthony Perkins who attempts to protect himself with a book (which is really a clever way of gutting a person on camera and not showing it).  Maximillian was built by Dr Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell) who is conducting experiments on a black hole and preventing his ship’s destruction by creating a man-made contained sun and making a polar gravity so they won’t get sucked in.  Reinhardt has s gone insane, replaced the crew with cyborgs (which are dudes with fishbowl heads and cloaks which is probably way cheaper than actually building robots).  The crew, lead by Robert Forster (who probably didn’t collect another paycheck until Quentin Tarantino’s underrated Jackie Brown (1997)) tries to escape.  Ernest Borgnine tries to save his own ass which is just like Ernest Borgnine.  Note to self: if you get in a ship and Ernest Borgnine is there, get off immediately.  That ship’s going down.  That goes for the Cygnus, the Poseidon (The Poseidon Adventure (1972)) and Jan Michael Vincent’s career.

The gay robot fights Maximillian and there is a robot casualty  (where the robot actually does the, “it’s no use now… save yourself” monologue.  Hell breaks loose and all the things that could go wrong when you make your own sun and keep it indoors happen.

Now here is the kick in the ass.   The end of the film, I want to specify, a Walt Disney film, ends with Reinhardt drifting in space (still alive), encountering Maximillian and they both enter the black hole.  Inside, Reinhardt appears inside the Maximillian robot like a prisoner (Maximillian Schell is inside Maximillian’s shell, get it?) where he is now the overlord of what looks a lot like Hell or Mississippi… I never can tell the difference.  The surviving crew of the Palomino fly through and are escorted through a series of doorways by a flying ghostly female and they appear on the other side intact.

Very 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for a Disney flick with cute robots.  The film actually reminded me of Apocalypse Now (1979)… albeit, a Disney-fied sci-fi version of Apocalypse Now… with robot fighting.


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