Thursday, 11 June 2009

Black Hole


I watched 30-year-old sci-fi, The Black Hole, directed by Gary Nelson as the first PG-rated Disney movie. Compared, overall, to the calibre of creative filmmaking on 1979’s genre milestones, Alien, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (still my favourite 'Trek film), this once-intriguing picture seems much worse (than remembered) with each re-viewing.

Despite a notable Hollywood cast, including Anthony Perkins as the star-struck scientist, Robert Forster’s unflappable spacer, and Ernest Borgnine’s treacherous newshound reporter, it appears - in retrospect - this film was as jinxed as the plotline’s mission of exploration. Pulp sci-fi clich├ęs abound: from Joseph Bottoms’ hotshot pilot yahoo, to the duelling sentries, and anthropomorphic Disneyfied droid Vincent (voiced by Roddy McDowell). Overshadowing the straightforward heroes is the mysterious, twisted genius Dr Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell, channelling Captain Nemo), whose dream of journeying through a black hole is the point of this adventure.

There are incidental pleasures... the apparently derelict starship ‘Cygnus’ - which unexpectedly lights up (“like a Christmas tree”), vast architecture of the doomed ship (later echoed in Event Horizon), the gaudily unscientific depiction of a black hole as a swirling vortex, and the luscious Yvette Mimieux (Weena in the original Time Machine, 1960) wrapped in foil.

Ultimately, what kills the genre appeal of this film is its blatant cribbing from the unsubtle imagery of Star Wars. It seems very likely that this project was intended to be a serious and quite brooding space drama (clearly, its allegorical setup, and transcendental ending, were influenced by the profundities of Kubrick’s 2001, and Tarkovsky’s Solaris), but - with its team of meddling writers - nearly all the genuine science fiction was deleted to be replaced by the ‘fun’ and familiar tropes of space fantasy. The proverbial ‘bad robots’ here, once acceptable sci-fi kitsch, now seem irredeemably a lethal curse on this film’s otherwise interesting design elements.

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