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The Black Hole on DVD

The Black Hole on DVD

Some have called Disney’s The Black Hole a forgotten sci-fi epic. After watching this 1979 movie on its new DVD release, it’s easy to see why.

It deserves to be forgotten.

Oh, it has its moments, but they can’t make up for a movie that’s ponderous and pretentious and clichéd – and where Disney’s famous special effects, while usually very good even in this film, are sloppy enough that at times you can actually see the wires suspending characters in their zero gee environment.

Gee. That warrants a zero on the credibility scale.

The Black Hole came during the years when the Walt Disney studio was in the wilderness, wandering aimlessly from movie to movie and long removed from the days of Snow White and Mary Poppins. The Little Mermaid and the new golden age that modern masterpiece kicked off was still years in the future and the studio needed a hit.

Then along came George Lucas and his little blockbuster Star Wars (now Episode IV: A New Hope) and everyone was jumping onto the sci fi bandwagon. Disney saw an opportunity – and why not? The company had always been a leader in the field of imagination, and special effects – and its 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was generally regarded as a science fiction movie masterpiece, and deservedly so.

So they took their special effects know-how and went back to 20,000 Leagues to come up with a new, spacey tale.

Yikes! What they ended up with was a mishmash of ripoff clichés and situations, and while it usually looks very good it ends up being all sizzle and no steak.

20,000 Leagues saw a scientist and his companions discover a mysterious ship (a submarine) helmed by a mysterious megalomaniac Captain with delusions of grandeur. The scientist, in awe of the Captain, decides he needs to stick around and learn of his discoveries so he can take the information back to humanity.

The Black Hole sees a space crew, including a scientist, discover a mysterioius ship (a long lost spacecraft) helmed by a mysterious megalomaniac Captain (Maximilian Schell) with delusions of grandeur. The scientist, in awe of the Captain, decides he needs to stick around and learn of his discoveries so he can take the information back to humanity.

Nope. Nothing derivative here.

The U.S.S. Cygnus itself, the neo-Nautilus of the Black Hole, appears designed as a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the Discovery from 2001: a space odyssey. The cute robot V.I.N.CENT (Voiced by Roddy McDowall) is obviously an R2D2 ripoff, except that he’s been Disneyfied to include cute cartoon eyes and mannerisms. The big evil robot Maximilian is neat, and looks like it inspired the Recognizers in Disney’s far superior Tron.

The performances of the cast, which also includes Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, and Joseph Bottoms, are stilted and wooden (the damn robot is more human than they are!) and there are so many clichés (or are they “homages”?) ripped from other films (the transportation system on the Cygnus seems like Blofeld’s monorail from You Only Live Twice welded to the system from Forbidden Planet, for example) that they really do get in the way of the dialogue and situations – which actually ends up not being too bad a thing because this is definitely a long 90 minutes in the home theater.

Then there's the ending, which seems like a bargain basement version of 2001's stargate sequence - except that here all the laws of science are thrown out of the window. Okay, you can extrapolate some new rules when it comes to going through a black hole - but humans breathing outside in space?

Wanna see a true science fiction classic from Disney instead? Watch 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You won’t regret it.

The production design of The Black Hole is neat, with a beautifully rich starfield and the black hole itself, which hangs out in space menacingly, it pretty nifty. But it takes more than that to make a great film.

We also liked John Barry’s score, except for the main theme.

The DVD is good, though sparse. For some reason Disney has chosen not to give this DVD the THX Certification treatment that usually means the audio and video performance will be top notch. Perhaps that’s because even more wires would be visible if they had…

Despite that, the overall picture quality is very good. The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and we're glad to see that.

There’s plenty of grain in places, and the matte scenes tend to stick out like a sore thumb, but this isn’t just a problem with the Black Hole; we see such problems often on DVD’s. But the colors are terrific, rich and bright and deep, and other than the grain the detail is also very good.

Audio is offered only in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (no dts choice). There isn’t a huge amount of surround use, but the overall quality is fine. Bass performance is good and when the room needs to be rattled it does.

Extras are limited to a “Through the Black Hole” featurette on the making of the film as well as an “extended” trailer.

The Black Hole is like cotton candy. Light and sugary, but with little substance and no nourishment.

The Black Hole, from Walt Disney Home Entertainment
98 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux and Ernest Borgnine
Produced by Ron Miller
Written by Jeb Rosebrook and Gerry Day, directed by Gary Nelson


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