The Black Hole – Disneycember

I got a hole this movie can go through… Doug reviews 1979’s The Black Hole.

About Doug Walker

Creator of 5 Second Movies, Nostalgia Critic, Bum Reviews and more.

28 comments

  1. Had never even heard of that movie! Obviously I still have a lot to learn about Disney~ And the video, although it ends on a “you can give it a pass”, did make me want to watch the movie. Thanks! Oh and *sorry about that* this is my first comment, I just created an accound so I’m excited… anyway, thanks for the video, can’t wait to discover more new things!

  2. Honestly, I like this one. The movie has his issues, but I would put it in any collection of 70s to 80s scifi-films.

  3. SPOILER ALERT!

    I wouldn’t necessarily be as dismissive. There are a few elements of the film that deserve more recognition. First, the music for this film does a good job in transporting you to this part of space (with the opening credits, not so much the overture) and building the intrigue and suspense throughout the film. I know you had the argument that there is not a lot of action in this film and it is very dialogue-driven. I have to agree with that, but the climax of the film is pretty much all action – a battle between the crew of the Palomino and the humanoid crew of the Cygnus all throughout the ship, the rescue of Dr. McCrae, the asteroid field that encounters the Cygnus and practically destroys the ship, Ernest Borgnine trying to desert the crew on the Cygnus, and finally a fight between Maximilian and Vincent. Is the ending a “huge clusterf**k? After watching the film one time, you may think that, but there are a lot of theories as to what is going on when the probe ship is pulled into the black hole. My guess is that the crew died travelling through the black hole, and Dr. McCrae has a “vision” of Dr. Reinhardt falling into the depths of hell and merging with Maximilian (I don’t get that.) and the crew successfully making it through the black hole and travelling to a new uncharted area of the universe (or a Heavenly planet, if you will). Is this film all over the place? Yes. Are the effects of the film cheap and quite noticeable, especially with the matte paintings? At times, yes. Is it trying to be a bit of everything? Obviously yes. This was Disney’s answer to Star Wars. Should you give this film a chance and not just dismiss it? Yes. There are a lot of different things that you can miss watching it the first time though. But it deserves at least two views to appreciate the effort that the film was putting forth (minus the “wooden acting”).

    • I kind of like this movie. In the review you said that Disney was trying to be every sci-fi film ever. I see it more as a nod to all the other sci-fi films that came before. The Black Hole at its core is a 1950’s style sci-fi film. Think about it. Slow pace at the beginning, wooded (stoic) acting, diabolical genius, everything falls apart in the end, a nod to Christian theology; its all there. Watch those old 50’s space films like Forbidden Planet. You’ll see what I mean. Could The Black Hole been better? Yes. Pacing a bit too slow, acting too stiff, all 50’s sci-fi tropes clichéd (not necessarily a bad thing) all with a modern paint job. But I would put it up against the majority of sci-fi films of the fifties any day of the weak. And, mat painting or not, the set is amazing. In most scenes the Cygnas is scary and wondrous. I think we are just so spoiled with todays special effects that we don’t allow are imagination to fill in the blanks anymore.
      Over all The Black Hole is not a great film but its not a bad film. Watch it at least once.

  4. Pretty much agree with most of the review. It’s a nostalgia trip for me as I saw it back in the 80’s and I still watch it about once every two years. I love the atmosphere, the basic story and the sci-fi setting. I also like watching it for Ernest Borgnine and Anthony Perkins’s performances. I’ve come to appreciate E.B. since I first saw him on Airwolf. As for Perkins, he’s always associated with ‘Psycho’ and it’s just good to see him outside of that character.
    It’s true. The movie is a mess, but it’s a weird sci-fi mess that’s cool in its own way. Every sci-fi fan should see it at least once. After that…well . . .

  5. I’m so glad you finally did this movie. I remember seeing it when I was a kid and loved every minute of it, seeing it today I acknowledge it has some flaws but I still find it enjoyable. While I’m greatful it earned a spot on disneycember, I wish you’d do a full NC review on this one, there so much to talk about in this film.

    I’m glad you got the scary robot in there, but what about the others, Roddy McDowell was great as Vincent, and Ive said on record that he is a better robot companion that R2D2. I find myself still quoting one of his lines to this day,

    “there are three basic types, the wills, the won’ts, ant the can’ts, the wills accomplish everything, the won’ts oppose everything and the can’ts won’t try anything”

    And the scene near the end where BOB (I believe voiced by Slim Pickens) dies, that was genuinely sad, not funny like R2 getting stunned, shot, swallowed, spit out, electrocuted, or any of the other forced slapstick we got in the prequels. Another detail that should have been mentioned was this was one of the few Disney movies at the time to get a PG13 rating, if not the first, Disney was essentially making a Scifi suspense thriller, the likes of which we wouldn’t see til movies like Event Horizon and Sphere, though they did Disney it up with cartoon like robot eyes and comedy bits. I’m just gushing at this point, but I just feel this movie deserves a deeper look, whether it’s to praise it or rip the shit out of it.

  6. it just all in all a odd movie

  7. That Maximillian robot definitely looks menacing, but damn! He’s got a rotor razer to kill, that’s pretty gruesome indeed!

  8. Yes the Black Hole finally to me this is a great movie, i lost count on how many times i´ve seen it as a child and i loved the heck out of it.
    This is despite the fact that i couldn´t understand a word of what they where saying (English isn´t my native language, Danish is) and i could only barely read some of the subtitles.
    Still the action, the atmosphere all made me love this movie even more.
    As an adult i can see that yes the movie has it´s flaws it starts out okay, but then towards the end (basically from when the meteors are starting to fall) it loses much of what it had.
    The slow rolling meteor, walking in outer space unprotected, screaming for help yeah no just no.
    There are good things first of all Maximilian is scary as fuck (i had nightmare´s about that robot as a child, though it didn´t stop me from watching it again and again.)
    And the part where Bob dies was generally sad moment to me anyways.

    As for the ending well this is the theory i read on what it´s supposed to be symbolizing.
    Remember when Reinhardt asked Kate to protect him against Maximilian, why would he do that?
    Also when Maximilian left him to die on the bridge if Reinhardt built Maximilian he surely would have been in perfect control over him.
    However what if he was not?
    The theory goes that when Reinhardt built Maximilian he used Kate´s father´s body and mind to do so.
    So in a sense Frank (as i think Kate´s father was called) was forever trapped inside Maximilian helplessly forced to watch, unable to do anything.

    When Maximilians body is destroyed Frank is freed, it´s his spirit we see lead them out of the black hole.
    As for Reinhardt he was condemned to the same fate as Frank, forever trapped inside Maximilian unable to move or turn away forever condemned to watch all the atrocities of hell.

  9. eh. alot of what doug points out as “bad” is because of the higher resolution of the media you find now. in tv’s and in dvd’s and bluray’s. the movie has been released. but not really remastered. just converted to HD as is so the problems become apparent.. i say if your a scifi fan this is a must see movie. and the interactions of vincent and the other robots is just great. especially when he shows up the security droids

  10. I’ve never heard of this movie. Although, that robot Maximillian, looks familiar.

  11. I actually haven’t heard of this film either! I mean, for the time, I could agree that there’s better chorma keying in 2001 & Star Wars, and especially coming from Disney, one would think the visuals would look better than that.

    I feel like that might contribute to the reason why the performances may have been so stilted and wooden — at that time, blue/green-screening weren’t as polished as they are today, so even though a camera was on them, it was more/less an informal stage where from the footage I saw, it looks like in the backgrounds that were practical, they looked more relaxed when there was something to method-act around, but that didn’t help the rest of the performances from the way you described it, Doug.

    However, considering Disney has apparently buried this 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Ha.), this isn’t surprising to find out that this film didn’t turn out very well.

    However, to Disney’s credit, this movie’s scale looks absolutely massive — like Lord of the Rings big! Star Wars didn’t even feel this huge. I think its probably because the ships move slower and it takes a more realistic approach to sci-fi like you said, Doug. I don’t know if I’ll ever see this movie, but if I do, it might be only for a case-study, really.

  12. My dad took me to see this and we stayed and watched it twice. I was so taken by it, I stood in front of my classroom the next day, in second grade, and pretty much told the class the whole film from start to finish. I’m still blown away with it to this day. Yes, the science is goofy sometimes, but it’s never annoying. The special effects might not be perfect, but that’s made up for by the beautiful art design. The black hole itself is a swirling whirlpool of space, ever present in the background, like a menacing character waiting for its big moment. The USS Cygnus is one of the coolest spaceship designs of all time, totally impractical for a ship, but a wonderful compliment to Dr. Reinhart’s pomposity. And just the background of space itself is more colorful and filled with wonder than i’ve seen before or since. None of it has to be completely realistic. It’s interesting and aesthetically pleasing. The heroic score is a little corny, but the main theme is haunting and stays with you long after the movie is over. The pacing slowly turns the screws until it reaches a fever pitch, while the protagonists fight their way through the massive ship as it literally crumbles beneath their feet, while it slowly loses its delicate hold on gravity and plunges into the black hole.
    There is an obvious Captain Ahab theme throughout, but many other concepts of humanity, determination, the meaning of the soul and madness are explored (“He’s walking a line between insanity and genius.”).
    I think too many people dismissed it as a cash-in on the popularity of Star Wars and missed out on just how gigantic of a film it was. I truly would urge you to give it another viewing and, instead of being so critical of its technical short-comings, let yourself be immersed in its grandiosity and its decent into madness and oblivion.
    “Tonight, my friends, we stand on the brink of a feat unparalleled in space exploration. We will travel where no man has gone before… In, through… and beyond.”

  13. the deal with this movie is that it was done during the time when Star Wars came out and they were trying to catch in on the sci fi. the special effect is very much what Disney was doing in that period. see the love bug. or any Disney film done in the 60-70s for Disney. I love it as a kid as I did the one involve a scientist who went back in time with his double robot. sorry forget the name and I hope doug will review that one.

  14. I’ve always felt the ending and the concept of what a black holes really are do not good fodder for what is supposed to be a “family film”.

    Chris Nolan and his brother obviously loved this movie, as the original script for Interstellar featured both good and bad robots fighting each other.

  15. This was my very first exposure to sci-fi as a young boy and it captivated me. I grew to enjoy the whole sci-fi genre and continue to give credit to this movie for that. I loved the design of the Cygnus and the general atmosphere that builds as more and more disturbing events play out. Defintely out of character for Disney productions of the time. While most of the casting wasn’t bad, you could really tell who was trying and who was just reading lines. The production was actually quite groundbreaking in it’s ACES camera control systems built from scratch, and it was even the first movie ever to have a digitally recorded score. It was also interesting to know that Tron’s demo reels used actors in Black Hole costumes.

    As the years went by I could see the flaws in the movie but I kept it in my collection as a guily pleasure for sick days, right next to Flash Gordon. I was delighted to see Disney remaster it for the 2004 DVD release and actually be able watch it in detailed widescreen instead of a fuzzy old VHS copy my mom made years ago. More recently in 2011, it was awesome to also hear Intrada’s lovingly resurrected original score from John Barry. There have been rumors that a sequel/remake has been in the works. Hmm…

    I agree with the sentiment that the Nolan’s were Black Hole fans as I could definitely see some nods in Interstellar. I’m a little puzzled as to what version you’ve used for the review because on my DVD the color miskeys aren’t nearly as noticeable and Perkins’ death yell was originally a warbled, yowl which actually sounded like someone getting his lungs shredded.

  16. Even in the short clips you have, the movie’s sense of grandiose ambition is really obvious. A shame it didn’t seem to pull it off…

  17. I found this movie very good and interesting.

  18. Anthony Perkins, looks like Dalton McGuinty.

  19. At least they didn’t include Battlefield Earth in their list of references to this movie….

  20. Part of the appeal of this movie is It’s one of the few movie I remember seeing as a kid. And at a Drive-In at that!

  21. This was Disney’s first PG movie. It certainly shows.

  22. I always felt that this was a great film, just produced 10-20 years too late. It reminds me of some of the best of Irwin Allen’s 60’s SciFi stuff trying to skirt that edge between stoic 60’s Cold War, and campy action. It doesn’t age well, and certainly is not Star Wars, but it really did carry us away back when we were kids.

    Remember we were young un’s who had just been fed the super charged uber sugary and caffeinated awesomeness that was Star Wars. Nothing like it had ever been made before. But it did not matter, we wanted MORE! And of the stuff that answered that demand for more, The Black Hole was honestly far more on the good side of the scale then the bad. It had action and robots and a bit of an attempt at intelligent thoughtful scifi. Looking at it through modern filters, yes it looks a mess (as does Tron), but viewing it in context for its time period, it filled a burning desire and it filled it better than most other stuff. Remember we were still years away from Empire Strikes Back and Wrath of Khan. It was evolutionary, not revolutionary. It stretched what they could and could not do, and stepped outside Disneys normal comfort zones. These days it looks like a cheap Star Wars cash in, but really they tried to do something more. Although you can almost see the creative clashes between those pushing for SW action and Robots and those pushing for 2001 ish mystery and atmosphere. It would have been much better served by tighter writing and a cast that did not feel like they stepped off the Jupiter 2. It was Disney trying to figure out how and why Star Wars and Alien worked… At the same time… In the same movie.

    It must be said however the Cygnus is one of the greatest SciFi studio models ever created. Just absolutely breathtaking modeling and practical effects work.

  23. Doug. I love you, but seriously, you pointed out Ernest Borgnine AND Anthony Perkins in this, but not a SINGLE MENTION of ACADEMY AWARD WINNER and all around icon Bette Davis in your “Watcher in the Woods” review. I know this wasn’t intention, but I’m sorry…I have to call unintentional chauvinism on this’un.

  24. Goddamn typos “intentional,” was what I meant. Oy.

  25. MidnightScreeningsman2014

    I think i’ve heard of the name max a million before.maybe like on a cartoon before i don’t know. That name ernest borgnine was the voice of mermaidman on spongebob(man do i miss him).I just have one other thing to say:that red short robot was creepy lookin.burr,geuss that’s gonna be in my head forever.

  26. I saw this and, even as a kid, I thought it was Disney’s attempt to update “Forbidden Planet” for a post “Star Wars” audience. They failed, of course, but the menacing robot, the obsessive scientist who isn’t telling the whole story. It’s Forbidden Planet minus the Shakespeare with a low budget attempt to replicate the look of “Star Wars”.

    And by the way, you really should review “Forbidden Planet”. It looks AMAZING, especially given the technological limitations of the time. Plus, it’s one of the top four or five sci-fi movies ever made.

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