The Black Hole
video review by Gary Johnson

You'll have to look carefully on the DVD and VHS covers to find evidence of the studio that produced The Black Hole. The only evidence is tucked in the lower corner of the back cover, in teeny type--"Disney Enterprises, Inc." However, The Black Hole isn't alone. In an arrangement with Disney, Anchor Bay Entertainment is now releasing several of Disney's live-action movies of the '70s and '80s, movies such as The Cat From Outer Space and Condorman.

While Disney produced several highly-regarded live-action movies in the '50s and '60s, such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mary Poppins, Disney output became increasing tepid and bland in the '70s--to the point that whenever the Disney name was attached to a live-action movie, the movie's quality was immediately brought into question. The studio's reputation has rebounded in recent years (although many people are still shaking their heads about Flubber). And now Disney is distancing themselves from some of their less successful '70s and '80s titles by loaning them out to Anchor Bay.

The Black Hole isn't a typical Disney movie. It's dark and shadowy, with a cast of characters that includes several hundred shrouded, part-human/part-robot slaves with mirror plates for faces. And all the action takes place within spitting distance of a tremendous black hole that ominously churns in the background of many scenes. But alas, The Black Hole is just as incompetent as most other '70s Disney efforts when it comes to telling a story.

Coming in the wake of Star Wars, Disney quickly slapped together this pastiche of sci-fi themes. It contains some of the adventure of Star Wars, but mostly it's retro '50s attitudes. The most obvious influence is Forbidden Planet. But you'll also find a heaping dose of Jules Verne. Maximilian Schell plays the Captain Nemo-like scientist, named Dr. Reinhardt, who runs a huge ship with the assistance of the aforementioned human/robot slaves. This ship, named the Cygnus, is perched at the fail safe point beside a black hole. When an Earth discovery vessel stumbles upon the Cygnus, the Earth officers investigate (like officers of Star Trek's Starship Enterprise) and discover Reinhardt is finishing preparations for a voyage that will take him directly into the black hole.

The scenes that ensue are mostly talky and lugubrious. Anthony Perkins plays the Earth scientist who admires Schell and wants to accompany him on his voyage. Robert Forster plays the no-nonsense captain. Joseph Bottoms plays the exuberant first officer. Ernest Borgnine plays a journalist accompanying the mission. And Yvette Mimieux plays a doctor capable of communicating telepathically with robot droids. While Perkins and Mimieux listen to Reinhardt extoll the virtues of the Cygnus and the voyage he will soon take, an R2-D2 imitation (voiced by Roddy McDowall) wanders the ship's hallways and discovers Reinhardt's darkest secrets (thanks to some tips from a beat up old robot voiced by Slim Pickens).

On a technical level, The Black Hole provides several impressive moments, such as the scene when a meteor crashes into the Cygnus and rolls down a passageway like a gigantic molten boulder (although this scene doesn't make a bit of sense). And Dr. Reinhardt's chief henchman, a robot named Maximilian complete with razor-sharp talons that rotate at high speed, is appropriately eerie and demonic. Unfortunately, however, The Black Hole's most promising element--the relationship of Reinhardt to his half-human/half-robot creations--is never investigated fully.

Mostly, everyone simply waits for the inevitable trip into the black hole. And once it happens . . . that's it. The movie is then over. Disappointingly, the filmmakers have little idea how to depict the entry into the black hole. When the movie needs to provide the big payoff, we get a few seconds of 2001-inspired graphics and then the movie comes to a grinding halt.


The Black Hole is now available on DVD and VHS in digitally mastered editions from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

The VHS edition is available in both widescreen (2.35:1) and full-frame versions.

The DVD edition contains the movie's complete theatrical overture, a theatrical trailer, and a still gallery. The DVD also contains both widescreen and full-frame versions.

Suggested retail: DVD--$29.95, VHS--$14.95.