The Black Hole (1979)
Man has reached the most mysterious and awesome corner of the universe...a point where the here and now become forever.
Tonight I remedy a mishap I had earlier on, in which I had intended to watch this film but instead got words mixed up in my head and ended up watching a totally unrelated movie instead. I slotted this on in for now, primarily because most the time I heard of it was in reference to it being terrifying - although I do find it amusing that in fact “horror” isn’t a tag for this movie. Although it’s much more science fiction than it is horror, the two aren’t entirely exclusive to each other - heck, the mysteries of the unknown can often turn into the terror for those who seek them, if any Sasquatch movie is something to go off of. So strap into your time machines and prepare to go back to the past for another hearty jaunt of a different tomorrow, tonight we look into The Black Hole and see what gazes back.
This is a pretty fun movie - but I should state I do enjoy the old science fiction entries anyways - things like this or Angry Red Planet and the likes. I just feel there is a certain charm to how the people of the past used to look at the future and space, and how much different it is from today. Right off the bat I’m treated to something I didn’t expect - a screen that simply states the title with “Overture” subtitled under it, and about two to three minutes full of just music with nothing happening on the screen, as though you were at a play and they were making sure the last stragglers found their seats so they wouldn’t interrupt the activities. Admittedly, at first this was annoying, and then amusing, and then largely checking of the watch to see if we could get on with the actual movie - nothing against the music, it is indeed a nice little piece, but also one that we hear parts of throughout the movie anyways. When it finally gets past that, we get treated to the opening credits - so at this point, imagine a modern movie with a static font screen replacing all the company logos, and you are pretty well up to speed. Not the best way to start the movie and grab my interest, but hey, I’m here for a movie and I’m not leaving till I get one.
The movie proper follows a bunch of space crew floating about space and doing their exploratory thing. We come in as they spot a black hole, and more interestingly, a giant spaceship that is floating in a spot where it should be getting sucked into said black hole even though it isn’t budging an inch. It’s quickly identified as an old vessel that should have returned home, and given one of the crew’s father was stationed on that ship, it’s decided to swing in and check it out. This leads to issues - black holes get a little too friendly and hard with their hugs, and the ship sustains damage while doing a flyby, forcing the crew to stop at the mysterious no gravity zone by the seemingly derelict ship. Upon deciding to do this, all the lights come on and the movie takes a turn briefly to this almost haunted house in space style of flick, before dropping into a more Frankenstein progression. At this point, the most you could really say of the movie is that it might be creepy - but by the time you get to the last leg, the thing takes a hard left into straight hellish imagery and chaos as it races faster than light to it’s conclusion - and at this point, I could understand why so many people were saying this movie terrified them either as kids or not.
The plot is somewhat unique in it’s combination of elements, but having seen it so late (just shy of forty years after it was released) it also feels incredibly comfortable and in line with plenty of other things. It’s got enough to it that it entertains, and things like the mystery elements only help to keep you wanting to watch it despite any disinterest in the actual science of anything flying in and out the windows. It also does all of it’s storytelling in an appreciably average time - about ninety minutes. Whether or not this is what helps cause the ending to seem so chaotically hellish or not is up in the air, but at the very least it helps make everything feel as though it’s continually moving forward and not just wasting time with a bunch of filler. The characters aren’t exactly going to make you instantly attach to them - the only real one with any sort of history is the spooky ship’s Scientific genius captain and the explorer ship’s female lead whose dad was on board the spooky ship. Also, and it’s thrown in there like it’s everyday life for them, but she has ESP powers she uses to communicate with the local explorer ship robot Vincent. They don’t say why ESP is a thing, they don’t elaborate on it at all anywhere, so if you think you signed on for some hard factual science fiction, you should perhaps adjust your viewing parameters - and this is something that gets dropped on you very early in the film.
Granted, characters don’t always need to be the most fleshed out thing either - especially if the actors do a great job. Here, the actors don’t do a bad job most the time, but I also wouldn’t go as far as to say that a good portion of it comes off as anything just beyond a good job. There’s a few moments where the actor seems like they might be getting into it, or perhaps really just chewing it up, but for any of those moments there’s another that feels just as much like it’s being delivered without any sort of feeling whatsoever. There’s some fine interactions between the robots, oddly enough, either through trading of a few lines and witty remarks, or just general body language. The sharp-shooting showdown between the classic earth-bot and the black-goon variant in particular has a lot of flavor considering one is a guy in a suit and at best the other is an animatronic. Beyond that, there isn’t really any actions that make any given character feel like a total idiot, each playing well into what it feels like their character is supposed to be.
The effects here are a bit dated plenty of the time. In some instances - like the ship models - this isn’t really a bad thing, and holds up pretty nicely. In other instances - like the plethora of times that you can actually see the wires attached to things and actors to make them float around, not so much. The robots do all look pretty decent, even if Vincent looks like someone build a tiny little robo-body around a Lego figure’s head. It mostly just floats around, but it does have some character with how it’s head can move up and down. The generic spooky ship robots all amount to people in a suit with some robotic looking costume on top , with most looking like a hooded person with a visor on front, and the “goon squad” looking a lot like the baddies in the Masters of the Universe movie to me - although considering the chronology of releases, I guess it would be more accurate to have that the other way around. Most of the fancier elements like lasers look decent as well, with only a few moments of the space backdrop coming off as looking pretty iffy. More so than those, the transfer quality seems to most noticeably carry the age, with plenty of grain with the occasional worn blob flickering across a frame or two. A newer audience may not want to deal with it, but to a person with sensibilities towards older movies anyways, it’s not nearly bad enough that it’s going to really cause any issues in entertainment.
As pointed out before, the music here is pretty good. It’s not pop songs or anything of that sort, instead sounding like it’s intentionally scored for the film - and it helps add that bit of mystery and space to anywhere that it pops up. It can help add to the tension, or perhaps a little to the sense of wonder, but it never really overshadows the more visual elements and despite that pre-movie overture none of it really stuck around in my head afterwards to call out to the forefront. Audio balancing is good, and you won’t find yourself struggling at all to hear what an actor says over any of the effects, even when things start getting real chaotic towards the end. The robot carries a bit of a more middle voice, I wouldn’t really call it monotone but perhaps “emotionless” would be closer to how I feel - befitting of a robot, and yet somehow not really lacking character and still conveying emotion without being overstated. Everything else has relatively spacey sounds applied as one would expect, and there really isn’t much that I would complain about in the audio department overall.
Largely, I perhaps feel that the terror levels of this movie may have been overstated in the few times I heard about it - but I do see where some unassuming kid, sitting down with this fancy space movie from Disney, would be totally caught off guard and terrified with how the ending of this movie goes into overdrive. The closest thought would be that tunnel scene in Willy Wonka, although with the images a lot less random than that. As for an older science fiction flick, it’s pretty enjoyable and contains plenty of elements to appease fans of such - including robots, mystery, and space. The effects show there age at times, but some things (like models) can feel pretty timeless anyways. If you want a movie that combines some classic mad scientist feelings with spaceships and robots, but has a bit of ageing under it’s cork, then this wouldn’t be such a bad one to check out.