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The Black Hole(1979)

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Review by Jon Olsen  

Produced by Ron Miller. Directed by Gerry Nelson. Screenplay by Jeb Rosebrook and Gerry Day. Cast: Maximillian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Foster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine.


I rented Disney's 1979 live action classic, The Black Hole. Yes, I rented a live action Disney movie. I couldn't resist. It was a family movie, and family movie rentals at Figueiredo's are free! I have to say that no cinematic experience in recent memory has thrilled me as greatly as this film's opening credit sequence. It opens on a vast, desolate starfield. Suddenly glowing green lines crawl out of our peripheral vision and converge in the center of the screen, forming a spooky green grid in space. John Barry's music goes insane and the grid tilts and suddenly we're flying over it and through it and under it and it's become this enormous, three-dimensional celestial superstructure. As we maneuver about it, the stars in the background keel and pitch, this-a-way and that-a-way. And then, on the "horizon" of this grid, there's a dip, a depression, a hole on one side that tapers into a funnel on the other side before stretching far off into deep space. Our POV starts to spin, and we realize this is The Black Hole, and it's sucking us inexorably closer and closer, and then, Yaaaaaaaaaah! we're being sucked in, Yaaaaaaaaaaah! And the credits are over! From here, like a bad cigarette following great sex, things quickly go downhill. On the plus side are some wonderfully dark and atmospheric settings, such as the brooding hulk of the starship Sygnus, perched on the purple, swirly precipice of the film's titular space event, and the ship's long, shadowy corridors and galleries, through which giant day-glo cheese-puffs called "meteorites" come crashing and bouncing. The special effects are pretty cool to look at, though they were probably improved somewhat by the blurry, decayed video quality of the cruddy VHS copy I had rented. I might not have enjoyed the visuals quite as much if I had viewed the new widescreen DVD special edition version.The cast is a gathering of fairly competent actors; Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine (struggling to break free from his plumber/cop paradigm), an uncredited voice actor who sounds an awful lot like Roddy McDowell, Yvette Mimieux with a fetching dykey hair cut and...some other guys. Mostly robots actually. Of course, the world's most talented cast is doomed to death by cheese dipping when forced to work with a screenplay as bad as this one. Writers Jeb Rosebrook and Gerry Day have served up a circus of the most acrid pseudoscientific nonsense yet available on video. Notable pseudoscientific moments: a rec room where off-duty robots play Atari video games; the phenomenon of selective zero-gravity, whereby actors can conveniently land on two feet to intone pages and pages of bad dialogue; proximity to "gravity fields" cause the camera to shake violently; exposure to the vacuum of space causes palm trees to become sugar frosted, and people slowly float up into the air moaning, Help, Help; most exciting of all, everything becomes highlighted in flourescent pink hues when we finally get sucked into The Black Hole. If AFI ever decided to follow up its enormously popular 100 Greatest Films of All Time list with a 100 Stupidest Films of All Time, Disney's The Black Hole could top the list. In fact, with all the horrid live action films they have floating around out there, Disney just might monopolize all 100 slots. Now, if you are curious to see a good live action Disney film, rest assured that such a creature does exist. Check out their production of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The one with James Mason as Captain Nemo. That flick, as they say in the industry, is some good shit.


2/10/05.  The Humboldt County Travelogue NPLU's long lost documentary now available on DVD!



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