Combustible Celluloid
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With: Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall (voice), Slim Pickens (voice)
Written by: Jeb Rosenbrook, Gerry Day, Bob Barbash, Richard Landau
Directed by: Gary Nelson
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 98
Date: 12/18/1979

The Black Hole (1979)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Space Case

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After the enormous, unprecedented success of Star Wars in 1977, movie producers big and small tried to cash in on the new sci-fi craze. Even the Walt Disney company was not immune; they were experiencing a lull at the time and perhaps felt that they were out of touch. So they put together The Black Hole, a science fiction extravaganza, packed with special effects and cute, talking robots. But even more impressive, they attempted to appear more grown up by making it the first PG-rated film in their history.

A spaceship exploring the deepest recesses of space comes upon another ship, the Cygnus, thought to be lost for 20 years. Even more incredible, it's perched on the edge of a black hole, apparently impervious to its awesome gravity. The crew, played by Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine and Joseph Bottoms, decide to check it out. They find a mad doctor (Maximilian Schell) and a crew of mindless robots just about ready to launch a probe ship into the center of the black hole.

Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens provide the voices for the robots, VINCENT and Bob. And composer John Barry -- best known for the James Bond films -- provides the excellent and eerie score.

It's all fairly ludicrous, filled with wooden, expository dialogue, coincidence and wild leaps of logic. The movie obviously panders to its intended audience, even going so far as to include a scene in which the robots play video games. The ending is one of the worst 2001: A Space Odyssey ripoffs I've ever seen, a kind of psychedelic trip into a bizarre netherverse.

Yet the movie fascinated me as a child -- I even did a science project on the creepy outer space phenomenon -- and it still holds a certain nostalgic value.

Anchor Bay Entertainment released this film on DVD in the summer of 2003 in a new letterboxed transfer. Now, a year later, Disney has taken back its film and released it on a new DVD of its own. I can't say whether the quality has improved over the Anchor Bay version, but it's most likely that both discs used the same source material. Disney's version has a little making-of featurette (an interview with matte effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw) and an extended trailer, but lacks the wonderful still gallery from Anchor Bay's version.

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