The Black Hole

April 21, 2020

I have finally seen The Black Hole for the first time in probably 25 years. No, make that 35 years. I don’t know, it’s been awhile, which is kind of weird for such an iconic, formative movie. Don’t laugh, you know it’s true — there’s a whole generation of us who saw this while we were in single digit ages who still freak out at the sight of the robot Maxamilian and the sound of his spinny blades. Not to mention the medically zombified crew (that was the scene that got me, when Kate is in the zombie-making machine and the full horror of what happened on that ship becomes clear). And then there’s that ending. Is that hell? Where did they go? What the heck happened?

So, how was it? Did it hold up? Was the childhood trauma inflicted by this justified or laughable?

It totally holds up. Totally justified.

I mean, the film is very dated in some ways. The costumes, the acting styles, the stiff blocking and slow pacing are all very 1970’s. The film is trying to be cutting-edge, clearly influenced by both 2001 and Star Wars, and frankly a film influenced by both those things is never really going to totally work. Just ask Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which also came out in 1979, oddly enough. But something interesting is going on here anyway.

The horror setup? The creeping dread? The actual story? Still sharp, still great. In fact, I kind of sort of want a remake of this with modern sensibilities — but then I realize that already happened with Event Horizon, except that film jettisoned the creeping dread for a straight-up slasher aesthetic and I completely hated it. Anyway, that’s a rant for another time.

The science fiction? “A” for effort, even if it comes off a little vague sometimes. There’s serious discussion about the sentience and agency of artificial life. The robot characters are all great. I was utterly charmed by Kate’s telepathy with robot Vincent, which is such a 1970’s SF detail but I’m okay with that. And I think this might be the first mention of an Einstein-Rosen bridge in an SF movie?

Also, big spaceship. The Cygnus is fantastic. In fact, long time readers of this blog will remember when I dived the wreck of the Spiegel Grove off Key Largo, I was vividly reminded of The Black Hole. At the time I thought it was generic space station imagery, and that drifting alongside the wreck was a fascinating and disorienting stand-in for being weightless.

Turns out, that scene in the film where they’re approaching the Cygnus? Where they’re cruising along and the ship gets larger and larger, and the scaffolding comes into view, and the scale of the thing becomes immense? That’s a lot like the actual experience of descending the line and approaching the Spiegel Grove. That wasn’t a generic association — my hindbrain remembered that scene in the film.  So cool.


6 Responses to “The Black Hole”

  1. I stumbled across my Black Hole DVD while attempting to organize the stacks (like my books, I have far more DVDs/Blus than I have the room for) and pulled it out into the “might watch during lockdown” pile. I think I’ll move it to the top of the stack now.

  2. carriev Says:

    I’m curious what other people think about it, or if my take is idiosyncratic.

  3. Vickie Browning Says:

    I remember seeing this at the show and being scared even as a teenager. I think it was Disney’s first foray into PG land which was part of the reason why I wanted to see it. That and Silent Running remain vivid memories. Need to revisit now and show my daughter.

  4. Jared Moloshok Says:

    I just saw both The Black Hole and Event Horizon for the first time recently. My personal response to both was “meh.” Both had some interesting ideas put forth (I’m inordinately fond of the “Hell is just a word” line in Event Horizon), and certainly both had some vivid moments (the final three minutes or so of The Black Hole were… unexpected) and striking production values. But neither seemed to fully realize the potency of said ideas.

    I would still love to see a sci-fi movie that takes the concept of black holes/hyperspace being scary places and runs with it. Both these movies came close, but I still feel there’s more that can be done with the idea. Points for trying, though.

  5. howardbrazee Says:

    You’re a lot younger than I am. A lot of how a movie like that can work is whether you are at an impressionable age. I wasn’t at that age.

  6. I haven’t seen it since childhood, but I remember being affected by it. I couldn’t get over wondering what happened to them. I think I drove my parents crazy asking them, and I worried about it for years!

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