From The Vault: The Black Hole (1979) Simon Fitzjohn November 13, 2013 From The Vault 4295 Being a child of the late 70s/early 80s, one of the cool things I can remember growing up is the various tie-ins that big movies did with cereal companies. I still think back fondly to the 3D glasses sets Weetabix pushed out to promote Jaws 3 for example (that actually ended up more entertaining than the actual film). But the daddy of them all, without doubt, was the Maximillian figure that appeared in packets, also of Weetabix, to promote Disney’s The Black Hole. Maximillian you see is the hulking, oh-so sinister red robot that proves by far the most memorable aspect of the film – in fact, when I mention The Black Hole to most film fans, Maximillian is the first thing they recall. The irony is, if you settle down to watch this 1979 slice of sci-fi, it is about as far removed from a kiddie flick as you can imagine. Sure, there’s a couple of ‘cute’ robots that were clearly inserted to keep the toddlers happy, and the film is classed as a PG, but pretty much everything else up on the screen is way beyond that, with plenty of talk about the meaning of life and existence itself thrown in for good measure. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Black Hole is a serious think-piece masquerading as a family action flick. Emerging from the shadows of Star Wars a couple of years earlier, Disney obviously wanted a piece of the sci-fi action, splashing out with a $28m budget to get this off the ground. Chock full of (for the time) cutting-edge special effects, and with a quality John Barry soundtrack to boot, the film does ooze quality. But it is also very, very talky – interesting no doubt, but talky nonetheless. Set in 2130, the film starts with the crew of the USS Palomino, a research vessel, with the crew including the likes of Robert Forster as Captain Holland, Anthony Perkins as Dr Alex Durant and Ernest Borgnine as journalist Harry Booth. Also along for the ride is Yvette Mimiuex as ESP-capable Dr Macrae, as well as Joseph Bottoms as Lieutenant Pizer. Pandering to the kiddie market, we also get a lovable robot, VINCENT, which appears as a blatant attempt to meld R2-D2 and C-3PO, complete with camp voice effects courtesy of Roddy McDowall. The Palomino comes across a Black Hole, but even more intriguing than that, a missing space craft, the USS Cygnus – thought to have been lost many years earlier. The crew decide to investigate the craft and before long are drawn on to it, where they find the Cygnus under the command of Dr Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell), who just happens to also have an army of cyborgs running the ship for him. Reinhardt has somehow overcome the powers of gravity and is planning to pilot his craft through the Black Hole itself, determined to find the answers to one of the great mysteries of space. Everyone seems a bit in awe of him at first, but before long things take a turn for the sinister – the cyborgs are revealed to be the former crew members who Reinhardt has had lobotomised, Reinhardt himself is dangerously close to losing his mind, and the robot Maximillian turns up every now and then with his rotor blade hands to keep everyone in check. The film climaxes with a trippy final 15 minutes that has echoes of 2001 as the Cygnus enters the Black Hole – it’s nigh-on impossible to work out exactly what is going on, but with visions of Maximillian straddling a vision of hell, along with crew members floating through space, it’s all very impressive visually. Although the film did reasonably at the box office on release, it is hardly surprising that The Black Hole failed to ignite the big bucks. The film is just far too talky, confusing, vague and, dare I say it, forward thinking to have been a big hit. I just cannot imagine any kid sitting through this happily, even with the VINCENT scenes chucked in every now and then to keep them on side. But that does not mean that The Black Hole is a failure in any way – far from it. The cast all do a solid job, Schell shines as the somewhat crazed scientist and director Gary Nelson throws up enough memorable imagery to make this an entertaining watch even now, 34 years later. It is also noteworthy to check off the number of films that bear the hallmarks of The Black Hole – the likes of Event Horizon, Sunshine and more. Sadly I don’t think I have that figure of Maximillian knocking around anymore, but if I did I would happily include it among my movie room figurines – it deserves it.