The Black Hole – No kidding…..

So in my ongoing, misguided quest to catch up viewing random old sci-fi and similar movies or TV I missed the first time around (the magic of DVD reissues) – I watched 1979’s The Black Hole today. At the time, this movie was Disney’s attempt to glom onto the sci-fi ‘arms race’ in the movies – started by Star Wars in 1977, followed nearly immediately by Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (also in 1977), and the much-anticipated (but fairly disappointing) Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Of these four movies, The Black Hole is clearly the loser by a **wide** margin. The next-to-last finisher, ST:TMP, had some interesting ideas and the effects started out well, but it rapidly turned very boring and tedious, much like the first few seasons of ST:TNG until Roddenberry kicked off and things got more feisty.

So, The Black Hole. Basically there is a spaceship (The Palomino) on an exploration mission crewed by 5 largely nobody actors save Tony Perkins (in what must be one of the most wooden performances of his career) and Ernest Borgnine. They also have a floating robot on board, named V.I.N.C.E.N.T. (I only heard them mention the acronym’s meaning once, and really, who cares – he was voiced by an uncredited Roddy McDowall). Naturally the robot is aimed at R2D2 and kid appeal, but unlike R2D2, he can talk and is arguably more useful as a real crew member (despite frequently quoting Shakespeare and other poetry when he’s supposed to be doing his job). V.I.N.C.E.N.T. (and the later-seen ‘Old B.O.B.’ – the “72 beater Corolla” version of V.I.N.C.E.N.T.) are more like the otherwise silent(!) Huey, Dewey and Louie from Silent Running than the Star Wars robots. Lucas 1, Disney 0.

So the Palomino crew find a big, apparently abandoned American spaceship – the USS Cygnus – stationed near a black hole. Somehow it avoids getting sucked in, despite its proximity. After a too-long exercise (in fake excitement) at avoiding getting sucked into the nearby black hole themselves, the Palomino docks on the Cygnus, its crew get all but taken prisoner, and meet Dr Reinhardt, the scientist (read: madman) running the Cygnus with his OWN big henchman robot, Maximilian. And I must say, not only does Maximilian *also* know how to float around like all the cool robots, he is apparently mute (despite understanding English), has one big glowing eye on his head (right outta The Outer Limits) and breast-level, apparently sharp, flip-out ‘egg beater’ spinning claws that he uses on several occasions to harass and attack with. Tony Perkins (later) learns about them the hard way, for one. And Dr Reinhardt himself has almost a bigger ‘fro than Huey on The Boondocks. Mad Scientist, indeed.

And thus the Palomino crew now go through the drawn-out motions of figuring out Reinhardt’s diabolical scheme (in a nutshell, he killed/turned his entire crew into robots to ‘save their lives’ and plans to send the Cygnus through the black hole to somehow gain immortality) while they try to repair their own damaged ship to escape.

During this hour or so, we watch Tony Perkins become a traitor (Maximilian whacks him as a reward :)), other sentry robots compete with V.I.N.C.E.N.T. at laser target practice, Old B.O.B. tells them most of the ship’s horrible secrets, and several ridiculous chase sequences ensue as the crew finally wises up and tries to escape. Of course, the last-minute-coward Ernest Borgnine tries to steal the Palomino and leave the rest behind, and gets blasted/blown out of the sky as a result.

Then, if things weren’t bad enough for everyone, meteors (looking not unlike the flying Jello-sticky pad monsters from an old Star Trek episode, but better lit) start pelting the ship. In what must have been a dramatic need to amp up the expensive special effects during these lame chase sequences, a big, round, sun-like burning meteor manages to crash through the roof and ROLL down the center of the ship while the Palomino crew are racing across a catwalk in its way. Yeahhh…..

And of course we have the inevitable faceoff between V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and Maximilian (Old B.O.B. was already winged by a sentry’s laser and dies the soldier’s death he deserved – Slim Pickens-voiced piece of crap!) While Maximilian whips out the ‘breast cuisinarts’ and tries to give V.I.N.C.E.N.T. a chest-level rock-polishing, V.I.N.C.E.N.T. gives him a power drill to the guts in addition to laser-based indigestion. And of course somehow we next see Maximilian spiraling away from the ship INTO the black hole? How did he already get outside?

So since EB got their ship blown up, (and meanwhile, due to all the meteors hitting the ship, Dr. Reinhardt gets crushed at his workstation by a falling flat screen TV from the ceiling – yeah, it was a big one) the “Palominos” head to the probe ship, and in blasting off from Cygnus to escape, find out Reinhardt already programmed the probe to enter the black hole too – Suckahs!

What now follows is one of the weirdest endings to any movie I have ever seen. While the probe ship spirals through the black hole with the remainder of the crew aboard (and their speech is speeded up/slowed down for effect, which just makes it unintelligible) – we somehow see Dr Reinhardt soaring into the black hole himself – then we see Maximilian soaring near him, THEN we see them embrace (and apparently ‘mate’ with one another) because the next scene is Reinhardt’s eyes peering OUT from inside Maximilian’s head. And then we see the new ‘man-bot’ atop a fiery mountain with the demented crew milling around in the depths below – not unlike Saruman and the Orcs in the Two Towers (but aren’t we still in a black hole – where did the volcano planet come from?

The “Palominos” apparently make it through in the probe ship, but up come the end credits. So we never apparently get to find out which Palomino crew member gets to take V.I.N.C.E.N.T.’s hand in marriage and create a race of floating midget robots that constantly annoy others by quoting bad poetry – sad. Even Johnny Five was more literate (and funny) than any robot in this movie.

So if you have survived thus far, you are a better person than I. I now know why this movie was a distant, distant fourth in the race to make the ‘next Star Wars’ back then, and why it has escaped notice since. The obvious attempt to make ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea‘ in space failed, guys. And the story isn’t over yet – apparently they are plotting a ‘reboot‘ (thankfully not a sequel and likely not the same plot in the reboot) of The Black Hole. But the first movie was no TRON by any stretch, and like the somewhat recent Escape to Witch Mountain redo, I expect it to fade fast – but maybe i’ll be wrong?


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