The Black Hole ★★★½

To say that Disney's The Black Hole has a somewhat mixed reputation is something of an understatement, as this movie tends to be remembered as the House of Mouse attempting to cash in on Star Wars and dropping the ball badly. It's the (sinking) flagship of a series of movies they produced at this time that attempted to move out of the cutesy kiddie brand market and consequently disappeared beneath the unforgiving box office waves. Indeed Disney's efforts to make more than their world famous family fare only succeeded when they created Touchstone Pictures and stopped releasing them under the Disney banner.

Now while it is fair to say that The Black Hole was undoubtedly green lit by the success of George Lucas's SF opus, the script had been knocking about since 1974. And indeed, you can clearly see that in style and tone, The Black Hole was clearly conceived in the days before anyone knew what a Jedi was. Solitary scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt and his experimental hubris clearly echos Dr Morbius in Forbidden Planet, and likewise Maximilian and V.I.N.CENT are in fact closer kin to Robbie the Robot than C3P0 and R2D2. Similarly the darker tone is more in keeping with the pessimistic pre-Star Wars SF of the early '70s such as Solyent Green and Silent Running.

However while I can happily acquit the movie of the Star War cash-in charges, it is true that this is a somewhat confused film. On one hand, the production is trying to do a serious dark SF story - in some regards, The Black Hole has much in common with Event Horizon - but at the same time, it also clearly filled with moments that want to pull it back to being a child-friendly kid movie. And this schizoid sensibility can be symbolized by the leading droids in the story - Maximilian is menacing, imposing and violent, whereas V.I.N.CENT is and Old Bob are lumbered with big goggly cartoon eyes.

And I must admit that when I first saw this movie as a kid on its initial release, I didn't exactly enjoy the movie. There were some cool scenes but on the whole I was rather lost, and in truth somewhat bored. However catching the movie many years later on TV, and being older, wiser and not expecting another Star Wars, I actually quite enjoyed the movie. And indeed, over the years and other viewings, I've developed quite a soft spot for this film. Even the mismatched tones now seem more like endearing quirks than flaws, and I love the fact the ending makes not a shred of sense!

Admittedly this last point may well be due to my love of narrative-logic-defying Italian genre movies, but I now really appreciate the fact that The Black Hole is simultaneously trying to child-friendly SF with cute robots and laser battles while at the same time doing Ingmar Bergman in spaaaaaaaaaace! Like many gialli or most Fulci/Argento movies, it's all the things that don't work properly that actually make the movie work properly in some demented fashion. The Black Hole may not be a classic, but it's certainly an entertaining and fascinating curio. And while not everything works, in these days of cookie-cutter movies assembled to predictable well-worn formulas, the scrambled collage of tones, styles and ideas in The Black Hole make for a refreshingly original SF film.