The Black Hole was Disney’s attempt to cash in on Star Wars mania and the studio’s most ambitious and costly production to date.
The story about a spaceship crew which encounters a black hole and a long-lost madman certainly featured some spectacular special effects.
The story begins in the 22nd century in “uncharted space”, where the spacecraft Palomino – commanded by Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) – crosses near the path of a gravity-sucking black hole (apologies to scientists everywhere for that infantile explanation).
One step away from fleeing, the ship’s robot, VINCent – short for Vital Information Network Centralised (voiced by Roddy McDowall) – discovers a ship floating near the black hole. It’s the mile-long Cygnus which was “lost” in mysterious circumstances twenty years earlier.
Upon investigation, the Cygnus is found to be populated by only one human, its eccentric commander Dr Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell) – a futuristic version of Captain Nemo – and an armada of mindless, spiritless automatons (he lobotomised his mutinous human crew).
As the story progresses, the crew discover that Reinhardt is insane and plans to fly into the depths of the black hole, seeking the source of all energy. Attempts to escape are met with robotic resistance, as the ship drifts closer and closer to oblivion.
Unfortunately, the storyline was tiresome and a good cast was wasted on one-dimensional characters, with the possible exception of an unhinged Maximillian Schell completely off his rocker as Reinhardt (pictured below left). Ernest Borgnine gives his worst performance since McHale’s Navy.
Dr Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) finds herself wrapped in tinfoil on a lazy Susan, heading under a ray gun designed to zap her brain. She wards off laser beams by arching her eyebrows like Marjorie Main.
But the biggest letdown comes when they actually travel through the black hole after Reinhardt and his mad schemes go up in sparks . . .
First, it looks like they tried to film an LSD trip, then changed their minds and decided on Dante’s Inferno – a fiery pit with the evil robot standing on a rock like Lucifer.
Most people haven’t the faintest idea what the ending is about (or who picked Ernest Borgnine to be an astronaut) but a giant red robot called Maximillian with switchblades for hands, and another robot with Slim Pickens’ voice makes up for all that.
Dr Hans Reinhardt
Dr Alex Durant
Lt Charles Pizer
Dr Kate McCrae
Capt Dan Holland