The Black Hole (1979) Review – Disney Tries Star Wars

Before Disney owned Star Wars they gave it a shot in the late 70’s with The Black Hole, which is 50% Star Trek and 50% Star Wars. The plot follows the all-star crew of a deep space research ship looking for life, when they come across another ship thought missing long ago. After boarding and meeting various robots, tension rise between them and the missing ship’s captain, who is set on exploring the depths of a nearby black hole. When he orders them dead, the crew of the research ship must fight for survival.

In many ways I was surprised this is a Disney film. It’s not particularly violent or anything, but does seem outside of what they normally go for. And I think it’s clear they were trying to capture lightning in a bottle here with the all star cast and script – it wants to be as thoughtful as Star Trek with it’s long build-ups, as fun as Star Wars with it’s action and music, and safe for the whole family with it’s cute robot scenes.

Ultimately I find the film succeeded on being fun but not thoughtful. The first half, aside from the brilliant introduction to the huge missing ship and the intimidating robot Maximillion, is a drag. It’s full of dialogue that doesn’t really mean anything, mostly throwing around science fiction words that can all be summarized by saying that the dude on the missing ship is a bit coo-coo and wants the scientist of the research ship to document him going into a black hole. But when things pick up and he betrays them, it gets better. The special effects and, set and costume design all make the action as fun as it’s aiming to be. I do think they should have used some more suspenseful music at times – as the heroic swelling of the main theme does take away some tension in lengthy shoot-outs – but that’s a minor nitpick among what is largely a fun jog through action set-piece after set-piece.

It’s not all just shooting; there’s flying robots, betrayals, anti gravity, weather changing inside of a food dome and a storm. And the variety keeps the action exciting, so you don’t feel the length of it. However, if it was spread out a bit more, I think it could have eliviated some of the boredom I felt at the start.

To be honest, my favourite scenes were when the robot belonging to the researchers hangs out at a shooting range with a bunch of other robots, and then when he has to fight Maximillion at the end. The little dude was clearly there for the kids who’d have been watching, but I thought him the best part of the film.

The end tries to be a bit too pretentious for it’s own good though. The research crew end up having to travel through the black hole to escape the exploding ship and then some real abstract art film stuff starts happening. Now I’m not against that sort of stuff and am certainly down for wibbly-wobbly space things happening in sci-fi, but I don’t think it suits the rest of this film which hasn’t been of that tone at all. A neat bit I like is us seeing the villain be encased inside the shell of his robot, Maximillion, after he turned all of his living crewmates into walking zombie-bots. But other than that the ending leaves a lot to be desired.

This review has been largely negative, but I should stress that it was fun. And while I wouldn’t watch it again, I did enjoy the time I spent with it. I think the main problem is Disney were going for something that never quite comes to fruition, and sometimes you’re left wondering what that thing, if not to make their own Star Wars, might have been. Because if they were aiming for Star Wars they were just off. And if they were aiming for Star Trek, the same can be said of that. Putting those things together makes the film feel further away from both than it wants to be, and what is left is a slightly confused, but intriguingly fun, product.

4 thoughts on “The Black Hole (1979) Review – Disney Tries Star Wars

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  1. Watching it as a child, I remember feeling uneasy throughout, even at those times when I supposed to be amused by silly robot antics. There was always something sinister lurking in the background, and an overarching feeling of impending doom. It seemed like that tried to go a little Stanley Kubrick during the final moments. The scene at the end, that essentially takes place in Hell, chilled me to the bone. Overall, I was fascinated by it, and I loved the robots just as I was intended to, but I never wanted to watch it again. I decided I could live the rest of my life without ever watching Maximillian shred Norman Bates’s chest again. I appreciated it more as an adult, when I finally rewatched it. It really was like an episode of Star Trek, if that episode ended with everyone dying.

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