10 June 2016 | Red-Barracuda
An unfairly marginalised bit of sci-fi
The Black Hole was one of many films that were released with the intention of cresting the sci-fi wave created by the huge success of Star Wars (1977). More specifically, this was Disney's attempt at the genre and I think it was the studio's first movie that didn't go for a U certificate. The film that it can best be compared to is Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was also released the same year. Both movies sport fantastic special effects and production values, while both also are surprisingly - and pleasingly - slightly left-field in their approach. Neither really fall squarely into the action/adventure bracket that Star Wars so obviously did, they rely more on atmosphere, some psychological aspects and have some enigmatic qualities which seem to indicate the influence of the earlier hard sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space odyssey (1968). For these reasons, I find both these films to be decidedly under-appreciated and interesting. The Star Trek franchise of course went down a different, more comforting route, from the second feature The Wrath of Khan (1982) onwards, while The Black Hole remained a one off that has become more and more obscure as the years go by. So much so that it could reasonably be considered a cult movie on account of its selective appeal.
From the off, this is visually a very interesting film. It has great sets and model work, which make the giant space craft where the majority of the action takes place an evocative setting. The special effects throughout are in general very impressive and still look good today. But the visuals have been constructed for more than mere spectacle as they combine to create a pretty interesting atmosphere on the whole; they ultimately are used also to set up the strange and ambiguous ending which involves visions of Hell and an alternate universe. This kind of oddness stands out these days, as most big budget sci-fi endeavours mostly avoid such ambiguity, but this is definitely a plus point for The Black Hole. Another serious asset is the really effective main theme from John Barry. This is in all honesty one of his best bits of individual music, its sweeping yet mysterious and complements events on screen extremely well.
The story itself is pretty simple and boils down to a deep space crew discovering a mysterious spaceship near a black hole, they board it and events escalate. The story is perhaps oddly presented in some ways as there is material quite obviously aimed at kids, like the cartoonish robots (the main one, V.I.N.C.E.N.T., being voiced excellently by Roddy McDowell) but at the same time there are also some decidedly sinister aspects to this one too. So I guess it had a bit of a split focus in some ways, not that that is a terrible thing but it may have accounted for its marginalised position in the sci-fi cinematic pantheon. But whatever the case, I consider this to be one of the best that 70's science fiction has to offer. It's mysterious and left-of-centre nature mean that it is one of the more interesting entries in the genre to revisit.