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Saturday, August 17, 2013

James Kirk Recommends


Science Fiction Classics Worth Checking Out


THE BLACK HOLE (1979) ««½

Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine.

The age of the blockbuster began in the mid-1970s. With the success of Jaws, studios began working on material that would bring in the big bucks. By 1979, 20th Century Fox had Star Wars, Paramount had Star Trek and Disney had The Black Hole.
A small crew of space explorers come upon a massive black hole in space. At the event horizon they discover a ghost ship, the Cygnus, lost twenty years before. They board her only to find that she is alive and well, thank you, and commanded by a madman who intends to take the Cygnus into the black hole.
Disney’s 1979 foray into the world of big budget special effects sci-fi falls pretty flat overall, and it’s a shame.  Much work was put into production design, and the miniatures created for the project were astounding. The design of the space ship Cygnus was innovative and, frankly beautiful. But a film cannot live by special effects alone.
The script suffers from too many clichés and tries too hard to be something it’s not. While the plot is intriguing and imaginative, its execution is poorly realized. A smart rewrite would have made a world of difference. As written, The Black Hole tries to play to both adults and kids and can’t seem to find a happy medium.
The cast, which includes Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster and Yvette Mimieux, capably move the plot forward. Perkins actually gives an arresting performance despite the fact that he has little to do. Rounding out the cast are Slim Pickens and Roddy McDowell, both uncredited as the voices of two robots. Sadly, the direction given this most capable cast is routine and uninspired.
Schell is entrancing at times as the crazed Cygnus captain Hans Reinhardt. He plays the over the top role with some relish, but some of his lines are just plain ridiculous. Drama, dark thriller, space opera, campy rocket ride—the script lacks a focus and an identity that would have benefitted the cast.
With a weak script and uninspired direction, The Black Hole must rely on its special effects to carry the weight of the film. What we have is, again, another mixed bag. The design of the space ship Cygnus is stunning and the model is beautifully photographed, but its integration with animated elements (like the glass tunnel through which a personnel transport sled speeds) falls short of spectacular.

There are robots in the movie, too. Lots of them. The head robot, Maximilian, projects a suspicious and sinister air, and remains the most menacing aspect of the film. Maximilian’s robot soldiers, however, are clumsy and unconvincing. The two talking robots, Vincent and Bob, look as if they were designed for an entirely different movie. While Maximilian and his minions aspire to a menacing realism, Bob and Vincent look like two refugees from Toon Town. They just don’t fit.
But there are too many highs to dismiss this film entirely. The space scenes are among the most beautiful in any science fiction film, with a star field a tapestry of texture of blues and black. The film aspires to an elegance seldom found in science fiction, and achieves it to some degree. And Anthony Perkins has one of the most gruesome and memorable death scenes on film, despite the fact that there is visible no blood or gore.