Viking Night: The Black Hole
By Bruce Hall
September 1, 2015
It’s nice to feel like a kid again from time to time, just to remind yourself that life isn’t all a chef salad of sadness and pain. One great way to do that is by watching a movie you haven’t seen in a really long time. Maybe it’s even one that you know you loved as a kid, but are pretty sure would be considerably less awesome if you saw it again now. In fact, the more you think about it, you probably knew it wasn’t very good, even back then. But children have an incredible capacity to appreciate things they’ve never seen before simply because, you know, they’ve never seen it before. So there I was, watching Disney’s The Black Hole, as a snot-nosed kid back in 1979.
Or was it earlier tonight? I don’t know, because it felt the same. John Barry’s score is majestic and polished. It’s even got a goddamn honest to God overture. Do you know what that means? It means what you’re about to see is so awesome they have to start the music 10 minutes before the movie! This is followed by the first use of computer graphics ever in a film. By the time the credits ended, all the hype I’d built in my mind about this movie already seemed to have come true. I don’t remember a lot from that year. I lost a lot of baby teeth. And I think my sister was born, but I’m not sure.
I was too busy watching the trailers and anticipating The Black Hole, and thanking God I lived in the glorious futurama that was the 1970s.
And then I watched it again, today. Things seem initially promising, when the deep space exploration ship Palomino drifts across the screen. The ship’s computer - an adorably pompous little robot named Vincent - is using a lot of authentic sounding technical jargon to explain that he’s discovered a black hole in their path. A black hole, as we all know is “something something a thing that’s in space,” and “not even light can escape.” Robert Forster, Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine round out an impressive cast for the time, unless you were my age. I had no idea who these people were; I was just there for the “something something space” part.
Star Wars taught us that space is full of snooty sentient robots with British accents, and spaceships that shoot lasers that blow up other spaceships. That’s what I wanted, and that’s why I was there.
So as I watched The Black Hole again after all these years, I actually felt the same sense of awe and wonder that I did when I was a kid. For just a few minutes, it was actually kind of exciting. The Palomino discovers not just the black hole, but a long lost starship called the Cygnus, where (by incredible coincidence) the father of crew member Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) was once stationed. The Palomino is almost sucked into the black hole (in one of the few genuinely interesting action sequences) as they attempt to dock but once there, they discover the ship’s enigmatic captain, Hans Reinhart (Schell). According to Reinhart, the crew was sent back to earth and must have totally gotten lost, so now he’s accompanied only by an army of android servants, and a hulking death-bot named Maximilian.