tek's rating:

The Black Hole (PG)
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Caution: spoilers.

I'll be honest, I mostly like this movie for its nostalgic value. I vaguely recall that when I was in like first grade, my classroom had like these audiotapes that came with little "read-along" picture books based on movies, and this was one of them. I think that must have been my first exposure to the story, though I'm sure at some point after that I saw the movie either on TV or VHS. And now I have it on DVD. And watching it, something that bugs me is that I remember liking a couple of lines that aren't actually in the movie... apparently they were just in the read-along book (which you can view on YouTube).

Anyway, it's about the small crew of a spaceship called the Palomino, which is searching for habitable worlds. The crew includes Captain Dan Holland, Lt. Charlie Pizer, Dr. Kate McCrae, Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins), and Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine). There's also a robot called V.I.N.CENT. (whose name I will hereafter just spell "Vincent," as it is pronounced). You can find a wee bit of info about each of these characters elsewhere, which presumably is derived from the novelization of the film, which I'm pretty sure I've never read. Certainly I never got to know much of anything about the characters by watching the movie. The only actor who's really familiar to me is Ernest Borgnine, who played Harry (I read online that Harry's a journalist, but I don't recall hearing that mentioned in the film, though he definitely doesn't seem to be either a scientist or a military man). Likewise, I read that Durant is the crew's civilian leader, a fact I also never heard in the movie. Ironically, I think the most likable and most fleshed out character is the robot, who is drily humorous and somewhat philosophic, often spouting famous quotes and sayings. (Perhaps the humans did so to an extent as well, but I mostly remember it being one of Vincent's traits.) The second most developed character is Kate, though there are only really two things I could tell you about her, the first of which being that she has the power to communicate with Vincent via E.S.P.; I'll get to the other thing momentarily.

At the start of the movie, the crew comes across a black hole (which, as I'm sure you know, is a gravity well that sucks in anything that gets too close to it, including light, and from which nothing can escape). Just outside the event horizon of the black hole is a ship, the Cygnus, which is far larger than the Palomino. It had been on a mission of exploration, but was recalled 20 years earlier, and never returned to Earth. One of the members of the crew was Kate's father, so of course she was eager to see if he was still aboard. However, the ship appeared to be derelict. They decided to do a quick flyby, and nearly got sucked into the black hole, but barely managed to survive. As it would soon turn out, the Cygnus was generating a gravitational field that counteracted the effects of the black hole. Because the Palomino was damaged, the crew set down inside the Cygnus (which suddenly turned out not to be so derelict after all), so that they could effect repairs.

Immediately after exiting the Palomino, the crew is disarmed, their lasers blasted out of their hands, apparently by automation. They are guided by doorways opening and closing, to the control tower, where they meet the captain of the Cygnus, Dr. Hans Reinhardt. He tells Kate that her father died. He also says that after his ship was damaged, he ordered the rest of his crew to abandon ship and return to Earth, in compliance with the recall order, and he had no idea that they'd never returned there. Meanwhile, he hasn't been entirely alone on the Cygnus for the past 20 years; he has a crew of robots he built. The most important of these is called Maximillian. I should say that unlike Vincent, Maximillian and the sentry robots don't speak, which adds to their creepiness. They all seemed kinda scary to me as a kid, but Maximillian in particular always terrified me. (And again being honest, if I came across him as an adult, I'd still be wicked scared.) Anyway, Reinhardt apologizes for the way the crew of the Palomino were disarmed, and declares them to be his guests (though in spite of not speaking and in spite of Reinhardt's orders, Maximillian seems decidedly inhospitable toward the "guests"). He also tells them of the scientific discoveries he's made, which are of particular interest to Dr. Durant. Eventually he also reveals that he intends to take the Cygnus through the black hole, to discover what's on the other side. Most of the crew (particularly Harry) think this is crazy, though Durant is intrigued. (I should mention that while watching the DVD, I thought of wormholes like the one in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; the movie treats the black hole as if it was a wormhole, which I don't think is quite right. In fact, pretty much everything in the movie is scientifically inaccurate, but I'm willing to overlook that.)

Anyway... some of the crew explore the Cygnus while others remain with Reinhardt. They discover some suspicious things that I won't reveal, but there's some question as to whether these things are truly suspicious or not. Meanwhile, Vincent meets a battered old robot of the same type as himself, called B.O.B. (I always remember him as "Old Bob," though I think he was only called that once in the movie; but pretty much always in the read-along book. I should also say there's a scene where he tells Vincent his name, which comes after a scene where Vincent called him Bob.) After a while, Bob reveals some disturbing things about Reinhardt to Vincent and the Palomino crew, but I don't want to go into detail about that. Suffice to say, it becomes imperative for the crew to escape the Cygnus as quickly as possible. However, this becomes problematic in a few ways, including a meteor storm which heavily damages the Cygnus...

I don't want to say how the movie ends, though you might be a bit surprised by one aspect... and confused by others. Honestly, the ending is really rather ridiculous. (There's one image in particular, of Reinhardt and Maximilian, which I definitely could have done without.) While none of it makes any sense, it does seem vaguely as if the movie could be suggesting there's some connection between black holes and Heaven and Hell. I dunno. No one actually says anything! ...But I much preferred the read-along's ending, which includes a line that wasn't in the movie. (The other line I mentioned remembering is something Vincent said to Maximillian at one point while the crew were making their escape.) Anyway... what else can I say? Vincent and Old Bob are two of my favorite robots ever, and really the only characters in the movie who were of much interest to me (and rewatching the movie now, Bob kind of puts me in mind of Mater from the Pixar movie "Cars"; I think it's his eyes). The basic plot of the movie is good, though I don't feel like the story was given enough depth to achieve its potential. Reinhardt, I should say, is a decent sort of potentially complex archetypal character, with similarities to literary captains such as Ahab (Moby Dick) and Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). But, like the story as a whole, I felt the character wasn't given enough depth... though at least he was easily the most interesting human in the movie. Oh, I should also mention that I always liked the movie's score... very creepy and atmospheric (or I might say subterranean), particularly the main title (which recurs in spots throughout most of the other pieces), though the overture is more sort of... heroic, than the rest of the music. (Btw, if you want to acquire the album on anything other than vinyl, you'll have to download it from iTunes.)

So, anyway, in summation... liked the visual effects even if they seem dated now; liked the music; liked the robots, though I'd understand if you think they look silly; liked the story if not so much the actual writing, acting, or ending; the science is laughable; didn't care much for any of the dialog except Vincent's. And I definitely recommend checking out that YouTube video of the read-along. Of course it leaves out tons of details from the movie, but it also includes some stuff that's not in the movie, which (perhaps ironically) represents a large part of why I feel so nostalgic about the movie itself.

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