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The Black Hole
cast: Anthony Perkins, Maximilian Schell, Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, and Ernest Borgnine

director: Gary Nelson

98 minutes (PG) 1979
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Disney NTSC DVD Region 1 rental or retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Noell Wolfgram Evans
When I was five or six, my parents took me to Valley View Park, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It was new that summer and was top of the line, filled with strange and wonderful new playground equipment. There was the three-man teeter-totter and a pulley and weight style swing. And even though it was revolutionary, it still felt safe and familiar. That park was a brilliant effort of 'parksmanship'. About a week later we went to Oak Park. It was competently put together, but it still felt like a pale imitation of other parks. It had the requisite pieces to be a park but, rather than exuding a lingering sense of fun, spending time here was just being in a place of mismatched pieces. The Oak Park feeling is a good way to sum up my reaction to Disney's 1979 sci-fi film The Black Hole.

The Black Hole was the first big studio sci-fi film to be released following Star Wars and it attempted to carry on Star Wars' popularity (public, critical and monetary). But Star Wars was a high mark and its heavy shadow stretched across the sci-fi genre. Only an exceptional movie could have shown through and The Black Hole was not that movie.

The Black Hole definitely suffers from 'Star Wars syndrome', as unfortunately the movie tries too hard and the end result is long, slow and preachy. On the upside, while the movie does plod along (its 97-minute running time feeling at least double that) it's at least interesting to look at. Production Designer Peter Ellenshaw took things in a unique direction for the genre, giving the ships an old style, Victorian feel. It's a look that was new to the genre and really didn't fit in with anyone's preconceived notions of space travel, and yet and for some reason it made sense and felt quite comfortable. Take for example, the Cygnus, the primary spacecraft in the film. It is a massive spaceship composed of wrought iron, spiral staircases and plush velvet. This Victorian mansion with boosters would be exactly the type of thing Captain Nemo would fly if he had been born 200 years later (an allusion I am sure was purposely created).

When the best thing you can say about a sci-fi movie is that the spaceship made you feel comfortable, well to quote another space themed film "Huston, we have a problem." On a side note, this was the first Disney live action feature to earn a PG rating. The movie earned two Academy Award nominations, one for Best Visual Effects and one for Best Cinematography.

The extras on the DVD keep up with the weakness of the film. They include the obligatory 'making of...' featurette, and an extended trailer.

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