Is it set to suck or blow?
This guy Lucas is killing us- nobody wants to watch cute furry cartoon animals when they can watch cute robot ‘droids beep and fart in space. Thought they had an ointment for that. Anyway – we need to catch his ass or we’re cooked. Yeah, yeah anybody – Borgnine, Perkins – sounds good. Just put em in a ship, and blast off - NOW!! (Speculative Disney studio meetings c. 1978.)
So we have THE BLACK HOLE, Disney’s big studio attempt to catch the STAR WARS bandwagon before they were left in its space-dust. While the 1979 film is undeniably a blatant catch-all pastiche of previous space franchises (mainly STAR TREK/STAR WARS), it’s also an efficient, entertaining yarn on its own terms -- an ‘old dark house’ story of a starship crew being held hostage in space by a mad Earth scientist bent on harnessing the awesomely vague powers of the Black Hole. It also represents one of the last inventive uses of all- traditional special effects (miniatures/matte paintings/optical printing/wires) before Disney jumped headlong into the digital ether with TRON. (This one bombed.)
The skeletal (trekking) crew of the USS Palomino! is made up of gruff captain (Robert Forster), egghead 'Spock-ish' science officer (Anthony Perkins), ‘Scotty’ clone (Ernest Borgnine) brash lieutenant (Joseph Bottoms) female scientist named Kate (Yvette Mimieux), and with a hopeful nod to Star Wars, floating cute robot V.I.N.C.E.N.T. (v/o Roddy McDowall) – combining the squat google-eyed appeal of R2D2 with the fey British accent/axioms of his longtime companion C3P0. They come upon a seemingly dead vessel, the USS Cygnus, perched at the edge of the aforementioned hole. As they board the mammoth ship to investigate (hmm- this kinda reminds me of the Death Star), they discover long ago- vanished scientist Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell).
Reinhardt’s wild-eyed, bearded manner disturbs some of the crew- he seems to be hiding something, and his imposing robot henchman Maximilian is not the friendliest. Turns out the Cygnus’ crew have been converted into a subservient half-robot zombie slave-crew (with opaque, hooded mirror faces) to help Reinhardt pursue his mad goals. Vincent partners up with an earlier model seen-better-days hick sanitation robot (Slim Pickens!) to uncover more details. He also takes on a Boba-Fett-like robot in an awesome laser shooting gallery in the robot rec room. (a nice touch not really seen in Lucas’ world). Meanwhile, the weaker members of the crew are weeded out through natural space attrtition. Actually, Perkins’ scientist, who plans to accompany Reinhardt through the Hole, gets an egg-beater-like chest-whisking from Maximilian. And Borgnine, panicking, attempts to take off with the Palomino himself before being blown up. It is up to the remaining motley crew to save the day.
Cue the inspirational space theme and laser battles, as the crew battles off Reinhardt’s robot minions, a rolling meteor and commandeers a probe to escape. Only problem? The probe had been previously programmed by Reinhardt to follow him straight into the Hole. Uh-oh- hope we wrote an ending! Turns out, they didn’t really. So we get some nice ‘psychedelic’ effects as they plunge through the Hole (inner/outer mind dialogue) and then a half-assed ('2001'- lite) metaphysical Heaven/Hell ‘resolution.’ See- Reinhardt was evil, so he is condemned to the fate of the Cygnus’ crew- we see his wild eyes beneath the visor of Maximilian, now merged into an unholy man/machine monster in a fiery cliff in purgatory. Meanwhile, a nice white light bathes the Palomino crew and they sail off into the (space) sunset. Aah -- Disney.