Disney's The Black Hole signaled the beginning of a change in their film philosophy when it debuted in 1979. Before that, the studio was known for its groundbreaking animated features and truly awful live action disasters like The Apple Dumpling Gang or The Cat From Outer Space. With the success of both Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Disney realized that they had the technical expertise to duplicate the massive grosses of these two films. So they set out to make an intelligent science fiction film that could also appeal to kids. The resulting film wasn't the smash hit Disney expected. I can remember a beautiful summer night in '79 when my family attempted to see the film at a drive-in theater - it would have been wonderful to see this space film under the stars - but the double bill was sold out. The country was still in the throes of Star Wars fever, and almost anything with spaceships and robots - even ones voiced by Roddy McDowell - was must-see entertainment. The Black Hole has a variety of serious problems that hindered it then and destroy it today. One glaring problem is the airless lack of joy in the film. The characters are written and performed like mindless robots themselves; even the usually hilarious Ernest Borgnine is reduced to spouting proclamations. This creates a dramatic problem, in that the characters are so unpleasant that we cannot root for them, nor can we see why the villain's mind control over his crew is so bad. It might be better to be a zombie crew member rather than hang out with Dr. Kate McCrae for more than three seconds. The film also suffers the lingering effects of what we might term "Disney juvenalia." Although the film is packed with some heady concepts like Bosch-like alternate realities and psychic robots, it also contains old robots that sound like Slim Pickens. It mysteriously features Old West shootouts with robots in which the robots mimic the twirl of their gun, and robots cowering in fear and shaking while suspended in midair. Much of this crap didn't hold up in 1979, and it doesn't work now. However, the film remains in the public consciousness for a few very good reasons. The space scenes and special effects work, for instance, feel huge and remain gorgeous even today. There isn't a computer anywhere in ILM that can touch the design and execution of the Cygnus model used here. It feels real because it is real, and the Disney model makers outdid themselves in its intricate creation. The space backgrounds and the black hole itself have a painterly feel to them, as if the entire film takes place in the most gorgeously-rendered Hubble nebula photograph ever. Even better than that was Disney's realization of one of science fiction's best bad guy robots in Maximilian. Angular, silent, blood-red, and staring back with one angry red eye, Maximilian is cinema's overlooked villain. Much is made of Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still (the original, of course), but I'd take Maximilian any day of the week. He has vicious twirling knives and Gort doesn't. The film also has one of the best and most unappreciated scores ever constructed, mainly because it came from John Barry and not John Williams. Barry used early synths in combination with a swirling string line to mimic the tumbling of matter around a black hole. He coupled this with a triumphant overture that attempts to raise the pulse of the suffocating adventure. The opening title theme, combined with one of the first ever computer-generated film sequences, made these opening credits something special: What makes all of this reminiscing possible is the news that Disney's remake of the film is going forward with Joseph Kosinski, the man behind the Tron sequel, at the helm. In an exclusive interview with MTV, Kosinski says that several crucial elements will remain from the original, most importantly Maximilian:
"What sticks out most is the robot Maximilian. The blades and the vicious killing of Anthony Perkins. That freaked me out and that's definitely going to be an element that will be preserved. The design of the Cygnus ship is one of the most iconic spaceships ever put to film."But Kosinski wants to take the film in a decidedly adult direction:
"From a conceptual point of view, we know so much more about black holes now, the crazy things that go on as you approach them due to the intense gravitational pull and the effects on time and space. All that could provide us with some really cool film if we embrace it in a hard science way."Hopefully the film also inject some life into the story, because there are some interesting ideas presented that the original fails to address properly. I wouldn't mind an updated version of the V.I.N.C.E.N.T. robot with the psychic abilities - there are some cool possibilities there - while getting rid of the Old B.O.B. robot altogether. Here's a question: do you tackle the philosophical meaning of the original's finale, or do you create an entirely new ending for the film? I think the original finale left many people scratching their heads, but it left that film with a lingering sense of thoughtfulness missing from films like Battle Beyond The Stars. I'm undecided about this; it should be interesting to see what Kosinski has in mind there. Overall, though, I trust this guy to handle this remake with respect and renewed vision. His Tron 2.0 has created more buzz for Disney than they've had in decades, and looks like an exciting reboot to that film. Hopefully he has the magic to pull it off again with a science fiction film like The Black Hole that could use a little more love.