Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Movie Review: The Black Hole

In my earlier review of Tron, I noticed that the movie was not as good as I had remembered. With this other early Disney sci-fi effort, I found the opposite to be true: it held up better than I expected. Story-wise, things aren't very complicated here: space exploration ship Palomino comes across a long-lost "ghost ship", the Cygnus perched at the edge of a black hole, and the crew goes aboard to investigate. There are plenty of co-incidences: one of the Palomino's crew members had a father serving on the Cygnus; they just happened to arrive on the very night the mad scientist's plan to enter the black hole is ready to begin; and so on. Still, while there might not be a lot of surprises in store (there's really only one mystery point here - the true nature of the robotic crew of the Cygnus), the script mostly keeps things moving right along without too much of the dialog cheesiness of Tron. The exception: Anthony Perkins gets a little too much into his idol worship of the mad scientist Dr. Reinhardt, and his conversion over to his side comes a little too quickly for my taste. Otherwise, though, not too bad.

The design and effects work here is actually more impressive to me than what happened on Tron. Sure, Tron was the more technically-intensive and groundbreaking work, but the costume design there just didn't do it for me. The work in realizing the massive Cygnus - and its destruction as it heads into the abyss - is to me better realized and quite impressive. I even mostly liked the cutesy robot design for VINCENT and BOB (although there was no reason to give BOB the folksy accents of Slim Pickens as a voice). The main downsides for me are mostly centered on Dr. Reinhardt's robotic guards, which carry out the inevitable shootout sequences by marching in lockstep with each other, and then standing around waiting to be shot. As a whole, these action scenes are poorly thought out and executed, and really drag things down during what is supposed to be the exciting, action-y part of the film (which really hasn't had a lot of activity up until then). 

But soon enough, the shootouts are over and we are back to seeing if the Palomino crew can escape the black hole's grip. Well, you can't have a film set at a black hole and not show the trip into it, can you? Nope - and so we get a strange variant on the ending of 2001, where the crew and the mad scientist (and for some reason, their robots) make a trip through literal heaven and hell, with flames and angels and the whole hackneyed two bits. At least Kubrick took a little effort into making his metaphysical journey into a strange mind warp of a type (even if it was just a helicopter shot run through a bunch of filters). While the fiery mountains of The Black Hole's version of hell are nicely realized, they are also a weird combination of lazy and nonsensical. 

Despite the ending, the whole thing does come off better than I had remembered. This movie usually seems to be remembered as an interesting failure, and I don't think it's as bad as all that, and certainly a better result than Tron (for what that's worth). Three stars.

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