Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 20, 2021)
After Star Wars became such a smash in 1977, everyone rushed to make their own space operas. The vast majority were forgettable, even when they involved big names like the resuscitation of a classic series via the tedious Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
This fever even led the venerable Disney company to produce their first-ever “PG”-rated flick. Released around the same time as the Trek movie, 1979’s The Black Hole wanted badly to be An Event.
It came with much hype and fanfare, some of which stemmed from the publicity connected to that unprecedented “PG” rating. Alas, that fact stands as the movie’s only distinguishing element, unless utter and complete suckitude qualifies as a reason to remember this stinker.
On a mission to find habitable spots in space, Palomino pilots Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) and Lt. Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) encounter an enormous black hole as detected by their robotic assistant VINCENT (voiced by Roddy McDowall).
We see the rest of the crew as they react to this discovery. The gang includes Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux), Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine), and Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins).
On the cusp of the black hole, the Palomino encounters the USS Cygnus. This vessel disappeared decades earlier and took Kate’s father Frank McCrae along with it. Its continued existence surprises the crew of the Palomino, and they speculate on the fate of the Cygnus’s leader, mentally unstable genius Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell).
Although the crew fears the effects of the hole, they maneuver closer to the Cygnus and make it in safely after a scare. Surprisingly, the apparently abandoned ship’s lights turn on when they near, and they find signs of life when they board. At first they encounter only robots, but eventually they come upon Reinhardt.
He tells the crew what happened to the other members of the Cygnus and why the ship never returned home. He provides the means for them to repair the Palomino and also relates his grand scheme to utilize the black hole, which he wants to use as a portal. The rest of the movie follows the perils they encounter as they deal with the insane genius and his crew of killer robots.
From the start with the then-really-cool-but-now-cheesy computer graphics, not much about Hole works these days. Did it ever succeed? That I can’t say.
I honestly possess no recollection of my reactions when I first saw Hole as a 12-year-old. I know I looked forward to it and I probably liked it, as I wasn’t the most discerning moviegoer back then. Obviously it made little impression on me since I can’t recall anything about it any longer.
Perhaps my little brain shut down and intentionally blocked out all memories of this massive stinker. Virtually nothing about Hole succeeded and I find it hard to know where to start with my criticism.
Perhaps I should focus on the paper-thin story with the flat and one-dimensional characters. Maybe I should look at the way the flick offers some of the clumsiest exposition ever committed to film.
The opening tosses out all the information about the Cygnus and whatnot with tremendously awkward explorations of the material. Surely they could have found a smoother way to get into these issues, as the dialogue never once resembles the way an actual person would talk.
What else grates in Hole? Its incredibly derivative nature makes it feel like an awkward mix of Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Hole attempts the action of the former and the philosophical depth of the latter but falls well short of either goal. Instead, it seems silly, inane and stilted. Heck, even VINCENT acts as a crude conglomeration of HAL’s job description, R2-D2’s cute look, and C-3PO’s prissiness.
Most of the time, it comes across as nothing more than cheesy science fiction product created solely to sucker in kids like the 12-year-old me. The story seems cobbled together in a disjointed manner to showcase some effects and that’s about it.
As for those visual elements, they usually seem pretty lackluster. Lots of poorly integrated bluescreen shots mar the presentation and look cheesy and fake.
Hole starts slowly and never improves. In fact, it just gets worse and worse.
For me, I think I officially lost any investment in the film when we learned of Kate’s ability to read VINCENT’s mind. She has ESP that works on machines? Hoo-boy!
Does anything about The Black Hole succeed? No.
The movie suffers from flat performances without any personality as well as bland characters and a thin and generally nonsensical plot. Add to that poor pacing, a shrill score, and awkward effects and Hole fails in every conceivable way.