We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.
If it had been on my radar, I would have loved a movie like The Black Hole, as a kid. The retro-futuristic aesthetic, the setting, and cute floating robot buddies that sass you when you talk to them? That’s my jam right there. Has The Black Hole evaded your vision too? Check out the trailer for this lost Disney gem and we’ll get started.
The Black Hole is one of those numerous films in space that got greenlit in the years immediately following Star Wars, trying to capitalize on its success. Be that as it may, The Black Hole has a lot going for it on its own. It’s actually quite different from Star Wars, and shouldn’t be lumped in solely with that group because it isn’t trying to be another Star Wars.
The Black Hole is Disney’s attempt at a serious science fiction film. While I’m not a scientist by trade and cannot attest to the film’s scientific accuracy, The Black Hole does lean a little harder into the science side of science fiction. That makes it tonally a very different film than Star Wars and I’m here for it.
Another aspect that sets The Black Hole apart is that this is not a film for kids. This is actually a Disney film meant for an adult audience. The film is rather dark and even scary at times. The dark mystery of The Cygnus and its crew, the menacing Maximilian, the robot crew that just isn’t quite right…there are loads of things that give off creepy vibes in this film.
There are a few other things that I believe elevate The Black Hole beyond just another “off-brand” Star Wars film–the score, the cast, and the cinematography. Let’s talk to each one in succession.
If you’ve read any of my other #WayBackWednesday reviews, you’ll know that I am a big fan of music and I enjoy studying how music is used in a film. The score for The Black Hole, composed by John Barry, is immaculate. In fact, I think it’s one of my most favorite film scores ever composed. Barry is perhaps best known for his work on eleven of the James Bond films, including arranging the main theme for the first James Bond film, Dr. No. I was fortunate enough this past week to find a copy of the score on vinyl and that find prompted me to cover The Black Hole for this column. If you’re into scores that are both majestic and a little creepy, I really recommend that you check this one out. The main theme is a bit eerie and would be the perfect addition to any Halloween playlist.
The Black Hole boasts a tremendous cast. You’ve got brilliant character actors like Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates from Psycho) and Roddy McDowall. If you’ve not heard of Roddy McDowall, think of him as the proto-Andy Serkis. He is best known for the original Planet of the Apes series and the original Fright Night, and by all accounts, was one of the nicest guys ever to grace Hollywood. You’ve also got Oscar award winners and nominees in Maximillian Schell, Robert Forster, and Ernest Borgnine. (Modern audiences might be most familiar with Ernest’s voice work as Mermaid Man on Spongebob Squarepants). We’ve also got Golden Globe winner and nominees in Joseph Bottoms and Yvette Mimeux. While I won’t say The Black Hole is the best performance seen from any of these actors, I do find it fascinating that even in the early days of science fiction films being less niche that Disney was able to round up such a vast crew of quality actors.
As any of my film reviews will attest, I’m a big cinematography nerd. So many of the shots achieved in The Black Hole are simply gorgeous. From the film’s CGI opening, which according to IMDB was the longest CGI sequence ever created at the time, to the film’s finale, there is much to admire about the camera work done for The Black Hole. IMDB also notes that in true “off-brand Star Wars” fashion, Disney tried to rent the Dykstraflex camera system used in Star Wars, but it was too expensive. Disney consequently developed its own system, the Disney A. C. E. S. (Automated Camera Effects System), which is superior to the Dykstraflex camera system. The A. C. E. S. system is computer-controlled, allowing for very precise shots.
Are you up for a flick from a time where Disney was not afraid to be a little more spooky, a little edgier? Do you enjoy lost gems of science fiction? Do you want beautiful visuals and an even more beautiful score? Add The Black Hole to your watch list this week. It’s a perfect film to help lead into the Halloween season.
The Black Hole is streaming now on Disney+.
We saw it as kids, my brothers, my dad, and I. Dad was an old school Asimov reader and he seemed to like it more than we did. We kids were starving for the next Star Wars to come out so we liked the talking floating droids. Even had the toys. But, as kids, we were left feeling kinda shortchanged. Not animated LOTR disappointment but blah nonetheless. I watched it again halfway through quarantine and liked more of it.