Do you ever sometimes look at a film that isn't terribly great and think to yourself 'Why?' I mean, the film came out of a good studio, had good technical and acting talent attached, came out in a decent year for it's genre, and even had a decent script. So what went wrong? This happens so often in film that people tend to forget to ask the why and rather, just choose to write of the film as a failure and try to punish it with venomous comments. Me, I'm a more diplomatic person I guess. I like to ask the whys and hows and I like to put myself in the filmmaker's shoes and wonder "Would I have tried to make a failure of a film?"....of course not. No one tries to make a bad film (even the people who make 'bad' films on purpose, like Grindhouse or Killer Klowns from Outer Space because these are supposed to be successful at being entertaining and skewering B movies). Anyway, what I'm working up to is a discussion of Disney's The Black Hole from 1979. The film had a decent cast of stars, came from the Mouse House where technical achievements had been pioneered for a long time, and was riding the coat tails of 2001: A Space Odessey and Star Wars. So why is it such a bore?
The film is rather like an updating of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" with a small spacecraft discovering the long lost Cygnus, a behemoth of a ship meant to explore space for years and years and which has been thought lost for 20 years, parked beside the largest black hole ever seen. Inside, the crew finds Dr. Hans Reinhold and his robot crew. He gives them weak excuses as to what has happened to the missing crew and they do some exploring on their own and discover that Reinhold is a madman who intends to take the ship into the black hole to see what is on the other side. The premise is simple and sounds like a super idea as long as there is plenty of suspense, mystery, and emotional weight to carry it off. Unfortunately, the powers that be were not able to really capture the potential of the little film. Its starts weakly, not giving any kind of character introduction to the leads and gives no explanation to the technology they have (or to Kate's apparent ESP abilities) and launches right into Act II (the msytery of the ship) almost right away. After that point, its pretty entertaining but the mystery and intrigue only lasts a moment before...whoop! It's over. The film moves almost too briskly and is over after 90 minutes, which is far too short for a sci-fi film like this. Also, even though Disney made the film at the height of sci-fi and special effects technology (at the time) it still looks cheap and cobbled together. The film was released in 1979, but it looks like it was produced in the mid to late 60s. I suppose it has the Disney 70s look to it, but it should look better than that if its going to compete with what other studios were churning out at the time.
Still, I enjoy the story's idea and know there was probably more to it (I have Alan Dean Foster's novelization and it is quite detailed if still a short book) and the score by John Barry is wonderful. I guess my affection for it and why I still watch it from time to time rests on how it makes me feel on the whole and not as a sum of its parts. The trailer is attached below: