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The Wayback Machine: The Black Hole (1979)

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Posted by: Byron Brewer, Contributing Editor
created 04/05/2013 - 4:59pm, updated 04/06/2013 - 1:57pm

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Remember back to the 1970s and the era of great space movies? Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc. etc.? They all captured that wonderful child within us and took it to Tomorrowland.

Like Disney used to do.

Yep, in the '70s everyone was making Disney movies ... except Disney!

Now comes word that a modern remake to the House of Mouse's answer to that challenge is, like so many other classics (and non-classics, lol), being remade for a 21st century audience.

So let's walk to the back of the CBN offices across from the janitor's closed and rev up the ol' Wayback Machine to venture to the year 1979.

And ... The Black Hole!

Costing about $26 mil, The Black Hole was the most expensive movie under the Disney umbrella up to that time.

When I first saw it that year, I thought, "Oh no, here's the poor Skipper from McHale's Navy (Ernest Borgnine) trapped in another cheesy Disney live-action. Where's Kurt Russell?"

But let me tell those of you among the uninitiated, by the time that movie ended I was scared $#&%less and was being amazed by the best special effects I had seen since the conclusion of 2001.

Really!

The plot is somewhat familiar: In the future, the USS spacecraft Palomino is returning to Earth following its deep space exploration. The crew consists of Capt. Dan Holland, 1st Officer Lt. Charlie Pizer, journalist Harry Booth, telepath/scientist Dr. Kate McCrae, the expedition's civilian leader Dr. Alex Durant and the robot V.I.N.CENT("Vital Information Necessary CENTralized").

During its journey, the Palomino's crew discovers a black hole with a nearby derelict ship somehow defying the hole's massive gravitational pull. The ship is identified as the long-lost USS Cygnus, a ship McCrae's father, Dr. Frank McCrae, served aboard when it went missing. Deciding to investigate, the Palomino encounters a mysterious null gravity field surrounding the Cygnus. The Palomino becomes damaged when it drifts away from the Cygnus and into the black hole's intense gravity field, but the ship manages to move back to the Cygnus and finds itself able to dock to what initially appears to be an abandoned vessel.

The Palomino crew warily boards the Cygnus and soon encounters a fully android crew and Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a prominent German scientist and the Cygnus's commander. They also meet Reinhardt's second-in-command, the hulking robot Maximilian. Reinhardt explains that after his ship encountered a meteor field and was disabled, he ordered the human crew to return to Earth, but Kate's father chose to remain aboard and has since died. To the incredulity of the Palomino's crew, Reinhardt reveals that he intends to fly the Cygnus through the black hole. Only Durant believes it physically possible and asks to accompany Reinhardt on the trip.

The rest of the Palomino crew grows suspicious of the faceless drones' human-like behavior: Booth sees a robot limping and Holland witnesses a robot funeral and discovers the Cygnus crew's personal items in the ship's living quarters. Old B.O.B. (BiO-sanitation Battalion), a battered early model robot similar to V.I.N.CENT, explains that the faceless drones are in fact the crew, who mutinied when Reinhardt refused to return to Earth. They had been lobotomized and "reprogrammed" to serve him. McCrae's father had led the mutiny and was killed.

Using telepathy, V.I.N.CENT tells Kate the truth about what happened. When Kate tells Durant, he removes the reflective faceplate from a "robot" to reveal the face of a crew member. Durant tries to flee the bridge with Kate, but Maximilian kills him (by drilling through his torso), contrary to Reinhardt's wishes. Reinhardt takes Kate prisoner, ordering her to be taken to the hospital to be lobotomized.

As the process begins, Holland rescues Kate, along with V.I.N.CENTand B.O.B. Meanwhile, fearing the situation is escalating dangerously, Booth attempts to escape alone in the Palomino. Reinhardt orders the craft shot down, but the weapons fire sends the ship crashing into the Cygnus, destroying its port-side anti-gravity forcefield generator. A meteor storm then destroys the starboard generator. Without its null-gravity bubble, the Cygnus starts to break apart under the black hole's huge gravitational forces.

Reinhardt and the Palomino survivors separately plan their escape aboard a probe used to study the black hole. Maximilian goes to prepare the probe shortly before Reinhardt is pinned by falling debris. His lobotomized crew stands motionless as he struggles. Maximilian confronts the others and fatally cripples Old B.O.B. moments before he is crippled by V.I.N.CENTand drifts out of the ship. Holland, Pizer, McCrae and V.I.N.CENTreach the probe, only to discover the controls locked onto a flight path through the black hole. It then plunges across the hole's event horizon.

In a dialogue-free epilogue, the travelers exit the hole and, possibly viewed through Kate's ESPvision, enter Hell and then Heaven In the following dream sequence, Reinhardt and Maximilian merge and stand on a high rock overlooking a burning, hellish landscape – possibly the remains of the Cygnus – populated by robed figures resembling the drones. Next, a floating, ethereal figure with flowing long hair passes through a cathedral-like crystal arched tunnel. The probe then emerges from a white hole into another universe and is seen near a star and planet. The last shot shows the probe flying toward the planet.

Fantastic!

At the end of the day, The Black Hole grossed $36 million at the North American box office alone, making it the 21st highest grossing movie that year; it also garnered two Oscar nods.

Me? Well, this sci-fi lover-slash-college student was looking forward to a whole lot more sci-fi goodness from the same studio that, at least in its early days, fulfilled my love of great animation.

Guess what? Never happened. With the possible exception of TRON, we got nothing from the MagicKingdom. Nada.

Oh, oh: except a Black Hole poster for my dorm wall.

But now comes word of the remake, and it sounds really exciting. Hope this brings to light the older property as it gets the attention it rightfully deserves.

 
 

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