Have I Seen This Before? Yes.
I want you all to know that the temptation to call this movie "Disney's Black Hole" for the entire post was absolutely incredible and my restraint qualifies me for sainthood.
Plot Outline: After a two-minute musical overture, the film begins with the crew of the USS Palomino finding what appears to be a derelict ship drifting in space near a black hole. There's a mild debate over whether they should investigate, then they decide to check it out and nearly plunge into the hole, damaging their ship. They dock with the wreck for repairs. The other ship is the USS Cygnus, and it's not quite as derelict as it looks, inhabited by a crew of stiff-limbed robots, the world's most evil-looking chief robot, and Dr. Reinhardt, captain of the Cygnus and missing these twenty years.
It rapidly becomes obvious that Reinhardt has a nasty case of Science-Related Memetic Disorder and Maximilian (his bright red chief robot) is one of those homicidal murder-bots you get every so often. Reinhardt plans to plunge his ship straight into the black hole to see what happens next, and he's looking to have the Palamino crew record it and take his notes back when he's gone.
While the human crew has dinner (which appears to be entirely wine, water, and apples) and debate Reinhardt's methods and sanity, VINCENT (the ship's robot) makes contact with BOB (the Cygnus's robot of the same model). On the ship's shooting range, VINCENT arranges to kill the black-clad robotic head of security with a ricocheted shot, impressing BOB and making him secure enough to fill in some gaps. BOB explains the ship is a deathtrap. The 'robots' aren't robots, but roboticized members of the Cygnus's former crew.
In a bid to save those crew and preserve what's left of their bodies and minds, the Palomino crew try to stage a mutiny. Maximilian kills one of them and the body falls into the reactor, and the ESPer Kate is wrapped up in tinfoil and nearly microwaved before the Captain bursts in and saves her. Another of the crew tries to steal an escape pod, but that gets shot down and destroys the antigravity generator keeping the Cygnus from sinking into the black hole.
While our heroes are trying to escape in the probe ship Reinhardt has been poking the black hole with, a meteor storm hits and starts wrecking the Cygnus, cumulating in a meteor rolling up the groove in the center of the ship and destroying everything in its path.
Reinhardt sends Maximilian down to the probe, intending to ride it into the black hole, but is caught under falling debris. As he screams and pleads for help, his roboticized crew ignore him.
At the probe, Maximilian fatally shoots BOB and VINCENT takes revenge with a power drill, disabling Maximilian and leaving him to float into space. The surviving crew discover the probe is locked on course into the black hole, and plunge into it.
Surrealism happens. The Kubrick estate makes a few phone calls.
Somewhere, possibly in lava-splashing actual Christian Hell, Maximilian fuses with Reinhardt's spirit. A ghostly spirit escapes down a mirror-lined tunnel of light. Meanwhile, the probe continues through the black hole and out the other side, seemingly unharmed, floating towards a new world as the film ends.
Great Moments In Dialogue
Captain Holland: "You will be remembered as one of the greatest ... space scientists of all time."
Dr. Reinhardt: "I have never doubted that! It's about time that people learn about their failures, and my successes."
My Heart Says: So let's run down the characters. On the Palomino side we've got the Captain, the pudgy journalist guy, the other dude who thinks we have so much to learn from this experience, 'Charlie' who I think might have a rank but eh, ESPer Kate, and VINCENT.
My Head Says: I can barely remember anyone's actual name because nobody in this movie on the heroic side is anywhere near as interesting as DOCTOR HANS REINHARDT, who spends the entire film sneering at people for not understanding his genius. I want to put this man on a nature preserve where he can run around and eat scenery and invent death machines all day long. They don't make mad, hubris-doomed MEN OF SCIENCE!! like this dude anymore.
My Gut Says: Of course that means we have to talk about Reinhardt's terrifying murder robot, Maximilian. And this is where I need to introduce my personal theory that with a crazed murderbot on board, plus a natural disaster out the window making sure no one can leave the isolated ship, plus a crazed genius whose danger only becomes apparent partway through the film and who dies in part because of his own machinations, PLUS an army of zombie robots with laser beams attached to them...
Disney was actually trying to make a slasher film, but they couldn't clear the PG barrier. Two of those dudes in the cast have no purpose but to die for pathos and you all know it.
My Head Says: So you're saying, the spiritual successor to 'The Black Hole' is... 'Event Horizon'?
My Gut Says: I'm not NOT saying that, that's what I'm saying.
My Inner Child Says: Can we go back and talk about the robots for a minute, please? Because VINCENT is kind of annoying and I -love- robots. Like, I'm pretty sure VINCENT is just the Unix 'fortune' command wrapped in a googly-eyed shell. He has a sanctimonious quote for every possible occasion, and he really wants you to know it.
The only ways VINCENT is cool are his command of laser beams, which anyone else on the ship could do, and his ability to get in psychic contact with Kate, which is kind of weird? Did anyone else catch that he mentioned his line was involved in long-distance ESP experiments as far back as twenty years ago? Obviously that foreshadows that BOB is on the ship, but that's a cool worldbuilding thing I wish they'd done more with.
My Gut Says: I wish they'd done more with the only female character in the movie besides letting her remotely talk to the robot. They could've duct-taped a walkie-talkie to VINCENT's outer shell and Kate could've stayed home today.
My Head Says: They also made her related to one of the dead crew for pathos. ... Anyway, communications go down in this movie all the time. Maybe something about Black Hole-verse space screws with radio waves and they need ESP. Maybe she has more to do on missions that aren't this weird.
My Inner Child Says: ...how would VINCENT push the button on the walkie-talkie?
My Gut Says: Okay, valid points.
My Inner Child Says: When I was young I had the book on tape version of The Black Hole. (Actually, I had the book on tape version of a whole lot of these Disney movies and stuff but this is the one that's actually relevant right now.)
Being made for early readers, the book leaves out the, y'know, murdering and death, and changes the ending a little bit. I was very familiar with the book on tape version and I had absolutely no idea what I was seeing the first time I watched the movie. To be fair that ending is a real "WHAT AM I LOOKING AT" moment even if you're going in blind, but if you're expecting something else entirely it's even more of a shocker.
If you feel like it, you can read along with the tape and even have someone turn the pages for you here, on Youtube.
My Heart Says: The USS Cygnus itself is one of the dumbest, coolest spaceships ever designed, in that kind of way where being incredibly dumb actually makes it cooler.
My Head Says: ...objection?
My Heart Says: Overruled, shut up. This spaceship is SO beautiful, SO dumb, and SO cool I can't actually imagine what it was originally built to do! It has a gothic castle/cathedral/command tower and a enormous greenhouse section, they're connected by a giant tramway tube and the entire thing is as big as twelve of the USS Palomino stacked on top of each other. It's like two designers who hated each other showed up with different blueprints and refused to talk it out. It may have cost a fortune but that aesthetic? Wooorth iiit~
Personally, I think with the castle and farm it was created as an experiment in Space Feudalism. The dude in the tower gets his crew to farm all day, then reaps the rewards. This makes his weird robot lobotomy mind control thing even MORE appropriate, thematically speaking.
My Gut Says: The intital scan they do lists this thing as "United States Spaceprobe One", which means, in the setting of The Black Hole, America's first attempt at a deep space probing exploration vessel was a series of steel-framed interconnected giant plexiglass boxes lined with hamster tubes and the world's most industrial wedding chapel attached up top.
Frickin' bravo, Black Hole-verse NASA. Minutes after they find the Cygnus, they call it "the costliest fiasco of all time" and the reporter guy laments once that THIS is what taxes paid for, but if my taxes paid for a spaceship like the Cygnus I would pay double. I like to think they were expecting to get it back, but Reinhardt got on board, peeled the fuck out and LEFT with it and refused to come back or answer their calls.
My Head Says: You're edging towards an interesting point. If you're looking for peak visibility of every star and planet around you at all times and you don't want to resort to scanners and cameras, why NOT Biodome your spaceship?
My Inner Child Says: I wonder if we could send the Epcot Center ball into space.
My Head Says: No, dear, it's only CALLED Spaceship Earth. It's not actually a spaceship. It's not air-tight.
My Inner Child Says: Aww.
My Head Says: Anyone have anything to say about the nice, practical, very 1970s Palomino?
My Head Says: Okay.
My Inner Child Says: your spaceship versus the spaceship your girl tells you not to worry about
My Head Says: Next topic please.
My Gut Says: So this is interesting to me at least. Neil deGrasse Tyson famously criticized this film for being the least scientifically accurate movie ever made, claiming it would've been a far more interesting film if they'd gotten the physics of falling into a black hole correct. I notice he didn't have anything to say about the telepathic robot, implying that's 100% scientifically accurate. That explains why I keep getting urges to order imported toy robots from Japan, they're planting capitalist desires in my mind from across the globe. Head, you gotta take care of that. Get a blocker up.
My Head Says: I'll wear more hats.
My Heart Says: The thing is, I'm not sure the movie would actually have been improved with more realistic physics. Much of the drama of the movie was human-focused, or in some cases robot-with-MURDERSAW-ARMS focused. Does it really matter what relativistic impulses are acting on and around the giant erector-set-wrapped space cathedral while you're being chased with a robot with a MURDERSAW?
My Head Says: Also remember that he made his statement in 2014. He might have revised his opinion on the least-scientifically-accurate movie of all time after seeing -- you're set up, spike it home!
My Inner Child Says: Detective Pikachu!
My Gut Says: Lucy!
My Heart Says: Jupiter Ascending!
My Head Says: Good! Strong team effort, we're done here. Line to further dunk on Mr. Tyson starts in the comments.
Consensus: This is a movie with fantastic practical visual effects, lovely matte paintings, a droning brass-heavy soundtrack that somehow even makes laser fights seem kind of dull, and a script that's basically just people droning on until it's time for the laser fights.
I kind of love this movie anyway. It's ponderous in that beautiful way that SERIOUS SCIENCE FICTION is, where everyone delivers every line of dialogue like it's the most important statement ever made, where a black hole isn't just an unexplained mystery of the universe but a NIGHTMARE OF NATURE WE CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND. Yeah, it's dry as a bone but there's enough to look at that this film never gets boring.
I think it might actually benefit from a straight-up fandub. Dub over the acting and music, keep the general plot outline and visuals. Let's see what that does to this film. Couldn't hurt.
Would I watch this again? Hell yeah, bring popcorn and we'll make a night of it.
See you next feature!
I am no longer interested in comments on Livejournal. Please comment on Dreamwidth. Comments here will not be replied to and are unlikely to be read.