Film / The Black Hole
In, through... and beyond.

The Black Hole is a 1979 science fiction movie directed by Gary Nelson. It stars Maximilian Schell, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Anthony Perkins, and Ernest Borgnine. The voices of the main robot characters in the film are provided by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens (both uncredited). The music for the movie was composed by John Barry. Alan Dean Foster novelized the screenplay.

An Earth exploratory ship, the USS Palomino, discovers an impressively massive black hole with a missing Earth ship, the USS Cygnus parked just outside its event horizon, somehow defying its gravity. Setting off to solve the mystery of the Cygnus are: the Palomino's Captain, Dan Holland (Forster); his First Officer, Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Bottoms); journalist Harry Booth (Borgnine); ESP-sensitive scientist Dr. Kate McCrae (Mimieux); Dr. Alex Durant (Perkins), the expedition's civilian leader; and the robot V.I.N.CENT("Vital Information Necessary CENTralized"). The Palomino attempts a dangerous fly-by of the ship, which is dark and apparently derelict. As they come within close range of it, the buffeting they experience due to the black hole's gravity suddenly ceases. They complete their fly-by with tantalizing signs that someone may still be aboard, but do not realize the gravity-free zone is artificial and limited; slipping outside it, they are almost drawn into the black hole.

As the crew repairs the Palomino, they discover that the Cygnus is not only functional but inhabited by a crew of faceless robots and their human commander, Dr. Hans Reinhardt, who intends to take the Cygnus into the black hole to see what awaits him on the other side. Trivial matters like what happened to the original human crew or that Earth tried to recall his mission years ago do not concern him.

Oh did we forget to mention this is a Disney movie?

The movie contains very clear homages in style and plot to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Forbidden Planet, and to the studio's own prior Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; it's possible they originally intended to create a similar "proverbial good science fiction film". The success of Star Wars meant that assorted cute robots were crammed in, making the tone somewhat schizophrenic. The goofy robot shooting gallery scene seems particularly out of place.note 

Many consider this film to be Disney's biggest flop (which lead to countless jokes about the company's money being tossed into the eponymous hole), and that it represents everything that was wrong with Ron Miller's leadership of the company. In actual fact it made $35m on a budget of $20m, so it did earn a slight profit for the company; nonetheless, not very many people regard the film as one of Disney's finer moments. (However, it is considered a science fiction classic and is often cited alongside Blade Runner and TRON as examples of films that failed upon first release only to be critically reappraised and become cult favorites later on.) On the plus side, along with one other movie that was released the same year, it was the first ever Disney movie to be given a PG rating; something that ultimately would lead to the creation of Disney's separate non-Disney branded label, Touchstone Pictures in 1984 (with the PG-rated Splash as its first release).

The film is currently in development for a remake by TRON: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski. This film even gets a Shout-Out in Legacy as a poster in Sam's room.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker:
    • The creepy cloaked and mute robots on the Cygnus continue to water and care for the massive hydroponics bay despite Dr. Reinhardt supposedly being the only one left aboard who needs to eat or breathe. In fact the former crew have been subject to Unwilling Roboticisation and the bay is used to feed them as well.
    • When the Cygnus is being pummeled by asteroids none of the cloaked robots react to preserve their lives at all, continuing to man their posts. It's made poetically ironic when Dr. Reinhardt is trapped by a falling viewscreen and begs for help, only to be ignored by the crew he roboticized.
  • Accidental Pun: When the Palomino first enters the black hole's gravity field, Charlie says that the ship is "bucking like a bronco."
  • Adaptation Expansion: The novelization adds in a lot of detail, such as defining Dr. McCrae's "ESP" as a wireless cybernetic interface, and a wonderfully grim conversation regarding rehydrated Christmas dinner, complete with rehydrated giblets. It also explains why just letting the decompressed cargo hold's contents escape the ship wasn't an option. It was apparently full of irreplacable pharmaceuticals.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Durant doesn't think it credible that Reinhardt would have programmed his "robots" to have human emotions ... even though it's obvious that both V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B. have them, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, so it must be a known technology. note 
  • Artificial Gravity: One of Reinhardt's breakthroughs is an anti-gravity forecefield that protects the Cygnus from the black hole, though judging from its layout the Cygnus must have been built with some form of interior artificial gravity.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: What Reinhardt believes will happen inside a black hole, where conventional physical laws break down.
  • Badass Boast: "We are going through," even as the meteor storm plows all around the Cygnus and is severely damaging the ship.
  • The Blank: The robot crewmen have metal plates where their faces might otherwise be, and exhibit no expression or emotion.
  • Blatant Lies: Dr. Reinhardt's story that the rest of the Cygnus crewmen willingly left him alone with the ship is full of so many inconsistencies that it was only a matter of time before the truth came out.
  • Burial in Space: Done by the "robot" crewmen, which tips off the suspicions of the Palomino's crew that all is not as it appears aboard the Cygnus.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: There was a Newspaper Comic, drawn by Jack Kirby, and the movie was adapted by Whitman Comics, an imprint of Gold Key Comics. The Gold Key title actually went on to publish two extremely rare original stories, the only official fiction to be set after the events of the film.
  • Conspicuous CG: The opening credits, featuring a wireframe representation of a black hole's gravity well. State-of-the-art for 1979, it was originally produced for the trailers, but then executives wanted it in the film itself.
  • Cool Starship: The Cygnus is a sort of glass cathedral spaceship that runs on pure awesome.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Gary Nelson as the humanoid unmasked by Durant.
  • Cyber Cyclops: Maximillian.
  • Deadpan Snarker: V.I.N.Cent., thanks to his endless store of quotations.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The mission of the Cygnus is described as the same as that of the Palomino: "to discover habitable life in outer space."
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Dr. Reinhardt. If the crew of faceless cloaked humanoids lead by a floating red killbot with blender blades wasn't an indication, the man himself gives you another big hint by wearing bright red outfits for many of his scenes...
  • Dirty Coward: Harry Booth. He talks big about trying to overpower Reinhardt's robots, take control of the Cygnus, and head back to Earth... but as soon as he finds out what actually happened to the rest of Reinhardt's crew, he immediately changes his mind ("If they couldn't pull it off, what chance do we have?")... which leads to his ill-advised attempt to steal the Palomino and make for Earth alone.
  • Disney Death: Averted for anyone hoping that Old B.O.B. would miraculously survive that last shootout with Maximillian.
  • Dope Slap: Inverted when Reinhardt triple slaps his own forehead when rebuking Maximilian for the Sentries' failure against V.I.N.Cent and Old B.O.B.
  • The Dragon: Maximillian.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Until Reinhardt orders the security drones to shoot at all humanoids not at their posts.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Dr. Reinhardt is genuinely upset at Durant's death and chastises Maximillian for killing him.
    Dr. Reinhardt: You shouldn't have done that! He was a good man.
  • Explosive Decompression: Several guard bots are blown out of the hydroponics dome when a meteor makes a hole in the roof.
  • Expy: V.I.N.CENT is a slightly less effeminate, and considerably more competent version of C-3P0 (with an R2-D2 style body).
  • Extremely Short Time Span: Except for the Gainax Ending, the entire film takes place over, at most, twelve hours.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: When Maximillian drills a hole in Durant's chest. Yes, there's a book in the way so you can't see it, and yes, there's no visible blood; but he still drills a hole in his chest. The sound effect for the drill — and Anthony Perkins' agonized scream — makes it all the worse. It's part of the reason why this is the first PG-rated Disney production.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Dr. Reinhardt ends up in a (possibly literally) hellish burning landscape, while being trapped in Maximillian's body. Long before that, of course, he zombified his entire crew into wretches too mindless to even notice their ship collapsing around them - another Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Five-Man Band: Captain Holland (The Hero), Charlie Pizer (The Lancer), Dr. Durant (The Smart Guy), Harry Booth (The Big Guy), Dr. McCrae (The Chick).
  • Follow the Leader: The basic script was written in the mid-70's, with it being inspired by the disaster films that were made at the time, but lingered in pre-production, possibly on the verge of Disney scrapping it. And then Star Wars came out...
  • For Science!: Dr. Reinhardt's ostensible motivation. Also Dr. Durant's.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Glowy but otherwise fairly realistic — they produce a beam that is instantly continuous between weapon and target, with no travel time or "bolts", and leave burn marks everywhere.
  • From My Own Personal Garden: During Reinhardt's No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine moment, he tries to pass off the garden as "tiny" — it is, in fact, huge, far more than one man would need for food or to recycle oxygen. He maintains it at its original full size in order to feed the entire zombified crew.
  • Fun with Acronyms: V.I.N.Cent. (Vital Information Necessary CENTralized)
    • Not to mention B.O.B (BiO-sanitation Battalion) and Captain S.T.A.R (Special Troop, Arms Regiment).
  • Gainax Ending: Seemingly a literal trip through hell and heaven. At least it's foreshadowed. The novelization may be even stranger, with all of the surviving crew merging into one entity and their combined consciousness permeating an entire new universe.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Pretty much the entire film due to the fact it received a PG rating, something no Disney-branded film had ever received before. The rating was primarily applied due to the violence of Durant's death and the disturbing depiction of Reinhardt's fate.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Dr. Reinhardt has the mad scientist's disheveled long beard.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Averted by pure accident; when comparing outlines of known deep-space vessels to the Cygnus's profile, V.I.N.Cent coincidentally calls one "Russian", not "Soviet". Although it was common to use the two names interchangeably during the Cold War, including when referring to spacecraft, the decision to not use Soviet provided a bit of future-proofing here.
  • Gun Twirling: S.T.A.R. spins its laser pistols after winning a round of target shooting.
  • Guns Akimbo: Everyone, both sentry robots and humans, wields two of the double-barreled laser pistols (one barrel above the handle, one below) issued on the Cygnus.
    • V.I.N.Cent and B.O.B. are also equipped with laser emitters in both of their front "arms." (Their grasping manipulators extend to the sides, from their "shoulders.") V.I.N.Cent's are disabled (i.e., shot out) by the automated security system soon after boarding Cygnus. They are then repaired twice: He gets a temporary fix for the shooting gallery scene, and a permanent fix from B.O.B. shortly thereafter, to aid the humans during the final battle. (This is one of the signs the shooting gallery scene was a last-minute addition.)
  • Homage: Apart from the obvious similarities to 2001 and Star Wars, there are definite hints of Forbidden Planet and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
  • Herr Doktor: First name Hans, last name Reinhardt, speaks with a slight German accent, played by an Austrian actor... und he ist ein Doktor!
  • Human Resources: Reinhardt really doesn't like mutineers.
    • There are several clues that give their fate away: Harry spots one of the "robots" walking with a limp, the hydroponics garden is far larger than it needs to be for one man, none of the crew took their uniforms or other gear with them when they "abandoned ship", and Dan witnesses what looks like a funeral for one of the "robots."
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Entering a black hole apparently sends you to Hell. Or through heaven.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Dr. Durant uses this line of reasoning. It holds true... for a while.
    Holland: Locking warheads into firing position.
    Durant: Hold it, Dan, they've got to be friendly. They could have blasted us right out of the sky by now.
  • Immune To Frickin Laser Beams: Maximillian. Not to a drill, though.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The sentry robots.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "Maximilian Schell inside Maximillian's shell" in the "Hell" scene.
  • Industrialized Evil: The machine used to convert the crew to cyborgs.
  • Indy Escape: A gigantic (and suspiciously-spherical) red-hot meteor comes rolling down the Cygnus's central shaft as the heroes rush across a small footbridge in its path. Comes complete with Dramatic Slip.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Harry Booth. Well, at first...
  • Karmic Death: Reinhardt is pinned down by debris as the ship heads towards the black hole. Maximillian leaves, so he begs the humanoid robots to help him. Thanks to his own programming which turned them into mindless zombies in the first place, they completely ignore him and continue to follow their routines as he dies painfully and slowly.
    • Maximillian gets one of his own; his signature weapons are those horrible drills, and he gets a neat little hole drilled in his own torso by V.I.N.C.E.N.T., in much the same way that he had eviscerated Dr. Durant.
  • Killer Robot: Many consider Maximillian the uber-example of this trope. A single glaring red eye, a barely-humanoid frame to put it into the Uncanny Valley, and those damn drill-claws...
  • Large Ham: Reinhardt most of the time, Booth some of the time, and a couple of one-shots:
    Kate: There are people in there. I know it. I feel it!
    B.O.B.: Your friends, they're in GRAVE danger. This is a death ship.
  • Mad Scientist: Reinhardt.
  • Magical Security Cam: Reinhardt watches the Palomino crew with one of these late in the movie.
  • Meaningful Name: The Cygnus, named for a constellation which probably has a black hole.
  • Mecha-Mooks: The sentry robots, who are also graduates of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine
    Dan Holland: It's only dinner.
    V.I.N.CENT: "... said the spider to the fly."
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: It starts out as a hard sci-fi exploration flick, in that the Palomino maneuvers like a real spacecraft with the main thruster and attitude jets, and everyone in the spacecraft is weightless except when they are under acceleration, etc. Then Dr. McCrae is asked to use her ESP to talk to their Robot Buddy. Then they board the Cygnus, which has an Artificial Gravity forecefield developed by Reinhardt from his research on the black hole. There's a gradual process of moving from 4 to 1 on the scale, with the human characters moving around outside the Cygnus in shirtsleeves near the end with no noticeable ill effects.note  Then they travel through the black hole itself and through the afterlife(?).
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: The movie treats the eponymous black hole as a wormhole, even going so far as to have the characters travel through it and come out "unharmed" on the other side, though the journey itself is pretty trippy.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX; The cartoon google eyes for B.O.B. and V.I.N.CENT, which were hastily glued onto them to compensate for the fact that their original computer screen eyes failed to work on the first day of shooting.
  • Oh Crap!: Charlie's reaction when he figured out the probe ship they're using to escape the Cygnus is actually programmed to go into the black hole.
  • Outrun the Fireball: The scene where the heroes try to make it across a tunnel before a huge meteor plowing through the ship reaches them. It was in all the trailers.
  • Psychic Powers: Dr. McCrae has a telepathic link with V.I.N.CENT. According to the novelization it's thanks to a cybernetic impant in her brain.
  • Putting on the Reich:
    • The Sentry robots' stiff gait comes close to resembling a "goose-step" march.
    • During dinner Reinhardt wears the red uniform-like outfit along with a fancy medal, and continues wearing them both when taking the Cygnus towards the black hole.
    • Then there's the name, Hans Reinhardt, and even Maximillian.
  • Rage Helm: Maximillian has a bright red eye with a furrowing brow sculpted/painted above it, making it look like he's permanently scowling.
  • Recycled In Space: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Both it and The Black Hole involve a ship captained by a Mad Scientist rebelling against conventional authority, who reluctantly takes the heroes on board because he wants to show off his achievements — which only one of the protagonists is sympathetic to — and who intends to dive his ship into a maelstrom. There are No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine scenes in both stories.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Maximillian, the security drones, most of Reinhardt's outfits, and the lobotomy machines in the Cygnus's medical bay. It's a rather dark "dried-blood" red too.
  • Redemption Equals Death:
    • Alex Durant finally realizes that Reinhardt is mad and tries to save Kate...too late.
    • Holland says that maybe Harry Booth did them a favor by trying to leave the rest of them behind.
  • Reinventing the Telephone: Dr. McCrae's abilities are clarified in the novelization.
  • Robot Buddy: V.I.N.CENT and Old BOB. Maximillian, not so much.
  • Robotic Psychopath: Maximillian. When Maximillian slaughters Alex Durant, Reinhardt berates it for killing a "good man". Clearly, he does not control the robot fully, and it has a malevolent will of its own - when the ship is later disintegrating, Maximillian leaves Reinhardt to die, despite the fact that his predicament was clearly visible to it.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The Black Hole is likened to a gateway to Hell. Or Heaven. Have doubts? Watch that climax again... if you dare.
    • This movie has religious symbolism out the wazoo: in addition to the foreshadowing comparisons of the Black Hole with Hell ("My god, it's right out of Dante's Inferno"; "Every time I see one of these things I expect to see a guy in a red suit with a pitchfork"), Durant says it may lead "into the mind of God". Reinhardt likens V.I.N.CENT and Maximilian to David and Goliath and quotes from Genesis. The Cygnus looks like a Gothic cathedral, the control panels on the bridge look like stained glass windows, and the humanoids are dressed like monks. Lampshaded when Reinhardt offhandedly remarks that it's another of his "theatrical gestures".
      • In fact, one planned ending involved a reveal that shows Dr. McCrae as one of the angels depicted among the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.
    • Durant tries to shield himself from Maximillian... with a book. His admiration of knowledge is useless against the murderous truth.
  • Scenery Porn: The interior of the Cygnus resembles a high tech-cathedral of steel and glass with mammoth, lengthy corridors and ominous lighting.
  • Sound-Only Death: Durant's murder.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Old BOB (he got his accent from having been programmed in Houston.)
  • Space Madness: Dr. Reinhardt, though Booth hints that the good Doctor wasn't all that stable before he left Earth. Dr. Durant is only willing to say the isolation has made Reinhardt a little eccentric.
  • Swirly Energy Thingy: The funnel-shaped accretion disc around the black hole.
  • Technobabble: Comes with the territory...
  • Tempting Fate: After winning the first shootout with Reinhardt's robots, Old B.O.B. wishes that "Reinhardt and Maximillian had been out there." He gets his wish partially granted later and ends up fatally damaged as a result.
  • This Is a Drill:
    • V.I.N.CENT has a drill. He asks Maximillian to say hi to his drill near the end of the movie.
    • Maximillian's own spinning claw-saw would also qualify.
  • Tin-Can Robot: B.O.B. and V.I.N.CENT
    Charlie Pizer: When I signed on for this I didn't know I'd be playing straight man to a tin can.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Dr. Durant ignores some pretty obvious signs that Dr. Reinhardt is not playing with a full deck until it's too late.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: One trailer for the movie showed Durant's death.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole: Goes without saying.
  • Unwilling Roboticisation: The sad fate of the Cygnus crew after they tried to take control of the ship from Reinhardt.
  • Villain Ball: Dr. Reinhardt's decision to have the crew of the Palomino killed after his secret was discovered, rather than let them flee resulted in the destruction of the Palomino, the Cygnus, and, indirectly, Maximilian's destruction and Reinhardt's eventual fate. Had Reinhardt told them to go in peace after Durant unmasked a cloaked "robot" they would've had no other choice anyway, leaving the field clear for Reinhardt to pursue his plans; then again, that wouldn't have been enough villainy. In the novelization, it's also due to Reinhardt's own ego and vanity; he's unwilling, even in the face of his greatest expedition, to allow the Palomino crew to return to Earth and besmirch his reputation with the truth of what he'd done to the Cygnus crew.
  • The Voiceless: Maximilian never actually speaks; he presumably is able to communicate somehow, since Reinhardt seems to understand him, but the audience doesn't see any sign of it, which of course makes him all the more unsettling.
    • He does, however, let out an electronic sounding shriek when V.I.N.CENT drills him at the end.