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Film / The Black Hole

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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 vessel, 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 20,000 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 and laser battles were crammed in, making the tone somewhat schizophrenic. The goofy robot shooting gallery scene seems particularly out of place.note 

Until The Lone Ranger (2013) came along, many considered this film to be Disney's biggest flop and a symbol of everything wrong with Ron Miller's leadership of the company, complete with countless jokes about the company's money being tossed into the eponymous hole. In actual fact, it made $35m on a budget of $20m, so it did earn a slight profit for the company. While not very many people regard the film as one of Disney's finer moments, it is considered a science fiction classic, often cited alongside Blade Runner and Disney's later 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 in theatrical release was released under the Buena Vista label, and nowhere on the posters or promotional material did "Disney" appear, a first for any Disney film. (Nowadays, the title is Disney's The Black Hole.)

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

This movie contains examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: According to the novelization, during the eighteen months of the Palomino's journey its crew found nothing more evolved than a few insignificant microbes. It also suggests that other similar missions had similar results.
  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker:
    • The creepy cloaked and mute robots on the Cygnus continue to water and care for the plants in the massive hydroponics bay despite Dr. Reinhardt supposedly being the only one left aboard who needs to eat or breathe. The "robots" are, in fact, what's left of the former crew after undergoing Unwilling Roboticisation, and the garden is used to feed them as well.
    • When the Cygnus is being pummeled by asteroids, and in the novelization at least begins to be ripped apart by the black hole's gravity, 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."
  • Acid-Trip Dimension: The black hole's "Einstein-Rosen Bridge" ("wormhole" in plain English).
  • Actor Allusion: The manner of Durant's death nods to Anthony Perkins' most famous film role.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The reason the ending of the Alan Dean Foster novelisation lacks all the metaphysical elements is that he had no idea they would be in the movie. Executive Meddling decreed that the scriptwriters write up to the last seven minutes, and so at the time Foster was writing the novel, they still hadn't decided what the ending would be, or at least hadn't told anyone else.
    • The people involved with making the film recently admitted they had no idea what the ending would be even during production, and lied to the cast that they were keeping it a secret to keep their reactions fresh. There was no ending til the last minute.
  • 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.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: There are also several scenes where it's hinted Maximillian is actively deciding whether or not to follow Reinhardt's orders. In the end it abandons him to his death. In the novel, the robot is much more loyal to Reinhardt even if it also abandons him to his death at the end.
  • All-Star Cast: Two Oscar-winners in Maximilian Schell, and Ernest Borgnine, two Oscar-nominees in Anthony Perkins and (retroactively) Robert Forster, as well as Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, and even uncredited voice work by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens.
  • All There in the Manual: On screen, Kate's ESP link with a robot comes off as a bit of an Ass Pull, but the novelization actually explains it's not paranormal but rather a wireless interface she had surgically implanted for this mission.
  • And I Must Scream: Dr. Reinhardt ends up in a (possibly literally) hellish burning landscape, while being trapped in Maximillian's body.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The ending appears to imply this, though except for a pair of ultra-rare Gold Key Comic issues continuing the story, what happens after the crew go through the black hole remains unchronicled. In the novelization, going through the black hole combines the entire crew into a single entity.
  • Androids Are People, Too: The opening scene makes it clear that the Palomino's crew consider V.I.N.CENT a full friend and colleague, but they don't extend the same courtesy to any of the Cygnus's robots except B.O.B., who is the same model as V.I.N.CENT. In fairness, the cloaked robots appear nonsentient (in fact, not only are they sentient, they're human), the Sentries are mute and ambiguously self-aware at best, and Maximillian is a monster even Reinhardt is scared of.
  • Antimatter: In the novelization, a (very helpful) side effect of the anti-gravity field is also to permit antimattter to be used as fuel to power the engines of the Cygnus, and consequently said field.
  • 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 forcefield 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.
  • Artistic License – Military: Reinhardt wears the Legion of Merit as a neck medal. The US Military normally awards the Legion of Merit in the form of a neck ribbon (Referred to as Commander of the Legion of Merit) to foreign military chiefs of staff (who would hold General rank), not US citizens. It may be justified if Reinhardt was not a US citizen, but he was the head of a US expedition.
  • Artistic License – Physics: This film didn't have the best grasp of physics when it first came out, but it was no worse than its peers. Still, it hasn't aged well, and the following points are particularly notable:
    • One major plot point is that the Cygnus is actively defying the black hole with its anti-gravity field. This is unnecessary, as despite their mass black holes can be orbited like any other object.
    • The enormous gravitational lensing black holes are capable of isn't present in any of the special effects - indeed the hole looks nothing like modern artists conceptualizations of their appearance, such as is seen in Interstellar (as noted further down, the first simulation of the actual look of one surrounded by an accretion disk came in the same year this movie was released, however.)
    • Spaghetification. Objects crossing into black holes are torn apart as the gravity differential across them becomes severe. The smaller the black hole the more violent and sudden this effect is. Handwaved in the movie by Reinhardt's anti-gravity field protecting the Cygnus and its probe ship.note 
    • Time Dilation. Being parked so close to the event horizon, time would pass slower for those on the Cygnus than in the rest of the universe, though how much so is unclear. This isn't mentioned at all, and Reinhardt and the crew of the Palomino act as if the same amount of time has passed since the Cygnus left Earth.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: What Reinhardt believes will happen inside a black hole, where conventional physical laws break down. This is what happens to the survivors in the novelization.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Reinhardt quotes from Genesis.
    "And darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
  • Badass Adorable: V.I.N.CENT. almost looks like a toy robot and he's also one heckuva crack shot able to hit targets while spinning.
  • Badass Boast: "We are going through," even as the meteor storm plows all around the Cygnus and is severely damaging the ship. In the novelization after the meteor storm, when the hole's gravity begins to overwhelm the Cygnus anti-gravity field.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Near the end the characters are inexplicably seen climbing from the Cygnus to the probe ship through the vacuum of space without space suits. Reportedly space suits were to be used in this sequence but the cast disliked their design and there wasn't enough time to redesign themnote .
  • Be Careful What You Wish For / 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.
  • Being Watched: Dr. Kate McCrae says that she feels like there are a million eyes watching the Palomino crew when they first enter the Cygnus through the reception area.
  • The Blank: The robot crewmen have metal plates where their faces might otherwise be, and exhibit no expression or emotion.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Dr. Reinhardt claims that the rest of the Cygnus crewmen willingly left him alone with the ship, but his account is full of so many inconsistencies that it was only a matter of time before the truth came out.
    • Reinhardt also claims that a communication error prevented him from answering the Palomino's hail. As Holland notes, that still doesn't explain why he waited so long to turn on the lights, which let them know the ship wasn't a derelict. B.O.B. later says he only did this because he was worried the Cygnus would get damaged if the Palomino impacted it.
    • Harry in the novelization. When he and Charlie leave the Palomino to help Dan and Kate, he fakes having broken his leg. Charlie realizes he's probably lying and thinks he's just scared of fighting, but as soon as Charlie leaves Harry rushes back to the Palomino and attempts to take off, leaving the rest of the crew stranded in the Cygnus.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Maximillian murders Alex by eviscerating him with its spinning blades. Papers were shown scattered and torn, but not a single drop of blood was shown to be spilled, even though Alex's innards should have been splattered all over Maximillian, Kate, and the bridge of the Cygnus.
  • Blunt "Yes": In the probe ship that is programmed to Reinhardt's course.
    Charlie: You mean we're going into the black hole?
    Dan: yep.
  • Bully Hunter: After hearing how Captain S.T.A.R. did something nasty to Old B.O.B. in payback for losing a shooting contest, V.I.N.CENT. decides to return the favour by out-shooting the android (including 'accidentally'' hitting him with a ricochet) causing Captain S.T.A.R. to blow a fuse.
  • 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.
  • Call-Back: A meta example; during the segment where V.I.N.CENT pulls up silhouettes of spacecraft in trying to identify what turns out to be the Cygnus, one craft is named as Space Probe 1. Space Probe 1 was an early working title for the movie.
  • Chair Reveal: A nicely underplayed version. The protagonists enter a huge bridge manned by silent black-robed figures. Maximillian floats down from an upper deck and deploys whirling cutting blades. Just when things are getting tense, a nearby chair swivels round from its console to introduce Dr. Hans Reinhardt.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The probe ship. There are two scenes that show how Reinhardt sends a probe ship near the black hole and back before sending the Cygnus in. These scenes seem unnecessary until both the Palomino and the Cygnus are destroyed or severely damaged, and the probe is the last ship standing and both sides scramble to reach it.
    • V.I.N.CENT. gives some exposition about experiments sending models of his type into black holes and attempting communication with ESP-capable scientists outside. In the novelization this is why Reinhardt tries to keep Kate on the ship, so she can communicate with V.I.N.CENT. on the Palomino. In the end Kate uses her ESP to link everyone into a Hive Mind so they will survive the black hole by ascending to a higher plane.
  • Collapsing Lair: Inverted when Reinhardt is killed in the destruction of the Cygnus. It's also a Justified Trope given that the Cygnus is being crushed in the intense gravity of the black hole.
  • 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.
  • Comm Links: All of the Palomino crew have their transmitters on or just below their collars. Dan is the only one shown to use his, which Reinhardt mockingly imitates at one point. Kate's ESP also provides covert communication with V.I.N.CENT.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The meteor storm that hits with almost divine timing, right as the story begins its climax.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: After the probe ship carrying the heroes passes through the black hole and comes out the other side it is seen heading towards a planet that just so happens to be close by.
  • Conveyor Belt o' Doom: After Kate discovers the truth about the drones, Reinhardt has her taken away to be turned into one. She barely escapes a laser lobotomy.
  • Cool Starship: The Cygnus is a sort of glass cathedral spaceship that runs on pure awesomenote .
  • Crazy-Prepared: The large laser guns on the Cygnus and all the personal laser guns carried onboard are explained in the novel as having been built in case she needed to defend herself from attacking aliens - which never happened, see also "Absent Aliens" above.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Gary Nelson plays the humanoid unmasked by Durant.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Maximillian drills a hole in Durant's chest, then throws his body onto some power busbars. In the novelization, he's "just" drilled down by Maximillian's lasers from afar.
  • Cyber Cyclops: Maximillian.
  • David Versus Goliath: Lampshaded by Reinhardt on seeing V.I.N.CENT. face off with Maximillian.
  • Deadpan Snarker: All the robots seem to inhabit a World of Snark.
    • V.I.N.CENT., thanks to his endless store of quotations.
    • B.O.B. gets a couple of snarks in, too....
      [S.T.A.R. approaches V.I.N.CENT. and B.O.B. in the shooting gallery]
      B.O.B.: Oh, Lord! He wants a rematch!
      V.I.N.CENT.: As an old navy hero once said, Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
      B.O.B.: He also said something about going in harm's way.note 
    • Maximillian even gets a silent shot in. While Dan, Charlie, and V.I.N.CENT. are in the elevator with Max, V.I.N.CENT. quotes "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." Maximillian immediately does a 180° roll to heads down in response to this, and then V.I.N.CENT gets the last word in with a 360° roll. This does not reassure V.I.N.CENT's human companions at all.
    • It's implied that doing a 360° roll is V.I.N.CENT's way of smiling and trying to be friendly. But clearly Max isn't in a friendly mood.
  • 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."
    • V.I.N.CENT's full name, "Vital Information Necessary Centralized," uses two very similar words to complete its acronym.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: Captain S.T.A.R. blows a fuse after V.I.N.CENT. beats it in a shooting contest, though that ricochet shot V.I.N.CENT. 'accidentally' put in its chest can't have helped.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Dr. Reinhardt. If the crew of faceless cloaked humanoids lead by a floating red killbot with blender blades wasn't enough of a giveaway, the man himself gives you another big hint by wearing bright red outfits for many of his scenes. The ending explicitly has him fusing with Maximillian and standing over a very Hell-like wreckage of the Cygnus like a devil.
  • 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?"). In fairness to him, this could be taken as him simply wising up after discovering that his earlier bravado would have been suicide, but... then Harry makes an ill-advised attempt to steal the Palomino and make for Earth alone, abandoning his companions to near-certain death on the Cygnus.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The way the Cygnus is destroyed. Things begin when the Palomino is eliminated by the lasers of the former as it goes out of control, damaging the Cygnus, and especially in the novelization spiral out of control thanks to the meteorites impacting and damaging her.
  • Disney Death: Averted for anyone hoping that Old B.O.B. would miraculously survive that last shootout with Maximillian.
  • Dope Slap: Amusingly inverted version, with Reinhardt triple-slapping his own forehead when rebuking Maximilian for the Sentries' failure against V.I.N.CENT. and Old B.O.B. To be fair, he would have just hurt his hand if he tried to dope slap Maximillian.
  • The Dragon: Maximillian.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: Fortunately V.I.N.CENT. has anti-gravs and the obligatory grappling hook of any Do-Anything Robot. Others aren't so lucky.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Durant rips off the shiny metal faceplate of a 'robot' to reveal a zombified human face underneath.
  • The Dreaded:
    • The eponymous black hole is described like an Eldritch Abomination that might one day devour the Universe.
    • The Palomino crew (except V.I.N.CENT., but that's likely bravado) are wary of tangling with the menacing Maximillian and even its creator claims to be afraid of it.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The heroes dress up as the faceless humanoids at one point to evade Reinhardt's sentries. It actually works pretty well... until Reinhardt orders the sentries to blast all humanoids not at their posts.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Say what you will about Reinhardt's obvious madness and psychopathy, but he was right about this particular black hole being an endpoint for a wormhole.
  • Electronic Telepathy: Between Dr. Kate McCrae and V.I.N.CENT.
  • The End Justifies The Means: Reinhardt explicitly believes this.
    Reinhardt: What would you have said, Mr. Booth, if the authorities... would have called back Columbus just before he discovered the New World? You wouldn't even exist. I'm about to prove to you that the end justifies the means.
  • Energy Weapon: Glowy but otherwise fairly realistic — they produce beams rather than "bolts", and leave burn marks everywhere.
  • 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.
  • Evil Plan: Actually averted, at least initially, with regards to the Palomino and its crew. As Reinhardt explains to Alex and Kate, he knows the trip through the black hole is a one-way journey; all he wants is for the Palomino to observe and record as much as possible, with no indication of keeping the visitors with him. It's not until Alex decides to stay on board and Reinhardt is made aware that Holland, Kate and the others have discovered the fate of the original crew that things escalate.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Cygnus control tower, with its menacing appearance, fits well the trope before being torn free of the Cygnus near the very end, as the ship disintegrates
  • Explosive Decompression: Several guard bots are blown out of the hydroponics dome when a meteor makes a hole in the roof. Also in the novelization it's mentioned explosive decompression is a rotten and messy way to die. Reinhardt experiences it, his eyes bulging out as the Cygnus control tower is torn away due to the black hole's intense gravity, that is, if he wasn't already dead from having the display screen fall on him.
  • Expy: V.I.N.CENT. is a slightly less effeminate, and considerably more competent version of C-3P0 (with an R2-D2 style body). Or perhaps what R2-D2 would sound like if it could speak.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: Except for the Gainax Ending, the entire film takes place over, at most, twelve hours.
  • Facial Dialogue: V.I.N.CENT. can do this despite being a Tin-Can Robot with mock eyes, by raising (indicating surprise or pain) and lowering (usually Oh, Crap!) his top cover.
  • Failed Future Forecast: 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.
  • 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.
  • Fantastic Racism: V.I.N.CENT. is regarded as a member of the Palomino's crew, but ironically claims not to like other robots. He has a snobbish attitude to the Cygnus androids, but gets on fine with B.O.B., an earlier model of the same type of robot. In turn the androids and Maximillian bully B.O.B and (unsuccessfully) attempt the same with V.I.N.CENT.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The novelization mentions the Palomino at the very least being equipped with a form of FTL drive system with the disadvantage of when it's activated close to a large mass concentration pushing against the ship, likely destroying it.
  • Fate Worse than Death: It's somewhat ambiguous if the humanoid shapes seen in the "hell" sequence in the ending are supposed to be the same humanoid robots that made up the ship's crew. If it is those same humanoids actually the original crew, which Reinhardt had lobotomized into wretches too mindless to even notice their ship collapsing around them then they apparently spend the rest of eternity trapped in a hellish landscape and watched over by their master, without even the hope of death to free them. Ouch.
  • For Science!: Dr. Reinhardt's ostensible motivation for entering the black hole and seeing what's on the other side. Also Dr. Durant's, for wanting to follow Reinhardt.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Doubles as a Genius Bonus. On scenes where Reinhardt is seen on his command post, you can see on the screens the two pathways used by stars to fuse hydrogen -the CNO cycle and the proton–proton chain reaction.
  • 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), 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. It was later revealed that Disney considered an ongoing series, with the astronauts on an adventure-every-week format based on the ending.
  • Going Down with the Ship: Reinhardt says he stayed with the Cygnus (though he admits his flair for the dramatic gesture is responsible) when ordering the crew to Abandon Ship, and claims to be surprised they never made it back to Earth.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Booth slips away to snoop around the ship, and urges the others to take over the Cygnus and take it back to Earth so they'll be heroes. He changes his tune when his own life's at stake though.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Dr. Reinhardt has the mad scientist's disheveled long beard.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Durant's death was shot in such a way that the damage of getting drilled to death can't be seen, so the film could avoid an R rating.
  • Gun Twirling: Captain S.T.A.R. spins its laser pistols after winning a round of target shooting. V.I.N.CENT one-ups him by spinning its entire body while still hitting the target.
  • 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. It's actually pretty effective when laying down suppressive fire, though it's not so great for pinpoint accuracy.
    • 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 20,000 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!
  • Historical In-Joke: When Reinhardt is trapped under the viewscreen, watching the control room collapse around him, he says "More light," which were the last words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  • Hover Bot V.I.N.Cent, B.O.B. and Maximillain are floating robots. Maximillian is humanoid but with no feet, while V.I.N.Cent and B.O.B. are spherical floating torsos with retractable arms, legs, and heads.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: Reinhardt would've avoided so much trouble if he had just remembered to keep B.O.B. out of reach from the Palomino crew instead of letting it become pals with V.I.N.CENT. and telling it what actually happened to the crew of the one else on the ship could have told them anything, since they're all robots without speech capability. In the novelization, B.O.B. explains that Reinhardt and Maximillian missed reprogramming him to be obedient, as they did all the other robots on the ship, because he was deactivated during the mutiny, and he has survived with his personality intact since then by acting like he had been reprogrammed.
    • Reinhardt again in regards to Maximillian. It wasn't very smart to create a robotic assistant that is physically superior to you, has an aggressive personality, a mind of its own, and clearly demonstrates a tendency to think it over before deciding to follow your orders. You'd think Reinhardt would have been smart enough to install a remotely controlled kill switch in Maximillian, but his arrogance could have also caused him to not even consider the thought that he couldn't control his own creation...until Maximillian started displaying behavior that he clearly didn't anticipate, and by then it would have been too late.
    • The Cygnus was the vessel Kate's father was stationed aboard. Harry Booth met Reinhardt and was well aware of the scientist's history re: the Cygnus. Yet no one recognizes the vessel at first sight, forcing Vincent to scroll through several wildly incompatible options (including space stations, not voyaging craft) before finally confirming it to be the Cygnus. That's like the daughter of the captain of a space shuttle mission not being able to recognize the shuttlenote .
    • The novelization adds a couple of lines of dialogue making it clear that the comparisons to the other ships is mostly a formality, to make sure some bureaucrat back on Earth doesn't second guess them later.
    • The whole Palomino crew regarding the fate of the original Cygnus crew: The humanoid drone robots holding funerals, some of them limping, Reinhardt keeping a greenhouse orchard large enough to feed an army... and no one connects the dots. Heck, when V.I.N.CENT. secretly communicates the solution to Dr. McCrae, she's shocked enough that Reinhardt notices something's not right.
  • 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.
  • Immortality: The novelization explains that Reinhardt wants to plunge the Cygnus into the black hole hoping to emerge in an Universe where normal time does not flow, thus obtaining eternal life or nearly so that way.
  • Immune to Bullets: Maximillian to lasers. Not to a drill, though.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The sentry robots. Justified... somewhat... in that their laser guns are double-barreled and apparently meant to be held Guns Akimbo style. The sentries aren't bad at laying down suppressive fire (as shown when they pin the crew down just before Harry decides to take off without them), but they have terrible aim when trying to actually hit them. Unfortunately this contradicts the precision with which our heroes had their weapons blasted from their hands when they first came on board (though this was not done by the sentries, but by a mounted, computer-controlled system).
  • Incoming Ham: As noted by Booth, Reinhardt has a flare for the dramatic, waiting for just the right moment for his Chair Reveal.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "Maximilian Schell in Maximillian's shell in Maximilian's Hell" 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. It predated the trope maker by a year.
  • Jump Scare: While tame by today's standards - and even by late-1970s standards - Alex's unmasking of a "robot," revealing a groaning, zombie-like face undernearth had no precedent in a Disney live-action film and was quite disturbing for the time.
    • While Holland is snooping around, a sliding door whooshes opens right next to him to reveal a glowering Maximillian.
  • 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.CENT., in much the same way that he had eviscerated Dr. Durant.
  • Killer Robot:
    • Maximillian: A single glaring red eye, a barely-humanoid frame, and those damn drill-claws.
    • The S.T.A.R serve as Mecha-Mooks, each armed with twin under-over laser pistols.
  • 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.: You and your friends are in GRAVE danger.... This is a death ship.
    • Interestingly, while B.O.B.'s dialogue is hammy, Slim Pickens chose to underplay the line, delivering it in a matter-of-fact way. It works better than one might expect.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Harry gets a very literal dose of this when he tries to steal the Palomino, which is promptly destroyed by a barrage from the laser cannons of the Cygnus.
  • Leave No Man Behind: When he finds out the truth about the Cygnus, Holland has no interest in dangerous heroics; he just wants to leave in the Palomino. However when Kate is captured he leads the others to rescue her, telling Pizer to leave without him If I Do Not Return. When he's pinned down on the way back Holland orders Pizer to leave, but Pizer rushes to the rescue instead. Booth however fakes a leg injury so he can slip back and take off without them.
  • Living Legend: Reinhardt, who got the United States government to fund his vanity project as a national enterprise. The failure of the Cygnus mission means his reputation has taken a nose dive back on Earth, but Durant is still in awe of him.
  • Mad Scientist: Reinhardt ticks all the boxes: great genius, huge ego, Large Ham, refusal to accept the boundaries of society, morality or physics as we know it. The only person he shows genuine empathy for is a fellow scientist who shows unquestioning awe of his genius. He also has no hesitation in using human beings as raw material for his grandiose project.
  • Magical Security Cam: Reinhardt watches the Palomino crew with one of these late in the movie.
  • Meaningful Name: The Cygnus, named after the first suspected black hole.
  • Mecha-Mooks: The sentry robots. Since they're only robots (and they aren't cute like V.I.N.CENT. and B.O.B.), when it's time to have a gun battle the protagonists have no compunctions about blasting them apart by the dozens.
  • Nightmare Face: The brief glimpse of the "humanoid-robot's" face when Durant removes the reflective faceplate; although technically still alive, the crewman's face resembles that of a corpse, and the eyes seem on the verge of hemorrhaging.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine
    Dan Holland: It's only dinner.
    V.I.N.CENT: "... said the spider to the fly."
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Booth steals the Palomino before the others can get back to it, but ends up doing them a favour as Reinhardt was intending to blast the spaceship the moment it got clear. Alarmed by Booth's inept piloting, Reinhardt orders the Palomino blasted out of the sky but the wreckage still crashes into the Cygnus, heavily damaging it.
  • Novelization: by Alan Dean Foster.
  • Our Doors Are Different: The requisite hatches that slide up, down, apart and sideways. In one scene a door slides up halfway from the deck, providing cover for the Killer Robots' lower half while they fire over the top.
  • 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. This is averted in the novelisation.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The "pupils" of B.O.B. and V.I.N.CENT.'s eyes are pretty obviously simply black buttons, 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.
    • S.T.A.R. gets a good one despite not having any facial features (it helps that his performer, Tommy McLoughlin, is a mime) when V.I.N.CENT challenges him to a shooting contest. He knows V.I.N.CENT's model of robot can outgun him (B.O.B. shot circles around him once, and he only won the rematch by cheating), he can't push V.I.N.CENT around... and dozens of other sentries are watching. S.T.A.R. most likely knows that this is not going to end well for him.
    • Kate has a serious Oh, Crap! when V.I.N.CENT tells her the true nature of the humanoid robots.
    • Alex has a similar one a moment later, when he sees the lobotomized Cygnus crew member himself.
  • 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 implant 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.
  • Quote-to-Quote Combat: A brief example between Charlie and V.I.N.CENT (who tends to talk in quotes):
    Charlie: You know what they say about "all work and no play".
    V.I.N.CENT: "All sunshine makes a desert." So the Arabs say.
  • Railing Kill: Several of the bridge crew start going this way when the meteorites are pounding them.
  • 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: 20,000 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.
    • The original concept for the film was The Poseidon Adventure IN SPACE!!, and it shows in the last twenty minutes.
  • 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. Even the so-called 'black' hole turns red-and-black just before it is entered, and it is compared to something out of Dante's Inferno throughout.
  • 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.
      • Charlie correctly shoots this down: "I'm sure that's not what he had in mind. He was trying to save his own skin!"
  • Reinventing the Telephone: Dr. McCrae's ESP does have a necessary function plotwise; to allow Kate and V.I.N.CENT. to exchange information without Reinhardt and Maximillian overhearing. And it appears to be a more reliable means of transmission than radio, as she was able to make contact when V.I.N.CENT. had lost comms while doing repairs outside the Palomino.
  • 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.
  • Sequel Hook: The ending left the door wide open for a follow-up movie featuring the Palomino crew's adventures through the black hole, but no sequel was ever produced. However there was a comic book adaptation by Whitman Comics that did this.
  • Ship Tease: The film is virtually devoid of romance, however, the film surprisingly provides ship tease moments between not only Kate and Holland (who at one point gives Kate a chaste kiss after saving her life), but also Kate and Durant. Possibly not surprising given she's the only female on board the Palomino. (In the novelization, and in earlier screenplays, Holland and Kate were in a relationship.)
  • Shooting Gallery: V.I.N.CENT. shows off its superior shooting skills in a competition with Captain S.T.A.R on a laser shooting range. The latter is such a Sore Loser it blows a fuse, though V.I.N.CENT. 'accidentally' ricocheting a beam into S.T.A.R's chest in payback for cheating can't have helped either.
  • Shout-Out: After the combined Reinhardt and Maximillian are left in hell, the other characters' journey through heaven is depicted by a single long multiplane shot reminiscent of the Ave Maria segment in Fantasia (the segment in that film meant to represent the "sacred," following the "profane" of the demons in "A Night On Bald Mountain").
    • The end sequence can possibly be considered a major one to Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, with Dr. Hans Reinhardt and Maximilian joining the Cygnus's ruins in Hell, the remaining voyagers journeying past the Cygnus's wreckage and through the black hole as Purgatory, and meeting the angelic figure as they journey through bright, luminescent cathedral-shaped doors as they approach a planet as their journey towards Heaven.
  • Slow Doors: Averted; the doors are fast, and one cuts off the crew from the Palomino as it's about to launch without them.
  • Sound-Only Death: Durant's murder.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Old B.O.B. (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.
  • Starship Luxurious: The Cygnus is constructed on a grandiose scale to match Dr Reinhardt's ego, more suited to a generation ship than a vessel of exploration. Booth makes some sardonic comments on how much taxpayers' money was wasted to build it.
    • Given more overt justification in the novelization. The ship's deep-space exploration mission was originally expected to be multi-generational in the first place, with a crew of about a thousand to maintain it and pass control over to their descendants over time. Technology Marches On later left the ship obsolete; it's said that the Palomino can cover the same mission in 5 years with a crew of less than 10 that it would've taken the Cygnus decades with its full complement to perform. That same obsolescence is what motivated the recall of the Cygnus in the first place.
  • The Stoic: Dr. Reinhardt is presented this way at least in the novelization, with Harry Booth's remarks being the one most close to put him out of his senses.
  • Stumbling Upon the Lost Wizard: The protagonists stumble upon the lost scientist Dr. Reinhardt alone on a giant ship full of robots some of who turn out to be the original crew with mind-control implants, plus big robot Maximillian as The Dragon. The eponymous black hole is the Negative Space Wedgie.
  • Swirly Energy Thingy: The funnel-shaped accretion disc around the black hole.
  • Technobabble: Most visible in the novelization. Of course it comes with the territory...
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Between robots, would you believe. The crew and Dr Reinhardt have to tell off V.I.N.CENT. and Maximillian from trying to one-up each other.
  • 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.
  • Tim Taylor Technology; In the novel, what dooms the Cygnus is damage to her antimatter engines, not the anti-gravity projectors, after the Palomino crashes into it. Reinhardt tries several times to increase the output of the working ones to increase both speed and the strength of the anti-gravity field, but in vain.
  • 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 less than sane until it's too late.
    • Harry Booth attempts to escape by himself in the Palomino, despite not knowing how to fly it.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: One trailer for the movie showed Durant's death and Kate's rescue.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole: The movie depicts the black hole as a giant space whirlpool. Especially evident near the end of the film, where closeups show it as a giant red whirlpool. In recent years the scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson has been very vocal in his criticism of how the titular black hole was treated in this film. In its defense, at the time the film was made much less was known about black holes (for example, the first simulation of the actual look of one surrounded by an accretion disk came in the same year it was released).
  • 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 blemish 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 (perhaps via the same kind of mental link that V.I.N.CENT and Dr. McCrae have), 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. Likewise the humanoid crew of the Cygnus.
  • Visual Pun: Looks like Reinhardt ended up wearing Maximilian, that is, Maximilian Schell is inside Maximilian's shell note 
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Kate covers her mouth to keep from throwing up when she sees the Nausea Fuel of the face of the lobotomized Cygnus crew member
  • Wham Line: From Reinhardt after Maximilian kills Durant:
    Hans Reinhardt: Protect me from Maximilian.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Averted; the captain makes it clear that V.I.N.CENT. is regarded as one of the crew.
    (Holland stops Pizer leaving his post to rescue V.I.N.CENT. who is Dramatic Space Drifting)
    Pizer: What if it were one of us out there?
    Holland: V.I.N.CENT. is one of us.


Video Example(s):



V.I.N.CENT. almost looks like a toy robot and he's also one heckuva crack shot able to hit targets while spinning.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / BadassAdorable

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