Film Review: The Black Hole (1979)

Also known as: Space Station One, Space Probe (working titles)
Release Date: December 18th, 1979 (London premiere)
Directed by: Gary Nelson
Written by: Gerry Day, Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Barbash, Richard Landau
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall (voice – uncredited), Slim Pickens (voice – uncredited), Tom McLoughlin

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[to Reinhardt] If there’s any justice at all, the black hole will be your grave!” – Kate McCrae

I love science fiction from this era but that’s also probably because it’s the sci-fi I grew up with in the ’80s.

The Black Hole was always one of my favorite films when I was really young and I wore out the VHS tape in the same way I did TRON, The Last Starfighter, Logan’s Run and the original Star Wars trilogy.

This is just incredibly imaginative, a ton of fun and it channels 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea quite well.

The film is about a small crew in a small vessel that come across a seemingly derelict spaceship of massive size. The ship, the Cygnus, sits at the edge of a black hole. However, the small crew soon discover that the ship is inhabited by a scientist named Reinhardt, who is essentially Captain Nemo in space. And with Maximilian Schell playing the role, he comes across with the same sort of eloquent authority as James Mason’s Nemo from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues.

The rest of the cast is also solid, especially the three male character actors: Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine. Not to mention the sweet and lovely Yvette Mimieux and the uncredited voice performances by Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who play the two good robots.

As the story rolls on, we discover Reinhardt’s sinister plan, meet his robot army and also discover that many of his robot crew are the deceased, zombie-like crew members that have been modified by Reinhardt to serve his nefarious purposes and fulfill what he sees as his destiny: entering the black hole.

Even though this came out two years after the original Star Wars, the film shows what almost all other sci-fi films of the time show, that big studios hadn’t yet caught up to the artistry and special effects mastery of George Lucas and Lucasfilm. But that’s okay, as late ’70s into early ’80s science fiction almost has its own unique style apart from Star Wars.

The Black Hole is visually similar to films like Logan’s Run and Saturn 3, as well as shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In the 25th Century. However, The Black Hole feels more fantastical and looks better than those other properties.

It is both dark and bright, it uses a lot of color in almost a vivid and vibrant giallo style while employing shadows, high contrast and the use of electronic starship instruments to accent the general cinematography. The film also does a fine job of creating an environment that feels as cold as space, despite its liveliness.

The one thing that really works in this film, above all else, is the musical score. This is my favorite soundtrack that John Barry has composed outside of his more famous James Bond work. The opening overture followed by the opening credits and title theme are stupendous and set the stage for something sinister, brooding and cool.

By the end, the movie gets really bizarre and kind of channels Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the score is really the glue that holds all the pieces together, allowing you to embrace this unique and neat motion picture.

They don’t make films like this anymore. And I don’t mean that in regards to the visual style and the dated effects. What I mean is in the way this tells a compelling story with a good adventure, some real darkness and a sort of coolness that Hollywood has lost.

I love The Black Hole because it really is cinematic magic. Modern audiences would probably disagree and think of it as a relic of the past that should probably be remade as a Disney+ exclusive movie starring Charlie Hunnam. But those people are dumb. Well, Disney has become dumb too, so this may happen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s and early ’80s sci-fi.

Film Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Also known as: Dr. Strangelove (informal title), Edge of Doom, A Delicate Balance of Terror (both US working titles)
Release Date: January 29th, 1964 (UK & US)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George
Based on: Red Alert by Peter George
Music by: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Shane Rimmer

Hawk Films, Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.” – President Merkin Muffley

This is my 1000th film review since starting Cinespiria back in November of 2016. That’s a lot of movies watched in 18 months. Granted, I did filter in reviews from other sites I worked on before this one. Anyway, I wanted review number 1000 to be something special. I chose Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb not because it was my favorite film but because it was partially responsible for putting me on my path of not just loving to watch movies but loving to intimately understand them.

When I was in film studies in high school, back in the mid-’90s, Dr. Strangelove was the first Stanley Kubrick film that we watched out of three; the other two were 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. While I had seen some of Kubrick’s films before this, it was this experience that really made me learn who the director was and why he was so important and one of the greatest auteurs that ever lived.

Dr. Strangelove isn’t my favorite Kubrick picture but it is still one of my favorite movies of all-time. But I’d say that Kurbick would probably own four spots in my personal top ten.

I love this movie. It is exceptional in a way that films aren’t anymore. I’m not saying that filmmakers today aren’t capable of greatness, they certainly are, but Kubrick could touch any genre and leave a very distinct and very powerful mark.

Dr. Strangelove is a terrifying film, at its core, but it mixes a war story with comedy. Yet, despite its absurdity in several scenes, none of what happens seems all that implausible. Kubrick had that power, the ability to make something seemingly ridiculous and also very real, at the same time. I can only imagine that this film was even more effective when it was current during the height of the Cold War and just over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kubrick did an amazing job shooting and capturing this film. He collaborated with cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who over his career, worked with Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, Roman Polanski and Mike Hodges. The two men really capture lightning in a bottle in nearly every scene. All of the material shot in the War Room is superb. In fact, the War Room scene has gone on to inspire countless films over the last half of a century.

The centerpiece of the film is Peter Sellers, who performed three different key roles within the film. All three roles were very different characters. The reason why this happened, is that Columbia Pictures originally wanted Sellers to play four roles, as they believed that the success of Kubrick’s previous film Lolita was due to Sellers’ character in that film assuming different identities. Kubrick reluctantly accepted Columbia’s demand in order to get the picture made. But frankly, it worked and it worked wonderfully. All three of Sellers’ roles in this film have become pretty iconic and all of them would steal the show if not competing for screen time against one another. Sellers should have won the Academy Award but he was beaten out by Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady.

Everyone in this really takes command of the screen, however. There are great performances by George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens and James Earl Jones, who plays a small but important role.

Additionally, the music selections for this film are fantastic and help drive the emotional narrative and growing tension.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a masterpiece that still plays well over fifty years later. It is stupendous and truly is a perfect motion picture.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other Kubrick films that deal with war: Paths of GloryFear and DesireFull Metal Jacket.