Disney, “The Black Hole,” and That Long, Dark Tunnel to Nowhere

“The time has come to liquidate our guests.”

The Black Hole may well be the term Disney uses to refer to their 70s-80s output, a dark and fallow period in their history, and not this amusing, messy space epic that netted Disney their first PG rating ever.

I’m here to say that I wish Disney was making more movies like this one. Sure, it’s very much a film made in response to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars: A New Hope, with shades of BSG, and overshadowed by Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which came out the same year, but there’s something admirable on display here, even if I’m not quite sure what it is.

I’m immediately in from the opening, sweeping overture over black from future favorite John Barry (a guy with 132 composing credits to his name, including many a Connery-Bond picture).

From there, we join the USS Palomino in their galactic search for habitable life. The most Man thing is to leave a beautiful home with an abundance of life (and problems) to search for more, different life, but more accurately: the unknown. The romantic unknown is always more appealing than the drudgery of the day to day, the responsibility at home. I’m writing this eight hours away from home in part due to some stupid, vague expectation that I’ll be different here and get more done. (I’m not and I don’t.)

Quite quickly, the Palomino and their crew happen upon the largest Black Hole they’ve ever seen. Even more curious is an old spacecraft somehow anchored in place, immune to the Black Hole’s immense gravitational pull. This ship turns out to be a long lost spaceship from Earth that never returned: the USS Cygnus. It may as well be named the Sickness (which, admittedly, is what I thought they were saying for most of the movie).

Onboard, the crew only finds one man — the infamous Hans Reinhardt (Chris Pine’s character from A Wrinkle in Time must be a fan of Maximilian Schell). Reinhardt is joined by a bunch of eerie, faceless companions he’s created to power the ship and it’s immediately obvious that Matt Damon’s Interstellar character takes after this not-so-gentleman.

The crew of the Palomino are split on what to do with this reunion; many of them idolize the heroic Dr. Reinhardt. That crew includes Robert Forster as a Han Solo-type, Joseph Bottoms as Luke without the force, Ernest Borgnine as a grumpier Chewbacca, Anthony Perkins as Not-Lando, and Yvette Mimieux as Princess Leia with ESP that she can only use to communicate with robots. Which is neat, because the breakout star onboard is VINCENT the floating trash can, er, robot, voiced by THE Roddy McDowall. VINCENT only speaks in idioms like the cloying daily calendar featured in your cubicle and, oh, do I love him so. I wish we lived in the universe where VINCENT became the world’s most popular toy.

But it’s not surprising we aren’t, because The Black Hole mostly feels like a messy pastiche of what came before it. That said, there are some pungent themes afoot. The name Cygnus references Zeus on his way to another one of his affairs. As long as Earth is in danger of dying, space travel is just that: an affair, a reboot for whom only the rich get to be part of.

This is Dante’s Inferno in space, about man’s unceasing desire to travel into that long, dark tunnel to nowhere. For science, sure, but mostly for glory, for ego, because we all know there’s no coming back from a black hole. Men like Hans don’t have to pay the full price for their hubris — it’s the people forgotten back home that do. At least Apocalypse Now is quicker than Apocalypse Later.

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Andrew Greene

Andrew Greene

A writer & traveler when his cat allows, located in glittering Glendale, CA.