Yes, I confess that “The Black Hole” is a guilty pleasure. As someone who was born in 1970, watching “The Black Hole” or “Star Wars” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” fills me with nostalgia, a feeling that seems to endure through generations. (Witness the huge run-up in the value of 60- and 70-year-old comic books, which was largely driven by adults whose parents tossed their collections or turned them in during World War II paper drives; of course, some of those books are now so valuable that they’re the province of investors, who I don’t think feel nostalgia as much as they feel the warm glow of appreciating value.)
Of course, “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” still hold up to repeated viewings, whereas “The Black Hole” has enough flaws to make you cringe while watching it, suddenly remembering that what you thought was really cool when you were nine isn’t necessarily still as cool when you’re 34. We have Ernest Borgnine’s ham-fisted acting, Anthony Perkins’ wooden looks that make you wonder if he regretted taking the role, the flying robots that were clearly trying to capitalize on R2-D2 and C-3PO’s popularity, and of course that funky ending, a trippy hallucinogenic ride that still doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The effects in “The Black Hole” were well done, however, and John Barry’s score achieves the right mix of creepy and triumphant feelings. Maximillian Schell is also perfectly off his nut as Dr. Hans Reinhardt. As uneven as it is, “The Black Hole” is a movie I enjoy revisiting once every few years just for kicks. It’s certainly not on par with some of the really terrible stuff I liked as a kid, such as “The Land of the Lost.”
Unsurprisingly, Disney didn’t put a lot into this DVD release. The picture quality is serviceable, although the print still suffers from scratches in many places, especially during the effects sequences, which are harder to restore because of the number of elements involved. This obviously wasn’t a film worth turning over to an outfit like Lowry Digital for a digital scrubbing. Fans will appreciate the longer trailer, a relic from the past that runs over three minutes and features none of the rapid editing and over-the-top-hype that dominates today’s quickie trailers, as well as the 16-minute “Through the Black Hole” featurette, which offers matte effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw’s thoughts on the making of the film from a special effects perspective.
It probably wouldn’t shock you to learn that Ellenshaw reveals the film started production without an ending for the script, which is amazing considering that four screenwriters received credit for it. Ellenshaw even notes that he came up with his own ending, one that might have been less bizarre than the current one (which he admits he doesn’t understand either) but even more of a head-scratcher.
Too bad the DVD’s producer didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone else associated with the film. While it did flop at the box office, “The Black Hole” does have its share of fans, and it would have been interesting to hear what some of the principal creative people had to say about it, even if that meant simply doubling the length of the documentary. I always find “Here’s how it all started” footage fascinating.
The bottom line: If you’re a fan of the film (and you’ve seen it at least once since you became an adult), then this is a worthwhile purchase as you likely won’t see a two-disc Special Edition any time soon, and the featurette wasn’t found on the earlier Anchor Bay release. However, if reading this review brought on a bout of nostalgia but you haven’t watched “The Black Hole” since you were a kid, I’d advise renting it first to make sure you can at least enjoy it as a guilty pleasure.