This probably is my biggest guilty pleasure of a movie. While Star Wars was the cool film to love as a kid of the 80s, The Black Hole was something people ignored or ridiculed mostly denigrating it as a Star Wars knock off. The accusations were well deserved as the movie itself in retrospect did not age very well both as a science fiction piece as well as the science that was the center of the title. Despite all of the criticisms, The Black Hole does have a special kind of charm if you can ignore the general consensus and isolate it for what it is.
The movie starts off with a heroic overture with the background being dark. In this manner, the movie takes a cue from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and will not be the last inspiration. Eventually, the overture turns into the main theme which is bombastic and ominous, complimented by a screen of a digital graphic of a black hole that eventually has the viewer enter into it as the last note of the main theme ends.
With that we are shortly introduced to the heroes, a group of explorers whose mission was to “search for habitable life” as said by one of the science officers, Kate McCrae played by the gorgeous (and sadly now deceased) Yvette Mimieux. That line alone garnered quite a bit of controversy just by the redundancy of its own statement, which in a lot of ways demonstrate how the writers paid little attention to the core basic science within the script. The crew members are:
- Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) – A hardened, no-nonsense type
- Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) – Your overly enthusiastic, young cowboy, trigger happy lad (and the only remaining cast member alive)
- Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins) – One of the two science officers. Alex has his own set of ambitions and is prototypical as a Hollywood scientist type who longs to find truth. But he’s blind sided by his sycophancy of Reinhardt
- Dr Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) – The other science officer and supposed lover of Holland. Much of the romance subplot was edited out and only can be discovered through books, behind the scenes footage, etc. Her main ability is her ESP connection to their robot.
- Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) – A news reporter covering the crew’s adventures.
- VINCENT (voiced by Roddy McDowall) – A feisty, smart mouthed little piece of garbage (and looks like a garbage can) that annoys Charlie, is close to Kate and Dan and is the arch-nemesis of Maximilian.
The crew ride aboard a science craft called the USS Palamino, which has its course altered due to the gravitational force of a nearby black hole. So just right there you have a massive plot, uh, hole in that this gravitational issue suddenly manifests itself. Obviously, a lot less information on black holes was known at that time but the fact that the plot called for the random appearance of what Alex even calls “the most destructive force in the universe” immediately kills all credibility of this movie. Instead, this object is treated more like a whirlpool you’d encounter in an ocean as opposed to the collapsing of a star that probably would be tracked especially by humans in their time.
Regardless, after identifying the monstrosity, the crew pick up another reading which is a space craft. As they use their computer to detect which space craft it could be, Kate McCrae becomes very uncomfortable as she seems to be very familiar with the craft. Once the image of the USS Cygnus appears, she confirms her suspicions, even though her very father was one of the key crew members onboard. But you can see that the director is trying to allow the actors to act rather than demonstrate the obvious, which continues to kill the script.
At any rate, the craft becomes the center of attention because of how it manages to defy the gravitational forces of the black hole. Each crew member feels invested in investigating the ship, except the more rational Holland. Yet because his dick thinks for himself due to wanting to appease Kate, he agrees to take a quick look.
Of course, that idea turns near fatal as they make their pass and have their first bout of extreme forces with the black hole (which oddly shakes the ship despite them being in space). There’s some stupid shots like Vincent maintaining eye level with the camera as the ship itself starts to spin towards the black hole just to demonstrate the power of the gravity and a bad joke. Holland says that they can only make one pass and during this moment, they approach the darkened vessel only to see what seems like a dead ship floating. It disappoints Kate as no life seems present but they begin spinning back towards the black hole, which seems to exert even more force than before.
On this situation, they are forced to fight with gaining control over the ship. Holland and Pizer man handle the ship while parts of the ship start to break up. That motivates Vincent to move to the outside on a tether as something loosens which causes them to begin losing their oxygen supply. Eventually, Holland regains control over the ship and steers them back towards the Cygnus but Vincent’s tether breaks which almost causes him to fall towards the black hole. Pizer wants to rescue Vincent but is scolded by the logical Holland. During that argument, it’s revealed that Kate has a special ability to use ESP to contact Vincent (as opposed to their comlinks that are part of their suits but I believe the rational here was too much interference, which seems like a convenient excuse).
Either way, as they make another pass over the ship, the ship lights up and stuns the crew. As they inspect the vessel again, Kate infers that people still remain onboard from an obscure image with a silhouette against a window. As the ship is damaged, Holland surmises that they need to use the Cygnus for repair where a landing pad greets them.
Once they set down, Vincent goes to greet and caution them. Holland orders Charlie to stay aboard the Palomino while the rest explore the ship. In the foyer, a bright light beams down upon the group and blinds them. A laser from a hidden turret blasts their weapons and Vincent too. Kate checks on the android and finds that he’s fine minus his weapons. Then another door opens up where Kate concludes that they will need to go to “them.” Once they leave the foyer, the door shuts behind them and a new one opens up, revealing a pair of armed robotic sentries. Purposefully, they march towards the Palomino where Pizer awaits in isolation.
In the meantime, the rest of the crew find a air car and board, trusting that it will take them to whoever is calling the shots. Along the way they spot the control tower and presume that they’ll find their answers inside of that spot. After the air car stops, Kate enthusiastically is the first person to get off as she hopes to see her father once more. They approach an elevator that leads up towards the control tower and get in as the anticipation builds. When the double doors open up, they are greeted coldly by a massive room of various systems and non-responsive humanoids that attend to various tasks that operate the massive ship.
Kate is the first one again to speak on behalf of the crew and calls to see if her father is there. Their only response comes from a red demonic robot with a glowing unibrow. It descends towards them with Vincent trying to identify the creature. Instead, the robot produces its twin propeller blade arms threateningly and moves quickly towards the more diminutive robot.
For a brief second, it seems like the end of the journey for our heroes until a shadowy form sitting at the console introduces himself as Dr Hans Reinhardt. About as bombastic and over the top as the theme music, Reinhardt enjoys a moment as the travelers give recognition to the (in)famous scientist. We learn that Kate’s father had perished at some point during an issue with the ship. In turn, the crew was sent away but never reported to have returned.
Let me stop here and address a few things. First, the whole “Reinhardt electing to stay behind and save the Cygnus with Kate’s father” is just beyond ridiculous. So, the audience should immediately be suspicious. Obviously, Kate is distraught by all this but the one person that should have suspicion due to high intelligence is Alex Durant. Instead, he’s the one guy that will buy Reinhardt’s story, despite the sheer preposterous nature of it. Only Dan remains unconvinced, which makes him the smartest guy around in this story.
Second, something I’ve never read nor heard addressed anywhere is how Hans approaches Kate. While his gestures might seem fatherly in the manner he might act in trying to be a sort of surrogate character for Kate’s actual dad, he is quite creepy. There’s a lot of sly glances and even some level of touching where you might believe he has interest in her in more than a academic manner. Because once Vincent and Maximilian confront each other again and Dan yells at Reinhardt to “call him off,” Reinhardt’s tone towards Dan shifts into a more sinister one. In that case, I would argue that there is competition as Dan is protecting the pet/child and his girl. But again without the subplot developed, these gestures are barely implied and in many ways go to complete waste.
One other thing occurs in this scene where Pizer also has been escorted to the rest of the party. He might be the only person that Reinhardt finds affable outside of Alex. Nonetheless, Holland, Pizer and Vincent are sent to parts and storage with Maximilian while Alex, Booth and Kate are given a tour of the ship.
At the storage area, there’s a junked up version of Vincent called Bob (or Old Bob) who initially doesn’t respond verbally to the group as Maximilian is in his presence and whacks him off a table. He merely does his duty while the others begin making a list of parts for Maximilian to requisition. Holland excuses himself and goes on his own personal tour.
In the meantime, the other three scientists and Booth are shown around the power center and Booth decides to sneak off as well. One thing to note here is that at the instant Booth goes to hide, Kate distracts Reinhardt before he can take notice. Only Alex realizes that their companion has gone missing.
Back over on the air car again, Holland travels down a hall and sees the ship operating as what would be considered normal. Sentries and humanoids patrol the halls and none of them seem to notice Holland. He stops at one of the nondescript corridors and enters in a massive hallway that shows the empty crew quarters. He walks down the hall for a bit until choosing a random room to inspect. Opening up the closet, he checks out the coats then wonders for a bit before entering another section of the ship where he spots a large group of humanoids in a procession. He witnesses something being shot into space that’s body shaped. However, from behind another door opens up and it’s Maximilian. Holland again excuses himself with the old “must’ve made a wrong turn” while Maximilian stands over the procession with his glowing unibrow.
Let me pause here to comment on the hallway and crew’s quarters scene. As I wrote that part up, it dawned on me how little sense it made having that scene. At least the room portion. The hallway I know was done as an illusion where they used a mirror to pretend there were more rooms than there really were. So possibly in that sense they were trying to give us a sense of the size of the crew. But the room scene itself was a little bizarre. Holland goes in and looks around but we don’t know exactly what he’s searching for. The music is somber and it might’ve been connected to the funeral scene in a way because of how we might feel some sympathy for the missing crew. But each of those rooms seemed quite generic with the same bedding, posters, etc. Was it supposed to make us feel sympathy that there was this human crew previously living there?
Also, Holland shows zero emotion in any of this and wears the same expression everywhere. Maybe the actor was just apathetic and happy to collect a paycheck but we have no idea what he’s thinking in any of this and Forster’s inability to convey what’s on the character’s mind just made this scene feel a bit wasteful.
On another section of the ship, Booth is failing at stealthing himself around (he just looks clumsy) and stumbles across a room that randomly opens up to him. Inside, he sees only a single humanoid figure at another console. Behind the humanoid, there’s a large fogged over glass window where he goes for a closer look. He sees the ship’s garden then notices the humanoid limping away. He tries to chase after the humanoid but the being has mysteriously vanished by the time he reached outside.
Again, let me pause here to compare and contrast the two scenes with both actors’ reactions. I think Ernest Borgnine did far better in trying to express the increasing mystery of the Cygnus and its crew. When he says, “That would make you too human” it was a necessary piece of monologue that was missing from Forster’s encounter in the crew’s quarters. Now, we’re getting more suspicious of where the crew went as well as just what these humanoids are.
Back to the story. So now Pizer, Holland and Vincent are on their way to have dinner. There’s a brief discussion about what Holland encountered (there might’ve been one with the three earlier while they were repairing the ship). Along the way, they encounter a door with various sentries having target practice. Holland and Pizer suggest that Vincent hang out while the others have dinner. This gives Vincent another opportunity to speak with Bob who is strangely amongst the sentry crew here. Amongst the crew is the only black sentry in the entire ship, a robot called STAR. STAR is said to have been #1 until Maximilian was built. STAR challenges Bob to a new duel and cheats to beat the old timer. That angers Vincent into sticking up for the old guard and he calculates a purposeful misfire that triangulates at STAR when STAR attempts to cheat again and causes the robot to fall over. Impressed (I guess?), Bob invites Vincent to a secret meeting.
In the dining room, the Palomino crew are served dinner of fresh mushroom soup and wine with Reinhardt. A talk goes on where Booth tries to inquire about the garden and Reinhardt talks about his next moves. Before that though Reinhardt politely admonishes the crew about unescorted excursions within his ship where Alex and surprisingly Booth are all too happy to oblige. But the main thing is his declaration of soon entering the black hole. At the moment, he is awaiting a probe ship that is doing some last minute experiments that would confirm when/how/if he should enter. Of course, everyone except Alex thinks he’s nuts but Reinhardt is utterly convinced of his destiny. Soon the probe ship is about to dock as Maximilian informs Reinhardt and he excuses himself to inspect the outcome.
Back in the storage area, Vincent meets up with Bob to re-arm himself. Bob warns Vincent of everyone’s fears about the ship and Reinhardt, calling it a death ship. Afterwards, he takes Vincent to see what really happened to the crew. They appear at a strange unseen room where one of the humanoids lies upon a rotating table. The creature is brought under a strange lamp-like device which beams lasers into the face plate. For a brief second, you can see through the face plate that there’s a human face underneath. Bob then provides a dialog about Reinhardt capturing the crew with his sentries and Maximilian then converting them over into these creatures. Just then a pair of sentries enter behind them and Vincent blasts them apart.
Once more I will pause here to add some commentary. Going back a few steps, let’s talk about the shooting gallery scene. That scene made absolutely no sense whatsoever. You have to ask yourself why the hell would robots, especially sentries need any form of target practice at all? It obviously was meant to be recreational for them. Maybe the previous crew would’ve used it but that would make no sense either because they should’ve been scientists and explorers, not military. That’s probably why they got easily taken over in the first place.
Next, why the hell would Bob just be randomly hanging out there? He wasn’t doing anything useful. If STAR beat him up so badly, why would he want to be around more of those sentries? An STAR himself made no sense. He was the only sentry with some semblance of emotion in the way he got frustrated and bullied Bob. These little quirks added nothing and just felt like bad humor.
Anyway, back to the story. We see Reinhardt approaching the probe ship where a humanoid in a silver suit (and the only one like this) being greeted. Now, that we now that these humanoids are the crew, one has to wonder just exactly this particular humanoid is. The thing is that we’ll never find out because the humanoid only gets one more insignificant scene before disappearing from the movie altogether. And sending a humanoid on a programmable ship on an incredibly dangerous mission just is bonkers to me. What could a humanoid do that the ship wasn’t already capable of doing on its own? Reinhardt says that he would inspect his computers personally. My only thought here is how little Hollywood really knew about computers, science and space flight at this time because this is all gibberish.
Back in the dining room, Alex argues with everyone in trying to defend Reinhardt. Everyone has perfectly legitimate reasons to assert Hans is a nutcase but Alex refutes each one, despite being the logical scientist in the group. The main points here are Dan talking about the robot funeral and Booth noticing the limping humanoid. In conclusion, Dan suggests that they leave as soon as possible. Ironically (or not so by movie logic), Kate herself receives a conveniently placed ESP message from Vincent to direct Dan and the others back to the ship. So Dan, Pizer and Booth head back while Alex and Kate remain in the dining room.
En route to the Palomino, the three crew members almost bump into Maximilian and the probe ship pilot (making his only other cameo). Somehow Maximilian does not detect the three, even though their voices are loud and echo in that cavernous place as the three rush back to the ship. In turn, we return to Kate and Alex where Kate pleads with Alex not to accompany Reinhardt, believing that Reinhardt’s quest is suicidal. As the pair stare at the black hole in the distance, Reinhardt completes a biblical verse (I think) and notices that the other crew members are gone, wondering just how they were able to communicate back to them from the ship. Then he remembers Kate’s ESP abilities and greatly admires that aspect of her. Nonetheless, he gives Alex his special book of formulas and invites Alex on his journey while Kate remains skeptical.
Outside of the Palomino, Bob and Vincent debrief the other crew members of the truth behind the Cygnus. Booth is in utter shock and becomes fearful, which contradicts his earlier stance of suggesting to overcome Reinhardt and Maximilian. However, it is Dan who now wants to go with Harry’s plan except that Bob informs them that tragically the humanoids’ state is irreversible outside of death. That said, the only logical conclusion is to depart and help monitor the Cygnus’ voyage into the black hole. He urges Vincent to tell Kate the truth as well.
In the command center, Kate is wondering around feeling hopeless as Alex has now decided to accompany Reinhardt. Upon hearing the truth from Vincent though, her expression changes to horror as she glances around the room at the humanoids, now realizing whom they really are. Reinhardt begins preparing the reactors while Booth and Dan argue about taking off soon.
Now, we have Kate who has a private conversation with Alex, whispering to him about what she was informed of. Alex is now too stunned and in disbelief. But Reinhardt has possibly picked up on their discourse as he tells her that she has elected to go as well which she vehemently rejects but calms down as to not increase Reinhardt’s suspicions about her newfound knowledge. Both go off as Reinhardt tries to convince her of his vision, giving Alex the opportunity to sneak towards a random humanoid and remove his mask. Underneath, we see a gaunt man who is actually the director (from what I’ve read). Reinhardt asks, “What are you doing?” as Kate covers her mouth and nearly gags.
Then Reinhardt begins explicating his actions and his little monologue practically confirms that he’s a full sociopath. With the illusion of the ship and Reinhardt destroyed, Alex grabs Kate and runs towards the elevator in the hope to escape. Then comes one of the most non-bloody but ultra violent deaths ever: Maximilian intercepts them, using one of his blades to cuts through the book of formulas and drill into Alex’s stomach. Alex gurgles out a scream then falls into the oddly electrified elevator pit, which explodes with bright sparks that help partly cover up the bloodless hole on Alex’s chest.
Again, another major pause here. As a child, this scene was horrific. Maybe it was Alex’s gurgling death warble. Perhaps, it was the implied helicopter-like blending of Alex’s stomach. Or it could have been the explosive reaction of Alex’s body hitting the electric grid. Either way, that easily was one of the most disturbing deaths in cinema history for me. I think they chose Anthony Perkins just because he could pull off such an ominous scene, even though visually it made no sense when you slowed it down and dissected it (pun partly intended).
Let’s also talk about the strange assault by Maximilian. Of all the characters that Maximilian could have killed in this movie, he chose the most innocent and the only one that treated Reinhardt with respect. Also, why kill a scientist? Holland I could easily understand. Vincent, definitely. But Alex did nothing wrong outside of trying to help Kate escape. The only reason I can think of was more from movie logic where they wanted to turn Alex into a martyr and having him redeemed. But it still seemed impossibly dumb for this to happen.
At any rate, Reinhardt is visibly shaken and upset at Maximilian, scolding him that “he was a good man.” Maximilian quietly backs away as Kate, now crying for the loss of her friend is confronted with her back to the elevator as Reinhardt requests, “Protect me from Maximilian.” Then Kate gives one of the coldest lines in the movie with “If there’s any justice at all, the black hole will be your grave.” At that moment, the doors magically open up with a pair of sentries ready to restrain Kate McCrae with one reaching out to place a solid grip on her delicate shoulder. With his remaining humanity (and possibly sanity) depleted, he soullessly orders his sentries to, “take the young lady to the hospital.”
That has to be one of my favorite lines in the movie. But I won’t go into why. Instead, let’s talk about Reinhardt’s initial line of “Protect me from Maximilian.” Apparently, the line was an impromptu one that somehow fit in the scheme of things. Part of it is ironic since the actor’s name is Maximilian. But it really works if you think about how the scientist is losing his grip. In a way, Maximilian represents Reinhardt’s Id as part of Freudian psychology where Maximilian is practically the one running the ship and acting whimsical. So it seems in this moment that Reinhardt is losing control over his own creation, which again symbolically is his sanity.
But it’s even odder for him to ask Kate McCrae to be the one to protect Reinhardt from Maximilian as a bizarre plea. Again, because of his complete despondence after Kate denounces him, I can only suspect that Reinhardt wanted Kate to accompany him because there are no other women on his ship. All the kindness he had shown is my interpretation of how he eventually wanted to romance her with his charm. And if we go with the idea that Maximilian is his uncontrollable Id, then he needs Kate/a woman to calm down his inner impulses. Regardless, we don’t really know much more than what’s hinted here because none of these characters are really developed.
Returning to the show, the crew hear from Reinhardt that they are cleared for takeoff and he lies that both Alex and Kate are accompanying him. Booth begins to go on a tirade but not before Vincent receives an ESP message from Kate about what just occurred in the command tower. Immediately, Holland decides to go on a rescue mission, taking Vincent and Bob but having Pizer and Booth to remain with the Palomino. As that goes on, Reinhardt instructs his crew to start the voyage into the black hole. Shots between the rescue team heading towards the hospital, sentries uncovering the decimated bodies near the hospital and Kate being escorted on the air car are shown with Reinhardt concluding that he needs to “liquidate their guests.”
So one more pause. This is where the movie starts to really break down. Right up until this point, the movie had a sense of mystery but we really didn’t know where it would go. Then after Alex’s death, the real motivation of the movie comes out where it goes from mystery/gothic horror to straight out Star Wars space opera. But these small scenes being played together don’t make sense outside of increasing the pace. And the next scene is the culprit of where things get stupid.
And we now get to the infamous hospital scene. Let me preface this to say this is my favorite moment in all of cinema history. Nothing comes close. If there’s a sheer guilty moment for my ultimate pleasure, this one chapter is it. We come to a slow pullout shot of the reflection of a humanoid’s mask, the operator within the table of one of these rotating beds (one person called it a Lazy Susan) where the ominous music is now blaring in full force while a bound Kate McCrae in a silver PVC or nylon medical bag, covered from neck to toe with her head additionally covered by an aluminum foil cap slowly makes its way towards one of these low hanging operating laser lamps. She seems to be completely unmoving in this silver bag and the surgeon humanoid, despite being human, merely carries on his task with precise coldness.
The table eventually stops beneath one of these lamps and beams down blue lasers that drill into a single pinpoint on her forehead where she groans very loudly. Precisely, with only a few seconds later, Holland bursts on in and shoots the operating mechanism apart. A ridiculous shootout occurs as the robots and Holland engage with the sentries guarding Kate McCrae, some taken by surprise as their duty was to watch Kate and prevent her from possibly rolling off. Bob takes on the operating table itself blasting away at the controls while Holland makes his way towards Kate. Oddly, he is shown not directly towards her but just the table so that one of the sentries he blasted could swipe his leg.
So he falls onto the still moving table as he and the sentry wrestle above one of the red recess molds en route to an activated operating beam. Eventually, Holland wrestles the sentry over to expose its face to the beam, which causes it to explode. Now, free of the menace, Holland rolls back to heroically lift Kate from her mold as the table continues to move her towards the activated beams. There’s a few last minute stragglers of a sentry that enters which Vincent knocks out while Kate and Holland share a moment before leaving the hospital.
Major pause here. Again, my absolute favorite scene in all of cinema. I won’t go into why but I probably have seen this scene alone in the 10s of thousands of times. But before I pick it apart and talk circles about it and other issues that relate to this scene, let me first talk about the problems. First, just how the hell did Holland the robots arrive precisely in the nick of time? In the novel (and possibly other sources), there’s clear references of Kate using her ESP to plead with Vincent to get there faster. Nonetheless, he shows up right on time as the beam has affected her for at least a few seconds. That is so outrageously infuriating that it’s the one thing that angers me about the way this was one in the worst possible manner.
Second, let’s talk about Holland shooting an operating mechanism that’s beaming who knows what into the woman he supposedly loves. I get that he’s saving her, but we can only infer that these mechanisms affect the brain. They’re supposed to re-program people in a manner that even Bob can’t understand. So how could Kate even survive the sudden destruction of something that was in effect rearranging the neurons in her brain? Shouldn’t she be a vegetable right after that?
Well, to be fair if you look at the scene that follows, you see Kate with a blank look on her face. Quite honestly, I couldn’t tell if that was Yvette Mimieux, another actress or some dummy because there was no emotion, not even blinking from her. So it could very well be that the director instructed her to act like a vegetable as she was recovering. Because we don’t see her moving or making any noise until Holland is ready to lift her from the human recess.
Then let’s discuss what the fuck is that operating mechanism supposed to be. This probably is the worst designed concepts I’ve seen from a practical point of view and consistency as well. Going back to the first hospital scene where the humanoid was on the receiving end of the treatment, how is that his glass face mask didn’t explode in a similar manner as the sentry’s did? I know that the scene itself probably was done in that manner for shock value. But you still could have had some surgeon remove the face plate for a brief second so the humanoid would receive the treatment normally. Next, why are there six of these surgical lamps around a rotating table? They all look the same and there’s no way to distinguish what they do. I mean, you have Kate slowly moving under one. Then once that lamp was destroyed, she slowly moves towards another. Why didn’t the robots just place her under one in the first place so she wouldn’t have to move at all? Yes, this whole scene is a cheap ripoff from a James Bond type of notion, but at least have it make some sense.
Finally, I want to talk about the bag she was in and the foil placed on her head. I’ve privately dealt with this issue but I figured it’s worth writing about here just because I’m addressing a sleuth of issues. The bag was an interesting choice because of material and patterns. I’ve often wondered why that choice was made. Then I’ve seen a few other science fiction shows around that time like Battlestar Galactica where they used similar blankets. So maybe these people got some deal after seeing something from a science show. But the various books were quite vague in describing what happened to her. They would use words like “strapped down” or “restrained” without going in the mechanics. One of the coloring books had her simply placed into a mold with no restraints by the sentries while she pleaded with Vincent. Another book had a strange picture of her covered in aluminum foil from the neck down. I read online how at one of these special anniversaries that the film makers actually did a “foil job” to Yvette Mimieux. So that image is the only hint we’ll ever unfortunately see of that.
But just the decision of the material and how this was being used fascinated me for decades. We don’t know if she was further bound inside the sack. Heck, when she’s escorted on the air car, we see her arms bound behind her but again never find out what is used. Handcuffs would be ridiculous here because they’re on a ship for science exploration, not a police cruiser or even military vehicle. But you have to imagine that she would struggle inside just because of the nature of the operation table. The bag did look very tight though and stretchy but strong enough to keep her securely bound. I think the material itself was chosen, outside of looking science-y, because it would be easy to clean once the surgeons did their deeds. I’ve seen PVC material that’s used for similar devices or ski suits made of shiny silver nylon with insulation. The latter is good in cold conditions obviously. So I think that a victim would be bound in one of these things to keep their temperature at a reasonable level while they were operated on.
Finally, there’s the infamous foil piece. I feel so bad for Yvette Mimieux because it’s quite possible that this scene, the terrible line at the beginning of the movie and her haircut which just looks out of place despite her being one of the most beautiful persons to have ever existed, collectively killed what remained of her career. Yvette would still go on to act in other roles but nothing truly major even though I think she still had good stage presence and was more than a capable actress. That said, people have ripped this movie apart for her head being covered in foil because it looked (maybe rightfully so) very cheap from the costume/prop department. One of the most derogatory comments I’ve commonly read is how “she’s wrapped up like a baked potato.” Given that she’s further lasered in the brain, the comment fits and it cheapens what I think is the best scene of all time.
Logically speaking, the best way to justify that piece of foil on her head is that it’s most likely a conducting device or perhaps something to help protect her. Her hair is completely covered as is her ears. But I think the real missing piece is the “foil job” alluded to by the film makers.
You can clearly see that this is the scene that possibly was originally intended. I only recalled this scene when I was very little and at my dentist office where I spotted a magazine containing this image. It took me years until I discovered it again both on various websites and the original photo from a magazine produced by Disney. But what the hell is this supposed to be? I guess that maybe this was a prototype shot or maybe a concept that the film makers wanted to try based on stupid theories of cryogenics that had been going on around the 50s or so. But the idea I’ve read is that people would be preserved in this aluminum foil cocoons/sleeping bags then placed into cryogenic state for preservation. Then one day when a cure would be found, they would be awoken. That’s the only connection I could make in the bizarro science world that these people tried to implement. I’ve wondered that if the silver PVC bag was something that was being made beforehand and that perhaps they tried this out as a test and realized how bad it looked. I mean, in all honesty, if she was covered up in foil, it wouldn’t be hard to escape even though in this photo it seems she’s heavily covered in foil. On the other hand, maybe she has the silver PVC bag underneath as well and the foil was added to compliment her cap or be used with the thought of the cryogenics. Maybe, Yvette got mad about the ridiculousness of everything and how hot it would be inside her track suit, the PVC bag and foil all covering her up (hence the “foil job” commentary).
But this is one of those mysteries that probably will never be answered but I’m going to put out there in the hopes that someone who worked on this film could hopefully one day answer before everyone involved perishes (it was one of the questions I’ve always wanted to ask Yvette personally if I could’ve encountered her).
So another thing that I wanted to mention is one of those infamous deleted scenes.
So the top image shows Kate being escorted into the hospital itself. There’s only 4 unique images to this deleted scene in existence that I’m aware of and it’s one that I wish Disney could restore if it’s really available. There’s not a lot of information on this scene outside that it exist in the illustrated book form, the Topps Cards and a Viewmaster capture.
I did stumble across on Instagram the guy who photographed these apparently. I even got a like for a comment I made. I’m trying to reach out to the guy to see if he has more of these types of photos. It would be a major crime if we don’t try to urge him to publish them all since there’s probably a lot of great hidden material out there.
At any rate, Holland reports back to Pizer that Kate is okay and Booth is relieved. Yet it’s not a trivial task to return to the Palomino because Kate and Holland still need to bypass all the sentries. So they disguise themselves as humanoids (where they got the outfits is anyone’s guess) and trick a few sentries into getting ambushed by the two robots. They discard their disguise but still grateful it managed to get them that far. So they need to cross a section which is guarded by a group of sentries on a bridge after Reinhardt uses his security cameras to inform his troops to put up a heavier defense between medical and the Palomino.
There’s a small fire fight that breaks out as Kate and Holland continue to make their way back. Because of their success, Reinhardt goes into a rant at Maximilian and his mentality breaks down even further. Kate and Holland are close to reaching the Palomino but are intercepted by troops blocking access to the home stretch. Holland then urges Charlie to take off without them as there’s no way with the seemingly unending forces that they could make it in time. Naturally, Charlie decides to aid his captain while Booth cowardly tries to dissuade him. Just as they try to leave the Palomino, a small force of sentries shoot at them with Booth doing an awkward roll, claiming that his ankle is broken. So Charlie tells Booth to return to the ship and guard it and we see that Booth has faked his injury and locks himself away on the ship while Charlie goes to save the others.
After blasting the remaining sentries, Charlie joins up with Kate and Holland and run back to the ship where Booth makes a futile attempt to pilot it away from the ship. Because of his inability to commandeer the ship, Booth haphazardly struggles to fly it, which concerns Reinhardt into having it blown out of the sky. The move angers Charlie but Holland realizes that Booth’s fate actually did them a favor since that would’ve been them otherwise. With seemingly no options to escape, Vincent unveils one remaining one: the probe ship.
So taking a little break from the plot, I want to say that this part of the movie is just trying to tie everything together. But it’s pretty much down the drain from what the original premise seemed to promise as everything just becomes an excuse for explosions and getting rid of people. Obviously, the elderly Ernest Borgnine wouldn’t have been able to keep up much with the younger crew but I thought that his demise was a bit pathetic.
As the group continue their new route, a meteor storm strikes the ship. They end up circling somehow to the garden (how the hell is this place built in the first place?) with the sentries stalking them. Another shootout occurs in the garden where one of the meteor cracks open the ceiling and air is sucked away from the ship. They manage to eliminate the sentries while Vincent cuts open another escape/door. Now, the ship is in really big trouble as more meteors strike against the now seemingly frail exterior. They hop aboard the air cart for one last time as things get out of control. Eventually, they are forced to stop the air car as the tunnel is damaged (but not so badly that space won’t kill them?) so they use an alternate tunnel. That leads to the infamous flaming ball (meteor) scene. Ugh. I mean, it’s Indiana Jones before it happened but here it’s just so bad. I mean it’s a flaming fireball not some ice rock. And the thing just manages to roll down a massive corridor like a bowling ball. Visually, it’s great. Scientifically, the movie is in the pits.
So they escaped that and we miss a deleted scene where they have to use the droids to cross a damage catwalk. Supposedly, there was a radiation leak to that caused Dan to almost die. But thankfully that part is cut (which sucks only because there’s a fantastic ass shot by Yvette Mimieux in one of the books)
But we can’t show this for whatever reason. On a side note, I read somewhere that there were other reasons these things weren’t filmed or incorporated into the movie, mostly where Kate rides one of the robots. I suppose the way she rode the robot made it too sexually explicit for Disney. Yet those executives should really examine the true problems about a movie like this rather than nitpicking on a small issue. Go figure.
Back in the command tower, Reinhardt watches as his ship falls apart. Although the meteor storm has stopped, the ship practically is dead in the water and won’t be able to withstand the black hole, despite all the calculations (how did he not anticipate a meteor storm after his probe ship had already been to the event horizon supposedly?) As he orders Maximilian to prepare for the probe ship, the command tower starts to break apart and the large monitor falls onto Reinhardt and pins him to his desk just as Maximilian enters the elevator. For whatever reason, Maximilian either doesn’t hear Reinhardt or chooses to ignore his pleas. On the other hand, the humanoids around him only are concerned with their tasks which serves us as a reminder of what irony is regarding despots and the followers they wish would remain as obedient, unquestioning and unfeeling workers.
The crew are now getting close to the probe ship. The lighting has mysteriously turned into an eerie red and they are ambushed by Maximilian who is their last obstacle to getting to the probe ship. Maximilian cuts down Bob who protects the crew while Vincent bum rushes Maximilian literally head on and pins the devilish robot to allow his companions to escape. A small melee breaks out between the two where Maximilian uses a penis-like appendage to knock Vincent into orbit. So Vincent takes off as Maximilian decides to pursue him. Eventually, the larger robot corners Vincent and locks him between a pair of electrified magnetic arms that seem to disorient the smaller robot. However, Vincent has one last trick where a small saw cuts through the dense armor and a strange scream emits almost like Alex’s before the creature drifts off seemingly into the void of the black hole.
That leaves the crew to making their way outside IN SPACE towards the probe ship. It’s basically a large junkyard with rubble piled around the tiny ship so they must try to climb up to board (what happened to that nice little tunnel entrance anyway?) In the meantime, Vincent checks on his dying friend and makes a sad face as Bob’s lights go out forever. As the crew slowly ascend into the probe ship, Pizer trips and the force of the black hole pulls him away from the others. Of course, in reality he should be dead and the film makers justified that whole nonsense with the practicalities of putting them into some cumbersome suit. But I just think they got lazy and cheap in the end of this mess and needed something quick to finish it all off. So Vincent once more returns to save his friend and they manage to board the ship.
But as with everything in this disaster movie, not is all as it seems with the probe ship pre-programmed to Reinhardt’s coordinates, which of course means that it’s heading into the black hole too. Then comes a very surreal moment of a dualism in religious beliefs where one vision we see hell and in another heaven. None of that ending made any sense outside of doing Disney’s version of the end to 2001 but making it dumber with the religious iconography. Reinhardt supposedly is shown in hell meeting with Maximilian who acts as his savior. Then as the camera pulls away, we for once see that behind the glowing red uniborn is a pair of eyes. Really, WTF was that?
As the camera pulls away from the fiery pit with Maximilian looking above the various humanoids (assuming that’s who the rows of people walking along a trail are), the scene suddenly contrasts (along with the music) to a more angelic mood where we see an angel flying towards a gateway. Presumably, this might be Reinhardt’s ghost given how his hair was flowing in a messy state and that possibly he found eternal life and forgiveness through his suffering. But none of this is explained. Instead, the probe ship inexplicably comes out the other end of the black hole (which looks like a white star) as the crew slowly awaken from whatever existential nightmare took place and the ship heads towards a bright point in the horizon which looks like an earth-like world.
Holy crap, where to begin to disseminate the last portion of this movie? First, the film makers admitted that they had no end. So it was just a bunch of gibberish with Disney trying to give an acceptable explanation using religion to justify what happens during a black hole. Okay, so that was awful. Alan Dean Foster tried to rationalize all of that by saying the four crew mates survived via Kate’s ESP unifying them into a singular point/entity. That equally was WTF but I guess he was given nothing to figure out how to explain what happened either.
But the real debate even before any of this can occur is what the hell happened to Reinhardt and Maximilian? The best interpretation I’ve come up with on my own is that Maximilian merged with Reinhardt. It was symbolic from a Freudian point of view where the Id and the other two parts of the ego and super ego might have combined finally to represent this evil presence. So in that sense, Reinhardt would forever be trapped within this being he created, this insanity keeping a character like him jailed in this monstrosity within a hellish nightmare perpetually.
Another interpretation about the eyes that I’ve read and has been suggested is that Maximilian was Kate’s father originally. We never get a clear explanation for what happened to Kate’s father. But with the rest of the crew being transformed into the humanoids, the only thing we hear about Kate’s father is that he was killed. But a similar explanation was given to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars about his father and how Darth Vader killed Anakin. Of course, the big reveal of Vader being Luke’s father never happens until The Empire Strikes Back, which happened in 1981, so there would be no way at that time where Disney could’ve tried copying that idea from Lucas.
Nonetheless, Maximilian being Kate’s father (or a part of him) makes some sense. Someone tried to piece together the reason behind Maximilian’s ill tempered demeanor towards the crew (except Kate). That person justified that Alex represented some sort of threat to Reinhardt and that Kate’s father as this distorted reverent trapped inside a metallic body would’ve become cross and attacked Alex for trying to separate Kate from him again. I personally think that interpretation is too much of a stretch but I could believe that Reinhardt might’ve used his knowledge of androids and lobotomies to take Kate’s father and do something similar to what happened to Robocop (even though that movie happened a lot later too).
But I just think that it’s still too much of a stretch. The real issue is that they tried to give Maximilian some personality but never flushed him nor his history out much. If there was more, it’s hidden some place. I like my original interpretation just because it’s clean and simple yet is deep enough where it comes together.
The heaven and hell dichotomies were nothing more than filler since the people involved didn’t have the creative genius of a Kubrick and this was filmed at a time where religion in Hollywood was held in much stronger regard. The angel portion possibly could’ve related to some other religious iconography that never made it into the movie, namely where Kate has a vision of the Sistine Chapel where one of the angels is touching someone. But the angel himself I think is Reinhardt’s spirit just because I think he needed to be redeemed and/or forgiven rather than condemned for eternity.
Finally, we get the last scene and what happened to the crew. This is where everything just is more fantasy at this stage and speculation. The physics suggest that none of this should happen and that the crew probably were crushed if they even made it that far. But I do recall hearing theories of “white holes” at the time, which is what I imagine the opposite end of the black hole was supposed to be in the movie. The planet that we see which seemed earth-like I want to believe was meant to allow for a part 2 if the reception was positive or that the crew accomplished their original goal. Because let’s face it: that probe ship was far too tiny to maintain a crew of that size. Even if they were to have escaped the black hole, it is unimaginable how they could’ve survived. Where’ s the food? Would they have resorted to cannibalism? It’s just more nonsense that never got properly thought out.
So what’s my end verdict? No matter how stupid this movie may seem to others, I still love it. I’ll watch it at least a few times per year for the rest of my life and I’ll continue watching the hospital scene alone because I love Kate McCrae/Yvette Mimieux. If there’s one thing I’ll admit, it’s that she was my first original love in this world and it utterly crushed me that she passed away in 2022. All the questions I wanted to ask and conversations I had built up in my mind for her and this movie are now lost to time. When I think about things, I really believe for myself alone, she was the most beautiful woman in the world and I never really loved anyone else as much as her in my heart just because I’ve been touched by her through this movie ever since I first saw it in 1980.
At the end of the day, I decided I wanted to finally publish my thoughts on this movie in the hope that someone involved will read this and communicate with me about this movie. I think tragically it is one of those movies that Disney swept under the rug because they were embarrassed of its existence. It did receive a Blu-Ray treatment but from what I’ve seen, it was less than worthy of what it deserved.
The Black Hole is a very special movie because of the various things it represents in the world of cinema. First to Disney itself, The Black Hole was the last movie of its kind, being produced in house rather than outsourced. Second, it was one of the few really dark movies of its time. But from a bigger perspective, The Black Hole deserves to be part of the Big Four in that era of science fiction. The other three are Star Wars (obviously), Alien and Star Trek. Blade Runner might be in there but that’s more of a cyberpunk film these days. But for pure space opera that was meant to be science fiction, The Black Hole is right up there.
And part of the reason I think it’s so special beyond the hospital scene and Yvette Mimieux is because it’s one of those classic science fiction movies that was pre-CGI. Life long fans like myself deserve a long form treatment of this movie that goes beyond a clean up. I pointed out just the few behind-the-scenes shots that were deleted. On my own, I found a YouTube channel where an interviewer had some very rare footage of Kate and Holland flirting. How much else is there? What else does Disney have in its archives that they can do to produce a real package? I know most modern people won’t like it but I argue that this type of movie has a place.
When Yvette Mimieux passed away, I was distraught because it left only one remaining cast member. I had been worried for years that Yvette would pass because of her age, even though she seemed fit for the most part. But that’s the problem when a tremendous powerhouse like Disney does nothing to take advantage of something like this. It’s really tragic to me and I hope they still have enough material to pull together a special Blu-Ray or something. I’ve hoped for ages that they still had some of the set intact. I’ve tracked down a few costumes but those were sold off on auctions. At any rate, I hope someone at Disney eventually listens and does the right thing because it’s more than profits at stake here. This is history that’s being lost and we might not ever get it back unless effort is made to preserve it and allow it to be accessible for everyone.