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:: Saturday, December 28, 2002 ::

The Mother of All Turkeys

So things haven't been going well this holiday. You don't simply want your guests to leave the room, you want them to go home. Good for you. Bring home one of the biggest turkeys in the history of motion pictures. A film so bad, your DVD player will never look at you with the respect to which you are ordinarily entitled. A film that made critics run screaming from the theater. A film that soured kids on Disney for a whole generation. It's Disney's first PG-rated film, and it's the first film to feature CGI. It's only 95 minutes long, but you'll swear it took years off your life. Yes, it's the worst of Seventies cinema, besting Star Trek: TMP by a nose: it's The Black Hole.

The crew of the exploration vessel Palomino investigates the largest known black hole (which looks blue), and is shocked to see another spaceship drifting lazily along the event horizon. Cygnus (thought lost for 10 years) has apparently found or created an oasis of space invulnerable to the black hole. Palomino Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) decides to take a closer look, and risks sending his ship into the galactic whirlpool.

When the Palomino springs a leak, plucky flying robot Vincent (Roddy McDowall) goes outside to plug the hole. When his safety tether breaks he finds himself in real robot jeopardy. Using his ESP (yes, the cute little robot has ESP, didn't we all back in the Seventies?), he signals distress to Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) before launching his backup tether and reeling himself to safety. With disaster averted, Lieutenant Charles Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) guides the ship into Cygnus's docking bay.

Someone's on board Cygnus, because he just switched on the lights. Nervously, the Palomino's crew pass through the airlock and make their way to the Cygnus' bridge. An army of drones quietly tend to their duties, but is anyone alive at home?

Spooky scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) arises from the Captain's chair to tell a sad story: with their ship damaged, Cygnus' surviving crew decided to abandon ship and return to Earth. Hans is shocked to learn his shipmates never made it home. In the past ten years, Hans has kept himself busy building anti-black hole technology and a mean-looking robot he names Maximilian.

That's a lovely story, but the Palomino needs repairs. Hans orders Maximilian to help Charlie and Vincent find spare parts. Reporter Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) sets off by himself, and takes a closer look at one of the drones, and does not like what he sees. Captain Dan takes his own solo tour and stumbles upon a robot-drone funeral, which he finds a bit odd.

That evening over dinner, Hans confides that he intends to take Cygnus through the black hole. On the other side, he contends, is "the ultimate knowledge." Hans says he'd be honored if Palomino would stick around and record his ground blazing transit. Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins) finds the notion of black-hole travel intriguing, and considers abandoning his friends. The dinner ends as Hans warns the crew of the Palomino not to go snooping around. Nothing to see here, you know.

Alex can't help but do some more sightseeing (he's a scientist and all). When he unmasks one of the drones, he discovers Hans' fiendish secret: the drones are the Cygnus' crew, lobotomized into complete loyalty to Hans. Evil robot Maximilian protects the secret with his pair of rotating knives.

Too late: Kate knows the secret of the drones, too. Hans orders his robots to take her to the lobotomy lab. Frankly, the old crew has run out of interesting things to say, and Hans wants a new friend. Fortunately, Captain Dan is in the house, and heroically rescues Kate. In the process, he appears to lose a finger to the mind-laser, but in later scenes, the finger has remarkably grown back.

Stunned at this setback (and his repeated slaps to his head), Hans decides "the time has come to liquidate our guests." Harry takes the news badly, and rushes back to his ship. Alone, he can't figure out the controls, and sends Palomino crashing into Cygnus.

The only hope of escape for the Palomino's survivors is Cygnus' probe ship, a tiny vessel that has successfully transited the black hole and returned safely. Using Cygnus' tramways, they race to the probe. Unfortunately, Cygnus' shields are down. A swarm of glowing meteors pepper Cygnus with holes and sever tramlines, exposing our protagonists to the vacuum of space (which isn't as bad as it seems).

Things look dim as Cygnus plunges into the black hole. Hans meets a just reward, pinned under an HDTV (boy were they heavy back in the Seventies). Maximilian confronts our heroes, but is slain by ever-plucky Vincent -- who proves himself adept at things drillwise.

Strapping themselves into the probe ship, the surviving protagonists have no choice but to launch into the black hole.

Meanwhile, Hans and Maximilian share a loving embrace in space, and are transmogrified into hell's newest overlord.

What's on the other side of the black hole? As if I would tell. I had to suffer this film, and you might as well, too.

It's funny: The Black Hole looks great and sounds great. It has a cast of real actors and the folks at Disney obviously sunk a lot of money into it. You'd think that critics and audiences would let little details like story, acting and coherency slide, right? Sci-fi special-effects extravaganzas are crowd pleasers, right? Every rule has an exception, and this is one of them.

Ears down

Unless you like schlock movies, in which case this is your holy grail.
:: Anna 8:06 PM [+] ::

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