Disney: Looking Back At THE BLACK HOLE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Disney: Looking Back At THE BLACK HOLE

Alexander Wallace gets sucked in by Disney's The Black Hole.
Some would argue that going to space in and of itself is lunacy, and that those who either want to go there or actually do go there are lunatics. Most people in space probably would not go mad, given the chance, but there is the nonzero chance that some people with certain personality traits may achieve lunacy while in the presence of that which inspired the name, or even farther out than that.

Perhaps, to the same skeptics, the human fascination with black holes is likewise insane. These are phenomena beyond the easy comprehension of the layman: massive gravity wells sucking everything, matter and radiation both, into themselves, never to leave (barring the possibility of the white hole, spewing mass and light out into the universe for all to see). The hypothetical notion of thrusting a person down into such gaping crevasses in the fabric of the universe plays haywire with our concept of time and of perception. Had I not known some basic astronomy before writing this article, I would have said that the idea of such an entity would be out of some deranged writer from the early twentieth century.
Both the lunacy of space exploration and the madness of a black hole are at full display in one of Disney’s less remembered movies from the seventies, the creatively titled The Black Hole, released 1979 and directed by Gary Nelson. It is a movie that feels somewhat hokey nowadays, and my understanding is that the science is so bad that Neil deGrasse Tyson said:
They not only got none of the physics right about falling into a black hole, had they gotten it right it would have been a vastly more interesting movie.”
It can be fairly said that you will not learn much astronomy from this movie. But will you, at the very least, enjoy it? I would say so.

Even though the development of The Black Hole began in the middle of the 1970s, the final product clearly bears the influence of Star Wars, visually and in the presence of a multitude of funny robots, with the premier robot character having the look of R2-D2 but the mannerisms of C-3PO. This is something that happened a lot during the late seventies and early eighties, so it should be expected.
This movie’s greatest success is in its visual design. The ships that you see are both very starkly designed in that blocky seventies science fiction sort of way, reminiscent of the interior of the Death Star. In particular, the Cygnus, the exploratory ship that was up until that point lost, feels downright oppressive with its stark brutalist environments, enforced by robotic soldiers that look like cartoon villains brought to life (and I say that lovingly). The interior of these ships are dark, punctuated by the glare of LEDs or of hall lamps, that reminded me of the saccharinely depressing modern school buildings that I attended in the 2000s.

There are a variety of characters in The Black Hole, ranging from the honest explorers to the cynical newspaperman and the flummoxed robot. But the most interesting of theseby far is Dr. Hans Reinhardt, played by Maximilian Schell. Reinhardt is a walking embodiment of human hubris, of the all-consuming desire to achieve something, to gain something, to be someone. He has gone mad through becoming a petty tyrant aboard the Cygnus, his will enforced by machines even colder than himself. In a sense, Reinhardt has become mechanical, pursuing his vision at the expense of his humanity.
Such is the fate of so many visionaries, the misguided men who end up creating guided missiles (to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.). The Black Hole is a warning to us to retain our humanity at all costs, no matter how wondrous our obsessions may be. It is the sort of movie that makes you wonder if there really are things humanity was not meant to know.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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