Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Beyond The Black Hole...
Continually bankrupt of original ideas, Hollywood continues it unstoppable revisionist vandalizing by going where it has already gone before this summer with J.J. Abrams' borderline sacrilegious "reboot" (or is it "re-imagining?") of Star Trek. But with everything in history rapidly being remade (generally for the worse), Tinseltown may be reaching deep into its cache of franchises to plunder. I normally despise remakes but if there was one movie that I think would be ripe for a remake it's Disney's The Black Hole.
I first saw The Black Hole in the theater the same week as Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 and both films were disturbingly creepy to this 6 year-old boy. Sure, The Black Hole was Disney's attempt to ride the Star Wars wave by including kid-friendly robots, a pair of two-dimensional space cowboys, and a gratuitous lack of scientific accuracy, but what struck me most was the film's eerily gothic production design and tone courtesy of Peter Ellenshaw and a dark cerebral ending that was perhaps not just the fact that it was the first PG rated film the studio put out commercially but also the ballsiest kids movie Disney ever made. It's imaginatively rich with imagery and metaphor, the kind that evokes the ending to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The mad scientist Doctor Hans Reinhardt climbs into the "shell" of his infernal machine Maximillian (Maximillian Shell... get it?) in order to survive in a domain of hell that awaits him and his minions of labotomized drones as foreshadowed early in the film by Ernest Borgnine's throwaway line "it looks like something right out of Dante's Inferno." It's their destiny, purgatory, yet there is a chasm of Gothic glass windows accompanied by angelic choir and a brilliant wash of white light spills over the frame as our heroic crew of the Palomino emerge from a white hole into a new unexplored universe. The narrative of the film makes it unclear whether these are literally interpretations of heaven and hell and themes of eternal damnation and salvation of the soul or the thoughts of the crew as the pass through it. According to Peter Ellenshaw, an alternate ending was conceived but never shot that would have involved a slow panning out from Michelangelo's The Creation from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Kate's face would be seen in the background of the painting, implying that the crew experienced the beginning of time and would end with Kate looking up at the painting, suggesting that the Palomino crew eventually returned safely to Earth.
If the Black Hole were remade today, the ending would undoubtedly be changed. There is no way the studio would put out such an esoterically ambiguous, if not subversively cerebral commercial film targeted primarily at children. They would demand that everything be summarily explained and accessible to conventional audiences. That might be beneficial for a remake whose tone would invariably take on a much more serious scientific prose. Let's face it, the fantasy comic-book approach just wouldn't work now in the 21st century, even though the film itself takes place in the not-too-distant 22nd. Since 1979, scientists have learned much more about the physics of black holes from what was theoretically speculated at the time. Audiences are much more educated now and can grasp complex theoretical paradigms of science fiction. There's an opportunity here to do a serious exploration about an expedition to the edge of a black hole and beyond.
Interestingly, Whitman Comics made a "sequel" of sorts called "Beyond The Black Hole" following its comic book adaptation of the film which began where the film left off with the crew of the Palomino having emerged into another universe and investigates a nearby planet. What they discover is similar to the plot of Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror" universe. They have entered a parallel universe where doppelgangers of themselves exist and events are unusually familiar under a radically different set of circumstances. It was an interesting read for children curious to know more about this unexplained universe following the events of the film's ambiguous conclusion and served no other purpose than to entertain an explanation of sorts for those who felt they needed one. The comic concluded with an unresolved cliffhanger and the text: "Trapped in another universe with no way to get home, Dan, Charlie, Kate an Vincent await their fate Beyond the Black Hole. Join us next time in Issue #5" with the intention to develop an ongoing series of adventures in this alternate universe but, alas, issue #5 never came to be.
The Black Hole was the last of the "old-school" visual effects films to be produced by Disney. Three years later, Harrison Ellenshaw, Peter Ellenshaw's son, would help usher in the digital age of visual effects with the groundbreaking computer generated fantasy Tron. Disney is already prepping Tr2n for a sequel in 2010. Now is the perfect opportunity to revisit The Black Hole to bring it up to date and give it the epic science-fiction makeover that it deserves.