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.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's quibbling, but "The Black Hole" was actually not the first PG feature the studio released. That would be "Take Down" - an obscure little movie about wrestling that Disney released just a few months prior to "The Black Hole."

And yeah, the movie's kind of lame. It would be tough NOT to improve on it with a remake.

Anonymous said...

That's precisely why it says "The first PG rated film the studio released COMMERCIALLY."

Anonymous said...

The Black Hole was simply a remake of 20,000 Leagues gone beserk. Now a remake of 20,000 Leagues in an adult fashion with say Anthony Hopkins would be interesting....RWR

designated hitter said...

Great article. I agree totally. A new Black Hole film would be f'n great. Hopefully Lasseter could be put in charge of this film as well.

Nice to have you back Decadent Dave!

Anonymous said...

Jim Hill hinted that through Disney's new Kingdom Comics graphic novels that they may have artists revision The Black Hole and 20,000 leagues. These would later be tranferred to film.

Anonymous said...

Please remember The Black Hole was not intended for children. This was the studio's first (post Walt) attempt to make a picture that appealed more to adults (at least the teen crowd which it had lost by that time). Please stop calling it a children's movie. My big problem with it is that Gary Nelson didn't notice the shots where the wires are painfully visible on "old Bob". Those scenes at least need a reshoot.

Anonymous said...

Dude, it's a kids movie. Vincent and Old Bob, S.T.A.R.R., need I say more?

The dark ending was definitely more adult. This was Disney's attempt at bringing more adult themes into their films and helped to spin off Buena Vista and Touchstone Films.

TheOccasionalFag said...

Disney's The Black Hole was nothing if not a meagerly cobbled together bankruptcy of original ideas that puts all of Hollywood's self thievery to shame.

Nothing in it was either original or thoughtful.

To call the ending "cerebral" is a gross "missunderestimation" of what it means to be smart.

I remember being creeped out by this film only in how badly it led me to believe the creative corporate culture at Disney most be suffering to have released such garbage. Part of the "kids film/ not a film for kids" conflict of this movie arrises from it being, first, such an all around lacking in original thought exercise.

Maybe you could bring this movie back in the same way the somewhat recent Brady Bunch movies or Xanadu, the Musical revived their "franchises" through self mockery.

optimus crime said...

Nice perspective. I too feel that the Black Hole was a great concept badly done. Hopefully they'll have some really good writer like Darren Aronofsky do a version. Now that would be totally a film I couldn't wait to see. Just don't put Johnny Depp in it. It seems he's in every Disney movie lately.

galactic spice trader said...

I know with modern effects that they could make a cool looking remake of the film, but the question is could they make a great movie? By the way DD, totally agree with your take on Star Wars. It now blows.

Anonymous said...

The best thing about The Black Hole was the John Barry score. Seriously haunting.

Anonymous said...

"commercially"? "Take Down" was released theatrically by Disney, so I'm not sure what "commercially" means unless you mean "with a strong marketing campaign." And I was wrong about the time interval. "Take Down" preceded "The Black Hole" by about 10 months.

This wasn't a smart film and it was hardly cerebral. The ending is visually evocative, but obvious, silly and kind of a cop out, storywise. The writers were hacks - Disney couldn't attract great writers in the late 70's...and the director's most notable work prior to this was a mediocre miniseries about sleazy doings in Washington. Not a great pedigree. The whole direction for this WAS to ape "20,000 Leagues."

By the way - whatever Jim Hill hinted about 20k being done as a graphic novel - Disney right now has TWO feature scripts for a new franchise based on 20K and Captain Nemo, and is developing a third. When the first two scripts are ready, you'll hear an announcement. But they've been in the works for well over a year.

Anonymous said...

Now you're quibbling. :P

mickey cyrus said...

What the heck is quibbling? Is it something that happened in the Black Hole? Or 20k? Confusing.

Anonymous said...

Read the first post for a definition of "quibbling."

Tron Unit said...

Wow, if you think the Black Hole was written by hacks then I guess that makes George Lucas the biggest hack of them all.

precinct gui said...

Very good read, Double D. What do you think of Something Wicked This Way Comes?

Anonymous said...

I suppose the writers of several "Gambler" tv-movies and "Murder She Wrote" episodes elevates those writers above the level of hack.

For most. But that work came AFTER this movie... so yeah. Hacks.

Just ... quibbling. Quibbling in this context apparently means "asking for accuracy."

Anonymous said...

According to IMDB:

This was The Walt Disney Company's first PG-rated production, and its second overall release with that rating. (The first was the sports drama Take Down, an outside production Disney distributed in early 1979.)

Get YOUR facts straight and stop quibbling you nob.

Anonymous said...

Black Sky Disney

Anonymous said...

The facts are that Disney put its name ON "Take Down". I was there at the time. As with many acquisitions/negative pickups, the rights revert BACK to the production company after a number of years, so Disney's name is no longer on the picture.

In early 1979, it was "Walt Disney Productions" on "Take Down."

You can't get everything you want from Wikipedia or IMDB. Get over yourself.

Harry Lime said...

People are quibbling over which PG movie was first? Who the hell cares?

blank stare said...

Some people can't see the forest for the trees. Or in this case, the film for it's rating. Get over it. The discussion was about the possibility of a new version of the film. Not giving a rat's butt if someone is correct about a film coming out with a PG rating. Someone is wrong, but it's not an earth shattering thing. Dude, it's a rating. Big. Frick'in. Woop.

wired hedgehog said...

Do you think that the new Tron will be a catalyst for Black Hole and others, DecDave?

The MCP said...

Let's just hope they don't remake The Cat From Outer Space, The Unidentified Flying Oddball and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or quibbling fanboys will be pissing over themselves.

Anonymous said...

Guess what - a rerelease of Treasure Island was rated PG in the early 70's - Disney had to clip from frames of a pirate getting shot to get the G rating. So even Walt made a PG film in 1950!
The Black Hole was intended for teens and above as so many of the artilcles in Starlog and other media stated at the time. It had kiddie elements like the robots thrown in. The story and dialog was just lame. The production design effects and music fantastic. Also the Ron Miller did not push the Touchstone Films plan until after Tron - finally using Splash as the first Touchstone release. It's amazing now how the studio wants to revert to the kid friendly films - just the opposite of the bad old Eisner days.

pudge fender said...

So what kind of remake would you have Dave? A total remake or revision like the new Witch Mountain film or a sequel like the new TR2N movie?

Anonymous said...

I have often hoped for this to be done. They could really do a better job with the actors and special effects, along with the original proposed ending. However, the core story should not be changed, that part works very well. I read the novel before I saw the movie, and I really liked it. Right now, Disney does not even have any merchandise in their theme parks for it, not even a simple lanyard pin, which is a shame. I even think they could make a major theme park attraction based on it and it would go over very well.

Lanyard said...

I can't wait to see "The Black Hole" in a new light. I hope they'll "fix" some things done lame in original.

Mike K. said...

I'll bet you'll be happy to know that the makers of Tron: Legacy, are now specifically looking to remake The Black Hole. I, for one, agree with your sentiments, and can't wait to see what they do with it!

Jody said...

Crew full of zombies? A woman getting lasered in the face? Robots that beat each other? A scientist chewed up by a killer and thrown down a shaft? An idiot who basically kills himself trying to escape when he crashes into the Cygnus? This was not a movie aimed at kids. It was dark from the beginning. Disney made this movie, TRON and Dragon Slayer hoping to grab some of the sci-fi teens out there. IMO these Disney movies, plus Blade Runner, Alien, Empire Strikes Back, and Wrath of Khan were the high point of sci-fi films in my generation. They were dark, thought-provoking and mostly based off of imagination instead of science fact.