Monday, May 14, 2018

The Black Hole #2

The Black Hole #2

SoC fell into The Black Hole for a couple of weeks…He finally crawled out with this review

"Part 2”
Writer – Mary Carey
Artist – Dan Spiegle
March 1980

The Black Hole was a substantial change for Walt Disney Productions. Featuring expensive state of the art effects and garnering a PG rating, a first for a Disney production, it certainly was their most ambitious project and indicated a willingness to include more mature, adult-oriented content in their films. It began a trend that eventually led the studio to create the Touchstone Pictures/Hollywood Pictures labels in an effort to shield the Walt Disney Productions brand as family-friendly entertainment.

The movie premiered in late December of 1979 and I don’t think I saw it first run. I did see it in theaters, but my addled brain seems to remember that taking place later in 1980 when it was making the rounds with a reissue of Sleeping Beauty as a “double feature”. Yes, two movies-one price!

I liked it well enough, even though the movie trailers sold it as all-action and the film is actually more of a mad scientist-murder mystery. I will state in a non-spoiler way that it contains what is perhaps one of the darkest Disney plots of any movie they produced, with one scene standing out as being horrifically scarring.

A scene this comic doesn’t include, incidentally.

In a funny note, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson deemed the film to be the least scientifically accurate movie of all time, stating “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.” As if a movie with floating robots who shoot laser guns was trying for scientific accuracy.

No, this was clearly a Disney attempt to capture some of the Star Wars dollars, similar to the way Star Trek: The Motion Picture (released the same month) attempted. Film studios had finally come to realize the space opera could be a big thing again, if done with lots of flashy special effects.

But special effects are costly, and Disney couldn’t (or wouldn’t) hire the battle-tested crew from Industrial Light and Magic. Instead they turned to the engineering department at Disney to create the film’s computer graphics and motion-control miniature effects. The shots they created are clearly stunning and rival ILM's. 

I’m going to throw in JonnyBaak’s “Things you may not know about The Black Hole(1979)” video here to give you additional background on the cast and story. Jonny does a great job covering more the background material about the cast and production in a entertaining way.

I will agree with him that the robots get more depth than the humans and Maximillian works great for the robot bad-guy heavy. Also that the look of the USS Cygnus came off as beautiful, evoking images of a modern glass skyscraper merged with the power and intimidation of a battleship.

Before going on, I am invoking a spoiler warning to all of you. This is part 2 of a two-part adaptation, so if you want to preserve the suspense of the ending I’d say you should hold off on reading this review.

==============SPOILER SPACE ===============

We begin at the mid-point of the movie and a bunch of backstory needs to occur if any of what follows it to make sense. 

We are currently following the two floating robots, V.I.N.CENT (Vital Information Necessary Centralized – shows some desperation on the part of the robot makers to have that anagram come off as a human name, don’t it?) and Old B.O.B. (BIO-sanitation Battalion – which is even more desperate. Why do you need a military order to tackle poop and pee?) around the space ship USS Cygnus uncovering the central mystery.

See V.I.N.CENT just arrived here unexpectedly as part of the crew of the deep space probe USS Palomino. The ship and its five-person crew encountered a startling phenomenon: a black hole with a spaceship hovering nearby defying the massive gravitational pull. For those of you unaware, a black hole is a collapsed star whose atoms become so compacted that they affect the gravitational effect of nearby spacetime. Similar to putting a marble with the mass of a Yugo onto a trampoline that won’t tear, the black hole creates a distortion that pulls any object toward it. V.I.N.CENT's USS Palomino was no exception and its crew were forced to land on the motionless spaceship.

Before docking they learn the ship is the long-lost USS Cygnus, a research ship that appears abandoned at first except for mirror-faced robot caretakers and security droids. However not long after boarding, the crew become the guests of the ship’s commander, Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell), who claims the crew abandoned ship to return to Earth following a mishap in space. 

Dr. Kate McCrae, the only woman from the probe ship, asks about her father who served on the Cygnus. Reinhardt reluctantly explains he elected to remain aboard but died due to an encounter with a meteor field. 

Reinhardt also outlines his bold and rather crazy plan to use the null gravity field projector he has created to take the Cygnus through the black hole. He’d already tested this device with a probe ship outfitted with the miraculous drive. Now he wants to take the Cygnus where the other end of the deformation of spacetime lets out, along with his crew of silent robe-wearing humanoid droids, his piles of security robots, and his hulking personal guard-bot Maximilian (not to be confused with the actor. Until later…but that’s kind of a movie-only spoiler). The Palomino crew thinks he’s a bit crazy except for Dr. Alex Durant, who wants to accompany Reinhardt on his journey.

All is not what it seems, however. V.I.N.CENT has made friends with Old B.O.B., a beat-up maintenance robot that is being bullied by the ships overabundance of security robot's (really? Did a scientific mission need like a hundred robot police guards?) and Maximilian. After an oddly competitive round of target shooting, the pair of floating bots bond. Old B.O.B. decides to spill what he knows about the mysteries the crew of the Palomino have witness since arriving, including a weird robot funeral and a limping robot gardener.

It’s about here that issue two picks up on the story, beginning with a startling revelation from Old B.O.B.…

That’s right, those mirror faced chaps are the crew. Reinhardt lobotomized them after taking control of Maximilian and the security robots. Now they live a hollow existence, more dead than alive.

Upon learning this, V.I.N.CENT contacts Dr. McCrae via TELEPATHY…yes! The robot and the young woman doctor have telepathy. I…can’t…even! But okay. Let’s just skip over that for a moment.

V.I.N.CENT requests that Commander Holland meet him aboard the Palomino right away, not wanting to startle Dr. McCrae with his findings over the telepathic link. Capt. Holland, Lt. Pizer and journo Harry Booth head back to the ship to meet with the robot. When Reinhardt returns to his dining room, he finds a few of his guests have gone missing.

Okay, so the book doesn’t list ANY art credits. I took the info above from off the internet. I don’t want to ascribe blame for something like the inking here on someone without proof, but I have to say this looks like someone took the flat end of a Marks-a-lot and went to town. So much excessive thick black lines! Reinhardt is supposed to look off his rocker, but not completely unhinged.

Although he actual IS so unhinged that his door is laying on the floor, which is what the other three crewmen are finding out from Old B.O.B.

Holland gives quick orders to get Kate and Alex out of Reinhardt’s clutches and get everyone off the Cygnus safely.

Unfortunately, Alex doesn’t want to return to the Palomino. The lure of being one of the first humans to travel through a black hole proves a powerful temptation. Holland is forced to take a drastic measure…

Sensing something is amiss, Reinhardt starts lining up the Cygnus to make a run at the black hole just as Alex unmasks one of the mirror-faced servitor robots. What he finds proves Kate’s message from V.I.N.CENT correct, but in a horrifying fashion…

For his curiosity, Alex takes a laser blast to the back and Kate gets scooped up by Maximilian for lobotomizing. Things are not looking up.

As Reinhardt begins his approach vector, Holland and the two robots leave the Palomino to rescue Kate. They reach her just in time, too.

In an effort to get back to the Palomino safely, the pair dress up as humanoids. It works for a while, but they are quickly found out by Reinhard who clues in the guard robots.

The book manages to capture some of the robot battles better than the film, where the two spheroid bots were slung around on wires while aftereffect lasers were added. 

The quartet has some trouble at the Palomino’s airlock which requires Lt. Pizer to abandon the ship to take out a barricade manned by the security robots.

But in doing so, he leaves the very UN-Ernest Borgnine looking Harry Booth in a position to lock them out of the Palomino and make a run for it. Which it is too late for, because the Cygnus and the Palomino are too close to the black hole. The smaller craft careens out of control, leaving Reinhardt little choice but to blast it out of the sky.

Unfortunately, the husk of the ship falls into one of the Cygnus’ power generators. Between that and the added fun of a meteor shower, Reinhardt’s black hole trip turns into a big disaster.

While the ship gets pelted by debris heading down the wormhole, the Palomino crew is desperately fighting their way through an obstacle course of popped greenhouses and meteor debris…

…heading to the probe ship…Which Reinhard is reprogramming to make a run into the black hole.

Reinhardt is going completely nuts, by the way. He thinks the black hole is a gateway to some kind of heaven, which if you watch the movie has a kind of odd payoff. 

Realizing finally that his ship can’t make it through damaged as it is, he sends Maximilian to prepare the probe ship…riiiight before a giant heavy metal screen falls on him.

And to be sure we see the irony of this, Reinhardt’s lobotomized servants are unable to muster the brain-power to assist him.

As Reinhardt gives in to the inevitability of his demise, Maximilian confronts V.I.N.CENT and gets his claws on the floating mirror ball robot.

…V.I.N.CENT uses the tactic of drilling into Maximilian…

…rendering the bot disabled…for now…however Old B.O.B. was injured in this altercation. He can’t make it any further, he claims, and they leave him for dead. One problem the movie had was the wooden acting of its human cast being upstaged by the two robots, voiced by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens in uncredited performances. This scene was way more impactful than it should have been AND the excellent work by Pickens made us forget that he was essentially a floating computer who the Palomino crew could have dragged on the probe ship to repair later.

But whatever movie. You can’t fix robots.

The end result is the remaining crew make it to the probe ship and clear off just as the Cygnus completely breaks up.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Reinhardt’s plotted course can’t be changed. The controls have them hurtling into the black hole.

…and it’s right about here that the comic chickens-out. You see, the movie Reinhardt kept pushing the idea that in traversing the black hole a person would enter a realm where things like death and existence would have no meaning. He thought it akin to ascending into Heaven or Nirvana or somesuch, even though as an astrophysicist what he should have realized it would mean is you would end up spat out like a wad of stretched out silly putty, much denser, and dead. 

And I ABSOLUTELY love this!

Yes, this acid trip to a Hades where Reinhardt is rape-absorbed by Maximillian acting as some cruel lover only to trap the mad scientist within his shell, while the victims of Reinhardt’s cruelty are forced to endure an eternity of hellish slavery as some kind of unjust punishment for those who met their end at his hands is just so WEIRD. I mean this movie was PG, but this sequence could clearly give smaller children nightmares for weeks as the evil-bad robot appears to be a ruler in Hell. There's little other way to interpret that sequence, and CLEARLY the humans they tortured in life are now being lead around in eternal damnation.

My-my how dark, Disney?

But delicious, too. The Black Hole is like a kid’s movie that at the end turns into some softcore Fellini film for a solid minute and you can’t ever unsee that crap. And while its horrible wrong science and cardboard human performances make it nearly unwatchable, I applaud any movie willing to so troll the audience that hard (a decade before we even knew what trolling was).

The comic…doesn’t have those sorts of balls. 

One page of falling into blackness…

…and then, we are done with all this black hole travel mess.

Unlike the movie, we get two pages of the crew reacting, speculating, and deciding what to do.

The ultimate choice is spoken by V.I.N.CENT, which given his place as the most human and likeable of the crew, is probably a good person to end on. 

Notice the “next issue” blurb? Well, Whitman published four issues of The Black Hole, the first two being the movie adaptation and issues 3 and 4 having the word “Beyond” added in smaller type above the twisty “The Black Hole” logo. Beyond tried to extend the story as the former crew of the Palomino explored the dimension on the other side of the black hole, only to run afoul of a new alternate-dimension Reinhardt or some such. The story in issue 4 ended on a cliffhanger that cancellation meant never got resolved.

A strange thing happened with those books too. Three-pack comics were still a thing back in the day and Whitman created large print runs of issues 1-3 so they could sell them as bagged packages. Issue number 4, however, did not receive such a large printing. It is currently considered rare and highly collectable, with prices running somewhere in the several hundred dollar range.

All I can say is stay away from the edge of these black hole things. My missing two weeks of Crapbox reviews will show you that it takes quite a bit of effort to pull yourself back out of them.

(SoC apologizes to his loyal readers. Work has been and continues to be impacting his ability to complete reviews. He hopes this week to get back on schedule.)

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