The Black Hole will suck again!

By Phil Plait | December 4, 2009 7:36 am

Just when you think Hollywood has run out of ideas, they prove they have really run out of ideas: Disney is planning to remake "The Black Hole".

disney_blackholeYes, that Black Hole, the 1979 weirdfest with Tony Perkins, Maximillian Schell, and Slim Pickens as the voice of the annoying robot (no, not that robot with Roddy McDowall’s voice, the other one). I watched it again back in 2008, to see if there was anything I could use for the black hole chapter of my book, and amazingly felt the same way I did when I saw it in the theater when it came out: well, that’s two hours I won’t get back.

Actually, there are some good parts to the movie, but it suffered from a split personality; they tried to make it accessible to both children and adults, and unless you’re a Bugs Bunny or Spongebob cartoon, it’s a difficult task. It was too dark and scary for kids, but the robots were too twee for adults. And the ending… well, my vision of hell is not exactly being trapped in a robot’s body. And not just because my namesake went partway successfully.

Anyway, a remake might be interesting, though I’m not sure why they don’t just start from scratch. There are plenty of plots you can use centering on a black hole (whatever happened to the movie version of Greg Benford’s Eater?). But what the heck. I’m happy they’re making a movie about black holes at all.

I wonder if they need a science advisor?

Tip o’ the accretion disk to Rob Tarr.

MORE ABOUT: Disney, The Black Hole

Comments (57)

  2. Jeremy

    Except for the last twenty minutes or so I think the movie is pretty good. Basically as soon as they get close to the black hole and the ship starts blowing up I recommend everyone turn it off and make up your own spaghettificationorific ending.

  3. At least the greenhouse-based ship design was pretty unique for a movie.

  4. Just when you think Hollywood has run out of ideas, they prove they have really run out of ideas:

    That’s what I said when I heard they were going to make a movie out of Asteroids.

  5. Charles Boyer

    “The Black Hole will suck again…”

    Very punny Phil. Actually it did give me a laugh.

    @naked bunny
    “At least the greenhouse-based ship design was pretty unique for a movie.”

    I always thought they ripped off that idea from 1972’s “Silent Running” starring Bruce Dern.


    Come to think of it, Silent Running had Huey, Duey and Louie, three cutesy robots who did all of the work on the Valley Forge. In that movie, a flotilla of greenhouse/spacecraft containing what was left of plant life from the then-dead Earth were parked in a solar orbit.

  6. richard

    So far from the articles I have read on this remake one of the few details on this remake is that ” it will reveal the science surrounding the black hole”. Weather this means that they will actually us correct or Hollywood science is unclear but I am feel quite confident that if they were made aware of the term spaghettification and what it entails they just might want to use real science. I know it is wishful thinking but if you don’t try we will never know.

  7. Charlie Young

    So, Phil, you’re a Spongebob fan. Who woulda known. And aren’t black holes pretty safe if you keep your distance and stay away from the event horizon and out of range of the emitted X-rays?

  8. Steve

    If this inspires a release of the original score, however. . .

  9. Calli Arcale

    Disney is a conundrum. Some staggeringly brilliant, revolutionary films have come out of that goliath, but the majority of their work is ploddingly dull, repetitive, and inane. Did the world really need a “Cindarella III”, for instance?

    I will give them this: they know how to milk a franchise, and how to get the maximum returns for a minimum of risk. I suspect they make a lot of these movies not because they want to make big art but because they pay the bills. Remakes and sequels aren’t groundbreaking, generally, nor are they generally big blockbusters. But savvy execs can work out how much the movie is likely to generate and make sure the production costs are less than that. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter. Thus, most of Disney’s stuff is vacuous dreck that most people would tolerate watching once, because while it’s not going to break any box office records, it will turn a profit, and it won’t make enough impression on the collective unconscious to tarnish any subsequent releases.

    I think they know perfectly well what they’re doing. It’s just that they’re run as a business, not a creative enterprise.

    I have mixed feelings about the “Black Hole” which I think are summed up perfectly in this post. It’s neither one thing nor the other. I do own a copy of it, because there were Disney movies on sale one day, and hubby liked it. It is still shrink-wrapped.

    Note: Disney does sometimes produce some surprisingly good live-action films, though normally it’s a bad sign when “live action” and “Disney” are uttered together. (Better live-action films are produced by their subsidiaries, where they are willing to take bigger risks because it doesn’t have the Mouse on it.) I quite liked “Watcher in the Woods”, for instance, and of course “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. (It’ s not like the book, but as the screenplay was written by Ray Bradbury, somehow I think he doesn’t mind. One of the reasons that one was so successful was the quality of the actors; another big problem with Disney live-action is that they often aim for unknowns rather than established actors, because they can ditch them if it doesn’t turn out well.) I have to also confess to liking “Flight of the Navigator”, and the entire, absurd (and, uncharacteristically for Disney, *expensively epic*) “Pirates of the Caribbean” series.

  10. Chazar

    I saw that one as a kid (maybe at age 10 or so) and I found it quite exciting at the time. Black hole are exciting to a kid. The robots were really funny, except the bad one which was frightening for sure, but endurable.

    I never watched it again since, and all I can recollect are some random images, frozen in my brain, like the ship in front of the hole, or Maximillian Shell’s eyes being trapped in the bad robot, which I found the most scary. I interpreted it as a form of locked-in syndrome, i.e. the guy could see, but the robot would speak and act, which I still find pretty terrible.

  11. Ricky

    You used a Walt Disney sci-fi movie as research material for a book?

  12. I went to work at the Disney studio shortly after that turkey came out. The thinking behind it was basically, “Oh my gawrsh, we let Star Wars get away (Lucas had pitched it to the studio before taking it to Fox), so how can we make our own version of it?”

    They kluged together as many pieces of Star Wars as they could — space, robots, fancy special effects — and then went back to the classics for the, ahem, plot. It’s basically Captain Nemo meets Heart of Darkness meets 2001…with Old Bob the robot who will surely steal America’s heart thrown in for good measure.

    One neat thing, though, was the wire work simulating zero g. Pretty cool, though according to the actors the harnesses were “ball busters.”

  13. Scottynuke

    Oh yes, bring on the “Eater” movie, THAT would be made of Win!

    As long as Emmerich’s not involed, of course…


  14. Sigmund

    Disney HAVE used a black hole as a key plot device in one of their (fairly) recent films, namely ‘Treasure Planet’. If you try to forget the physics its not a bad version of the old Treasure Island story.

  15. Can’t remember the movie but I have the puzzle.

  16. Chris

    One of my favorite films. Incredible design. Not super excited about a remake, but fine.

  17. I always thought they ripped off that idea from 1972’s “Silent Running”

    I don’t really see the resemblance. The Cygnus looks more like an aircraft carrier (in SPACE!) with glass walls instead of scattered portholes.

    (I get the impression that the space exploration budget got slashed between the Cygnus and the Palomino.)

  18. Lawrence

    One of those movies that was great watching as a kid (I may have even seen it in the theater, but I don’t completely remember), that really didn’t hold up well the second time I saw it – as an teen/adult.

    Interesting story, but the execution was just “off.” I never did understand the ending (either the good or bad one). Mentioning the glass wall – yeah, those would hold up really well in space……

  19. dan

    The best black hole show/movie/whatever EVER is the Futurama episode, “A Flight To Remember.” Classic. Bender has his big emotional scene where he loses the fembot and then, tragedy of tragedies, finds out that the gem is fake. “Nnnoooooo!!”

    This is later recalled in one of the Futurama movies where we see the cast returning from the Titanic trip. The escape pod is parked outside Planet Express, they’re all strolling in, and Bender casually tosses the necklace in the trash can.

    Bender is awesome.

    So, remake of the Black Hole, OR Titanic? It’s been done, beautifully. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  20. firemancarl

    Funny you bring up Benford. I love his book “Jupiter Project” as a kid. I wouldn’t mind seeing that as a movie either!

  21. LennyV

    Yeah, this is a quirky movie. And perhaps the execution is flawed, and the plot as well, and the funny robots are just inappropriate. However, that said, there’s a deeper layer to this movie – at least in my mind. A scary angle, found in the insane brain of Reinhardt, the man who essentially killed his best friend and colleague, and resurrected him as Maximilian. Not to mention what he did to the rest of the crew…

    The bizarre spaceship that is the Cygnus is also part of this; having a craft with walls of glass would of course be entirely impractical, but I see The Black Hole not so much a movie about the exploration of space, but rather the exploration of the human mind. The weird ending ties into that as well.

    And also, regardless of what people may say about this movie despite my attempts to prop it up, Disney DID bring us Tron…! TRY and criticize that one, I dare you! 😀

    …Then again, they’re making a remake of Tron as well I hear. Which should just prove even further that Hollywood is out of ideas. *shrug* Oh well…

  22. There is so much wrong and terrible with this movie, which is also wonderful and beautiful. I hope they take the basic story outline and throw away most of the old script. Especially the assertion that the missions of the Palomino (with its crew of seven) and the Cygnus (with its crew of a gazillion) are the same.

  23. Kevin

    The same guys wanting to remake this are the ones responsible for the new Tron: Legacy film.

  24. TheLoneIguana

    Now I’ve got that music stuck in my head. You know, the same repeating seven or eight notes?

    “Do do do DWEEE da da dum…”

    Also, I totally forgot that was Robert Forster in that movie.

  25. Jason

    Avaaaaatar. Far more interesting to me and only two weeks away.

  26. I watched this once in a windowless hotel room in rural Puerto Rico, suffering from extreme home sickness while on an extended road trip for NASA education. It was dubbed in Spanish and I could not understand a word. It was a lot better than I remembered. But then dialog did not get in the way.

  27. @Lenny V:
    Tron: Legacy isn’t a remake, it’s a sequel (with at least two of the original cast included) – with a trailer that’s been running somewhere or other on the Internet since about two ComicCons back. It actually has a certain similarity to the Game/Comic, in that Flynn’s son is featured, IIRC.


  28. Charlie Young

    #18 @ Lawrence maybe those glass walls are really transparent aluminum…

  29. While I loved Bob McCall’s original ship designs, the movie was a snooze. It was also the first in a tired string of H-wood representations of normal space phenomenon as being hell or alternately, causing “Space Madness”.

    Sadly, I don’t anticipate they will need any science advisers on this. The first screenwriter will inevitably write a thoughtful and fairly accurate drama, then some exec will find it boring and decide that black holes are gateways to the dinosaur era and voila! A franchise is (re)born!

  30. Nomen Publicus

    What ever happened to the Ringworld movie? Couldn’t they get CGI Pierson’s Puppeteers to work?

    There are thousands of SF stories that could be adapted today, so why do they keep making the same movies again and again. If TV shows such as Primeval can do pretty convincing CGI on a tight budget what is the problem with Hollywood?

  31. Of all the movies they could have remade? I’m just restricting myself to family friendly Disney movies that take place in space here, why not “Earth/Star Voyager”?

  32. Brian Schlosser

    @30 Ditto! A Ringworld movie would be amazing. If I hit the lottery, I’m making that and “Rendezvous with Rama” as a BDO duology!

    CGI puppeteers, Kzinti, bandersnatchi! That would rock.

  33. Alien Death-Ray

    One of the redeeming qualities of the Black Hole was the wonderful score by John Barry. Airy and creepy, it helped set the dark tone to the movie. It was also the 1st digitally recorded movie soundtrack. For a 1979 movie, the effects were pretty decent too. Plus, it was shot in Cinemascope. Boy, I would love to see it up on the big screen one last time!

    P.S. – Hey Phil? The annoying robot was BOB, and was voiced by Slim Pickens.

  34. eigenvector

    I can appreciate your comment about two hours, non-refundable. To further add to the depression consider that an hour is approximately equal to a micro-century. So you wasted two uCentury!

  35. Chip

    My disappointment with the original came early in the film when they first see the ship just outside the black hole. My companion whispered “the ship isn’t really there, its a frozen image just before it fell in.” Well, no such luck. The ship was there, hovering around the whirling entrance to the event horizon. Then the movie sunk to new lows ending with a goofy vision of a Sunday School hell wherein even the innocent zombie victims of Maximillian Schell’s mad scientist were punished to eternal damnation. We left the theater feeling that the script must have been based on one of those asinine Jack Chick comics. 😛

  36. Harknights

    I always found this movie to be greater than the sum of it’s parts and yet in the end still is bad. Too dark for kids too light for adults. Spends a lot of time focusing on the worst parts of what makes us human. Everyones flaws end up killing them. Which would be ok if that was the focus but then…she can talk to the robot…with her mind? Really???

    It does have a good WTF ending. Not good as a function of quality…but a function of the number of times you say WTF? I mean really. Care to explain the ending. So there is a hell but no heaven?!? What is this a comic book? Like in the 70’s when Marvel was told you can show the devil but not Jesus. So you can only infer that part of a Religion is pretend?

    See this movie gets you thinking…just for all the wrong reasons.

  37. Jim

    I actually loved this movie as a kid. I wonder if it would stand up if I watched it again as an adult… I’m guessing not, though. Few things seem to. :/

  38. Mike

    Yeah, the first movie was a bit of a weird mixture, but I certainly enjoyed it when it was released (lack of scientific plausability and all). Remakes have a mixed entertainment value success rate, but I can easily imagine enjoying this one as much as I did the original.

  39. allium

    Question: Will there be spaghettification?
    Answer: There darn well better be.

  40. CR

    I always thought that the big spaceship Cygnus was supposed to resemble a ‘Crystal Palace in Space’ with its design. Sure, impractical in the real world, but nifty looking and harkening back to a different time. (Past and future fused?) I understand that the model appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in NY for a time, but then was neglected in storage, ultimately being destroyed when a forklift or truck backed into its storage crate & crushed it.

    Goodness… as I type this, spell check is showing Cygnus as a typo…

  41. Dr. Rocketscience

    Phil, dude, you’d best not be talkin’ smack about V.I.N.CENT. That little guy is one of my childhood heroes.
    I mean, sure, he was conceived and built as a cheap cardboard rip-off of R2-D2… BUT… he speaks English, is witty and sardonic, he actually flies, and most important, HE’S GOT FRICKIN’ LASER BEAMS!!!!!!!
    I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: V.I.N.CENT. is much cooler than R2-D2. :)

  42. JoeSmithCA

    “We’re getting near the blackhole”
    “Where is it?”
    “Right there”
    “Where?, there’s nothing there!”

  43. The Black Hole wasn’t actually that bad a film. The serious mistake they made (besides the science) was making it a kids movie. It was in places a deeply creepy and horrific movie. If they’d embraced that it could have been up there with ALIEN.

  44. Kevin F.

    I actually only just saw this movie recently. I thought it was okay until the “We’ll sort out the plot through surreal imagery because we’re too lazy to tie it off” ending.

  45. Michael Suttkus, II

    I applaud this! Why, you ask?

    Well, for years, I’ve been complaining about Hollywood remaking good movies all the time. We don’t need new versions of good movies, we already have good versions of them! Any remake of a good movie is likely to be worse simply because the original was above average. Can anyone think of a good movie that was remade and we got a better movie out of the deal?

    Bah. BAH! I say.

    What Hollywood needs to do is remake bad movies. Not atrociously bad movies, of course. There’s no point in giving us a new Manos, The Hands of Fate. (Warning, they are actually remaking Plan Nine from Outer Space. Why, God, why?) No, we don’t need those.

    But, there are a large number of movies that had good ideas in them, but which turned out bad due to some element of their execution. My favorite example is Ladyhawke. A great concept ruined by some ham-handed direction, a lead male who founded the “Emote-by-staring-blankly” school, and a completely inappropriate score. The end result is a kind of lukewarm drivel that’s worth watching only because I’m obsessed with Michelle Pfeiffer. So, remake it already! There’s a classic in here, begging to get out! REMAKE IT!

    This movie qualifies. There are some good ideas in it, but it kinda fizzles. (I walked out on the film when it first came out. I was seven at the time, and found the ending completely unscientific.) (Yes, I worried about the unscientificness of movies when I was seven. It’s only gotten worse.) So, let’s see a remake! We can certainly use a remake of this film more than we needed a new War of the Worlds.

  46. mike burkhart

    The Black Hole was Disneys answer to Star Wars (with a little Star Trek thrown in ) the battle with the robots was just like the battle with the stromtropers . Disney made a video game sequal to Tron a few years ago(ok I know it was a bomb but it’s a classic to video game addicts like me) so maybe there out of ideas (the Tron sequal was good)

  47. mena

    I was 12 when the first one came out. It looked so stupid just from the ads and the merchandise that I didn’t bother seeing it. Apparently I made the right choice? That was also before every movie was required to lack a plot and be a showcase for CGI. No good can come from this.

  48. I really don’t understand how anyone can hate on the black hole. The score was amazing and the art direction was incredible. I was 9 when I saw it and was absolutely mesmerized. However, there was definitely a very small audience for this, too young and you freak, too old and you think how lame, I was apparently right in the sweet spot.

  49. At first, I was appalled at Disney’s creative bankruptcy, going back to the well when they could just as easily create something new. But Michael Suttkus #45 reminded me of my usual Hollywood remake policy: aim for something that had unrealized potential. Leave alone those things that achieved their potential or had not potential to begin with.

  50. I LOVED The Black Hole. I’m 40 years old and own the DVD. Vincent rules!!!!

  51. mike burkhart

    One more thing I thought the ending was takeing place in a alternet universe there is (was?) a theory that black holes could leed to other universes (if you survive going thro one) and that is what I thought was at the end of the movie p.s. Phill tell me if this Theory is still accepted because I’ve also read that black holes could leed to other parts of our universe

  52. The score was amazing and the art direction was incredible

    The great visual effects artist Peter Ellenshaw designed many of the matte effects. His son, Harrison, also worked on it.

    The robots were designed by veteran Disney imagineer, George McGinnis, a mechanical engineer by trade who also designed many of the vehicles in Disney parks. He also did the trolley cars that run through L.A.’s “Grove” shopping mall. George tended to complain (a lot) about how the robots came across in the movie, but seriously, with those big doofus eyes and silly voices (Slim, not withstanding), how could they not come across just a wee bit lame.

  53. Kuiskaaja

    This film was one of my early and admitedly influental encounters with science fiction. Though I first experienced it through its comic book versions. It was only a few later that I saw the film on video. By then much of the interest had faded. I still remember being impressed by many of the visual effects and some sequences (e.g. the removal of the humanoid’s faceplate) remained vividly in my mind for years.

    I saw it again in 2008, several times in fact, because I subtitled it for a television screening. You really only start to appreciate how ponderous and often corny the dialogue is and how hokey the “scientific” bits of it are, when you have to spend hours and hours thinking what the actual gist – if any – of any given line might be, so that you can take it and express it in another language in a form condensed enough that most readers get it in less than 3 seconds!

    Oh yes, it is a deeply flawed film, not only because of the confusion about the target audience, but also the half-finished “Captain Nemo meets Star Wars with a bit 2001 Space Odyssey thrown at the end, ‘cause we really don’t know how to end this” plot and the direction that does little to help. But some of the visuals are still striking and beautiful to look at, and John Barry’s score is still excellent, a bit old-fashioned take on the mandatory major-key fanfare thing that became the instant cliché of post-Star Wars space epics.

    Hopefully the remake will start from scratch, but I still doubt if they are going to let science intrude upon it.

  54. Plutonium being from Pluto

    There are a lot of better possible remakes and book ideas that could be done, I’d agree.

    But I’d be willing to maybe give this a go if its (re)done well.

    Heck, it can’t be worse than 2012 or anything else by Emmerich not to mention Armageddon! 😉

  55. Grimbold

    Meh. The movie was pretty ordinary, but its one saving grace was the spaceship. I think it’s the second coolest looking spaceship in any science fiction film, behind only the Event Horizon from the movie of the same name.

  56. CR

    You know, there was a British-produced film made in the 1970’s between Space: 1999’s two seasons (and featuring members of that shows cast & production team) that dealt with the ‘black hole as a gate to another universe’ idea. It was called Into Infinity in the UK, and The Day After Tomorrow in the US. (No, not the dumb ‘weather-gone-wild’ film from a couple of years ago!) I was just explaining the basic plot of The Black Hole to someone, when I remembered the older show… I wonder if writers of The Black Hole got some inspiration from that.

    An unrelated point about The Black Hole: I hate the new title logo on the dvd case. The artwork’s nice enough, even though the Cygnus was never shown in planetary orbit, but I miss the original logo, with the words in the title twisting into the black hole itself. Remember that? The model kits based upon the film (the Cygnus, V.I.N.CENT, and Maximillian) had a similar logo, but not quite as twisted… I guess they thought it was easier to read without the twist. But the new logo on the dvd case? Bah, boring.

  57. Marko

    »Das schwarze Loch« (»The Black Hole« in German) was the second movie I went to watch in a cinema, right after »Elliot, das Schmunzelmonster«, a.k.a. »Pete’s Dragon«. Although our small-town movie theater wasn’t that big of a deal, the colors, sound and huge screen blew my 8-years-old mind back then.

    I remember that I was specially mesmerized by the deep space scenes in »The Black Hole« and the design of the Cygnus. And: floating robots! What a trip. I went twice. Well, recently I watched it again, and man, is that movie ever unrealistic. Even Maximilian Schell seemed to have gotten senile in his role, 30 years after my first viewing!

    But every time I watch some space opera (2001, 2010, Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon V, firefly, BSG), I’m reminded of the 8-year-old who stared at the Cygnus on that big screen back then.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar