Release Date(s)1979 (August 13, 2019)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Productions (Disney Movie Club Exclusive)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: N/A
[Editor’s Note: The Disney Movie Club has now produced a fixed version of The Black Hole on Blu-ray that begins with the film’s overture when you play the disc. There is no way to tell based on the packaging or disc labeling which is which, but the version now available from DMC is the fixed disc. If you purchased a copy of the old one, contact DMC customer service and they’ll send you the new one free of charge.]
The space probe Palomino and its crew are returning to Earth after the end of a long mission, when they detect a gravitational anomaly. This turns out to be a black hole, with a lost Earth ship, the Cygnus, orbiting safely nearby. But no spacecraft should be able to do that, so the Palomino investigates and discovers that Cygnus isn’t the derelict it seems. Its captain is Hans Reinhardt, a genius scientist who—while leading a crew of robots in lieu of the human crew he claims to have lost—has made extraordinary discoveries of anti-gravity and energy production. But Reinhardt isn’t being completely honest with his new guests, and he’s got big plans for the Cygnus, the Palomino… and the black hole.
Disney’s The Black Hole is a curious film. A slow-burn science fiction adventure with more intellectual action than the actual variety, it’s equal parts Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (yet not as exciting as either), with threats both technological and otherworldly, and an almost perfectly clichéd mad scientist villain. The film is highly cinematic, with gorgeous production design by Harrison Ellenshaw that’s as lavish as it is impractical. The unlikely cast includes such luminaries as Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Anthony Perkins (Psycho), Yvette Mimieux (The Time Machine), Ernest Borgnine (McHale’s Navy), and Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg), with the voices of Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) and Slim Pickens (Dr. Strangelove) along for good measure. And it features an iconic and memorable John Barry score. But the plot is paper-thin, better suited to a TV format, yet it’s stretched to feature-length by the film’s glacial early pacing. In the end, it’s fair to say that a certain fondness of memory definitely benefits any viewing of this film. I’m quite fond of it, but it would probably bore the hell out of modern audiences.
Fans have long wanted to see The Black Hole released on Blu-ray, but Disney held it back for years in the hope of remaking the film. Unfortunately, prior to buying Lucasfilm, their forays into big screen science fiction and fantasy have largely been busts (think TRON Legacy, John Carter, and Tomorrowland), so no remake has occurred. The studio thus surprised fans by quietly releasing the film on Blu-ray as a Disney Movie Club exclusive… but the real surprise is how lackluster the quality is.
While the film has likely been scanned from best available elements, there’s been almost no restoration whatsoever and those elements clearly need it. Grain levels are wildly uneven, as is the color—some shots are lush and gorgeous while others are desaturated and overly soft. Clearly, there’s not been a digital restoration effort nor even a proper color grade. Worse yet, the matte shots are uneven, with some areas of the frame looking lovely while others are faded. The film is at least presented in the proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the audio is a lossless DTS-HD MA encode in 5.1, but dialogue levels are uneven and there’s a bit of warble during the opening credits. Optional English SDH subtitles are included, but there are no extras whatsoever—not unexpected for Disney Movie Club releases but still disappointing given that this is billed as an Anniversary Edition on the cover. The biggest offense though is that while the film’s overture is included on the disc, whoever authored it screwed up the chapter stops so the film starts playing at the opening credits. You can’t access the overture except on a computer Blu-ray drive.
Am I glad to finally have The Black Hole available in HD? Yes. And the disc is cheap, so that’s something. But the lack of effort here is striking, especially for a studio of Disney’s size, which speaks to a shocking lack of interest in this film. The studio should certainly have given this a proper restoration. At the very least, they should fix the authoring error that denies viewers access to the overture. [Thankfully, they have. See note above.] I completely understand why fans would still want to buy the Blu-ray as is—I did and I’m still glad to have it. But I can’t in good conscience recommend it, especially if you’re not already a fan.
- Bill Hunt