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Disney’s the Black Hole

Every weekend I’m watching a movie with my daughters, six and eight. Their mom isn’t exactly thrilled, especially when it’s a beautiful day out, but we spent the late morning and the hour after lunch cleaning up the yard and washing the car, so there’s not too much she could say yesterday.

This weekend was Disney’s the Black Hole. This is a movie of which I have very fond memories. I absolutely love the soundtrack by John Barry (who also did a bunch of scores for the James Bond movies) and the concept of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Over a Black Hole” is outstanding. The cast assembled is also pretty darn good with some real standouts – Robert Forster knows how to play a captain and you can’t do mad scientist better than Maximillian Schell.

The biggest problem for me was that Disney couldn’t seem to decide if this was a kid’s movie or an adult’s movie. Now, it is absolutely possible to do both, but it’s hard and I don’t think that happened here. The character of “Bob,” the beaten up old robot voiced by Slim Pickens and S.T.A.R., the sentry robot prototype that pretty much self-destructs after a loss and some juvenile taunting, are examples of ideas that really only works for kids. The main narrative purpose of Bob seemed as a way to get confirmation of information the main characters had already gleaned for themselves, and it might have worked better to excise that character and allow the protagonists’ suspicions to only be confirmed by Alex’s action on the bridge.

It certainly worked for my girls, except for the ending, which left them perplexed. It gave me a chance to discuss how sometimes it’s up to you to decide how a movie ended and to try to explain imagery and ideas in movies. I think they got it, and my eight year-old made her interpretation of the ending that we all accepted (riddled with holes though it might be – she’s eight!).

I would cautiously recommend this movie to fans of sci-fi, but provide a stronger recommendation of it as a serious sci-fi movie one can watch with children. I give the Black Hole 3.75 huge red psychotic robots out of 5. It’s an entertaining enough movie, but it has some real issues with tone and consistency.