Feb 21, 2020
The Black Hole (1979), a recap (part 3)
NOTE: This article is a work in progress.
Please check back soon for more installments!
Previously: The small crew of the USS Palomino was surprised to find the very large and very lost USS Cygnus on the edge of a black hole. They were forced to dock and explore the ship for reasons. Those reasons took ten minutes and all could have been replaced with the line, “Hey, let’s dock and explore the ship.”
It’s minute 22, and I think Disney has gotten themselves ready to start the movie. Everybody from the Palomino ventures farther into the Cygnus—that is, everybody except First Officer Pizer who was ordered to stay behind. He’s been acting like a ten-year-old at bedtime, though, so screw him.
Doors keep opening for the crew and then closing behind them, forcing them forward. I’m not sure of the point, since they generally wanted to go forward in the first place. Oh, I forgot to mention: Vincent the robot can now hover. Take a look.
As the crew moves away, four definitely-not-stormtrooper things show up at the Palomino. They’re humanoid-like, though they walk without bending their knees. They’ve got weapons in each hand as they advance on the airlock and an unsuspecting Pizer. But he’s been acting like Donald Trump at a NATO conference so, really, screw him.
The rest of the crew finds themselves in a small room with a rail car. This actually makes sense, because the ship is a mile long. People need to get around. The track that the car is on takes them on a breathtaking view through a transparent tube along the outside of the ship, looking at the stars above them and the colossus below. It’s a great effect, but why did they design the ship this way? They’re just sitting out in the open. Anything could pierce this tube and then everybody dies. That’s just bad planning.
Also, the cart only has four chairs. What would they have done if Pizer came with them? Have him sit on Anthony Perkins’ lap?
The crew makes it safely to the base of the conning tower. And the tower looks great, but as always with this movie, I have no idea what function it would serve. This is a spaceship, not the USS Gerald R. Ford.
They walk over to an elevator that will take them to the top of the tower. An elevator… on a ship that was built for zero-G. That’s the spaceship NASA designed. We find out later that the captain just Tony Stark’d up some gravity plating over the last twenty years. And then did he build an elevator? I don’t know. I do know that Disney+ now carries a warning for Peter Pan that says, “May contain outdated cultural depictions.”
Vincent is a little concerned. He says that some of his “brother robots” were assigned to “Project Black Hole”, and they were programmed to send messages by ESP as they melted. Harry Booth tells him that this is ancient history. Vincent responds, “Not to me, Mr. Booth.”
Despite the tantalizingly fascinating backstory about ESP, they actually tell us nothing about ESP. And why would people program a robot to feel kinship with other robots? A long-simmering resentment towards humans is not exactly the best characteristic for a piece of machinery that could kill everyone in their sleep. Also, Project Black Hole is a stupid name. I can think of four better names off the top of my head: Project Einstein, Project Dark Star, Project We Invented Robots with ESP for This, and of course, Project Anything Else Other Than Black Hole.
The elevator opens on an impressive array of two stories of command consoles full of all sorts of blinking lights and computer screens. None of them look in any way functional, but they do look impressive. And they’re all under a huge dome of windows. It’s a tremendous waste of space. There’s a reason the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule doesn’t have a formal dining room.
Dr. McCrae calls out to the people sitting in all those chairs. They don’t answer. Vincent states that they appear to all be robots. One figure begins to descend from the second story and come towards them. It does not at all look friendly. It kind of looks like Darth Vader, but that would be impossible. That would mean Disney stole an idea.
Despite the fact that this robot was clearly built to look very scary, McCrae attempts to ask it about her father. The murder robot, being a murder robot and all, raises two spinning claws of murder and advances on the team, who don’t bother to run away screaming like I definitely would have. Instead, they stand around and discuss the implications of a ship full of robots. Anthony Perkins marvels that the murder-bot is in charge.
A deep, male voice from nearby says, “Not quite, Anthony Perkins.” He actually calls him Dr. Durant, which I guess is the character’s name, but come on, he’s completely Anthony Perkins. He continues, “Maximilian and my robots only run this ship the way I wish it run.” He then calls Maximilian off, and asks Dr. McCrae to come closer and then welcomes her aboard the Cygnus. And we get our first look at Oscar winner Maximilian Schell as Dr. Hans Reinhardt. He looks like he’s seen better days.
Rather than run the hell away, which is what I would have done, everybody marvels at the legendary Dr. Reinhardt. They each take a turn saying his name. Dr. McCrae asks him about her father, and Reinhardt tells her sadly that her father didn’t make it. At this point, the crew of the Palomino has all the information they need. The Cygnus set out over twenty years ago with a huge crew and no gravity to find alien life. They failed, as did the Palomino. Now, Dr. Reinhardt is orbiting a black hole with a giant, blood-red murder-bot. But since there are no aliens, then who was the murder-bot designed to kill?
The crew. Reinhardt clearly built it to kill the crew. And since he now looks like Mandy Patinkin doing a one-man staging of Cast Away, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s completely crazy. If I were Captain Dan Holland, I would wish him well, back away slowly, jump in my half-broken ship and get the hell out. I’d be like Scooby-Doo encountering a ghost.
Instead of running right the hell away, the Palomino crew gets taken in by the following stupid story: Cygnus encountered a meteorite storm and was disabled. Its main and auxiliary communications systems were smashed. Reinhardt claims he told the crew to abandon ship and return home as ordered. He and McCrae’s father stayed aboard. He never found out what happened to the rest of his crew.
Goddamn this movie. It can’t go fifteen seconds without raising more questions than it answers. There were escape pods that could make it back to Earth? So the disabled spaceship was carrying a whole bunch of other, functional spaceships? And if Reinhardt never knew what became of his crew, how come that isn’t his first shmothershmucking question? “Forget about me! Do you people know what happened to my entire crew? It’s been twenty years and I have no idea how any of it turned out. Also, who won the Game of Thrones? Was it Tyrion? Tell me it wasn’t Tyrion!”
Also, one doesn’t encounter meteorites in space. Until they hit the atmosphere, they’re meteors. Dr. Reinhardt, the commander of a starship, doesn’t know that.
At this point, the elevator opens and out walks Pizer, escorted by those heavily armed robot things. Reinhardt welcomes him, and I’ve never been so disappointed to see a character still alive in my life. Reinhardt tells them they can repair their ship and be on their way. Anthony Perkins offers Reinhardt the chance to return to earth with them. He chuckles and informs them that he doesn’t want to go back. Because he’s crazy.
Everybody’s a little concerned that the Cygnus is in danger of being destroyed by the black hole. It’s as if the genius robot-maker has failed to notice. Dr. Reinhardt blithely explains, like a schizophrenic person on the L train:
Dr. Reinhardt: One step too far and we are done. But there’s no cause for alarm. We developed antigravity forces to maintain our position. It’s what you might call a Mexican stand-off. [Warning: May contain outdated cultural depictions.]
The crew breaks off into teams. Holland, Pizer, and Vincent accompany Maximilian the Murder Machine to get parts to fix their ship. I realize I’m a little obsessed with the purpose-built killing appliance, but here’s a question: Why is it named Maximilian? I get the fact that they might have named it that in the script. But once they cast Maximilian Schell as its boss, shouldn’t they have just named it something else? It would be like if Captain Marvel’s cat had been named Brie Larson.
The two scientists and the reporter stay with Reinhardt to hear more about his crazy plan… and also about his theories of black holes, 9/11, and how the Rothschilds control the world’s banks.
Next time: Dr. Reinhardt presents an hour-long PowerPoint presentation on the fact that Michael Jackson is still alive, Project MKUltra is chemtrails, and something about Democratic servers and Hunter Biden. We do finally get to meet Slim Pickens, so that’s nice. Also, we find out that Bran Stark won the Game of Thrones. Bran Stark. Let that sink in.