Oct 9, 2020
The Black Hole (1979), a recap (part 4)
NOTE: This article is a work in progress.
Please check back soon for more installments!
Previously: The crew of the damaged Palomino met the definitely not crazy commander of the legendarily lost starship Cygnus. He’s got a crew of robots running the place led by the definitely not robot murderer of the original human crew, Maximilian. Also, someone commented that the robot’s name is spelled with two LL’s, but the Disney fan wiki spells it with one L. And anyway, every time I try to type Maximi-ll-ian, my Grammarly plug-in has a right-sided stroke.
Doctor Reinhardt offers any parts the Cygnus needs for repairs. It’s at this point that, for absolutely no reason, Vincent decides to pick a fight with Maximilian. He floats himself up so he and Maximilian are eye-to-eye. First Officer Pizer tells Vincent to back off. Vincent refuses that order, because of course NASA built a robot capable of refusing orders. That’s lesson one at robot-building school.
Pizer tries to reason with Vincent in the most Pizer way possible: “When you’re nose-to-nose with a trash compactor, you cool it.” This doesn’t make sense, and it certainly doesn’t work. Reinhardt thinks it’s all very funny, citing David and Goliath as he laughs. Captain Holland has to ask Reinhardt to please call his robot off. Reinhard does and they get back to the thing where Maximilian is supposed to help them fix their ship.
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Holland, Pizer, and Vincent get in the elevator with Maximilian. And Vincent continues to antagonize the clearly-marked murdering machine, saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” This, for some reason, causes Maximilian to turn fully upside-down. I cannot imagine the source code that would cause this response.
Harry Booth, Dr. McCrae, and Anthony Perkins stay with Reinhardt. Booth asks why Reinhardt didn’t obey the order to return to earth once he fixed his ship. Reinhardt says there were larger considerations, and other worlds to explore. Booth points out that the authorities would still consider that an act of piracy. And… no they wouldn’t. It’s mutiny, not piracy. This script went through years of rewrites and nobody bothered to look that up.
Holland’s group follows Maximillian across a dangerously high footbridge in a dangerously long corridor with, once again, no handrails.
Pizer notes that the place seems pretty busy. He asks “Max” what they’re gearing up for. There’s been no indication that the death robot can speak, so I don’t know what Pizer is doing. I doubt Pizer knows. They come to a hallway with an old, broken robot trying to do some sort of robot thing. Maximilian bats him aside, but he gets up and we get our first look at old B.O.B.
Bob is basically what would happen if you hit Vincent with a baseball bat thirty or forty times a day for two decades. And that, by the way, is something I would not mind doing at all. Vincent tries to introduce himself. Bob, shaking in fear of Maximilian, just leaves. Also, while Vincent’s eyes are square. Bob has these sad, rounded Wall-E eyes.
Dr. Reinhardt leads his tour group to some kind of warp core/engine room. It’s yet another long shaft of death encircled by tiers of robotic workers at their computer stations. Reinhardt claims, “There is enough instant energy down there to supply all of Earth.” That’s a pretty vague claim for a scientist. Technically, I generate enough energy to supply all of Earth for, you know, a really small amount of time.
In any case, everybody is very impressed. Dr. McCrae calls it the first step to colonizing the galaxy. Considering the fact that decades earlier, the US was able to build an interstellar spaceship the size of lower Manhattan, I have no idea what she’s talking about.
Anthony Perkins says Reinhardt will be remembered as one of the greatest space scientists of all time. Reinhardt doesn’t disagree. He says that it’s about time people learned of their failures and his successes. Then he immediately contradicts himself by saying he doesn’t want to go back to Earth and he doesn’t enjoy successes anymore. He’s on the brink of something even greater. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the sneaking suspicion that he maybe intends to—and stop me if you think I’m completely off-base—fly his ship into the black hole.
As Reinhardt continues on about how great he is, he fails to notice that Harry Booth has slipped away from the group. One of the greatest scientific minds ever, and he can’t keep track of three people.
Captain Holland, who ostensibly was going back to the Palomino to start repairs, has begun to get a little suspicious himself. He stops one of those railcars and goes off to explore on his own. He wanders around the crew quarters, all of which are very spacious by spacefaring standards. Each one has a bed and a little desk area. Once again, Cygnus left earth with no gravity. So. What. Are. The. Beds. For?
Holland leaves the crew area to discover the robot guys are holding some sort of funeral service. They all stand solemnly and then shoot a casket out of the ship and into deep space.
As Holland turns to leave, he finds Maximilian right behind him. He tells the giant, hovering, dismemberment engine that he must have made a wrong turn. He also calls him Max, which seems needlessly antagonistic in my view.
Harry Booth, meanwhile, has wandered into a large, mostly empty room with one robot guy manning a console of some sort. Everything now has taken on a very cathedral-looking aesthetic. Booth comments to the robot dude that it’s quite a layout he’s got there. It is. It’s also quite an inefficient layout. Booth is upset that the robot guy doesn’t answer him even though, again, there’s no reason to think it even has the capability. In fact, based on what they’ve seen so far, there’s every reason to think it doesn’t.
Booth gets right in the robot gentleman’s face and shouts, “Are you programmed to speak?” The thing doesn’t answer. Booth disappointedly sighs, “I guess that would make you a little too real.” And the score here gets very sad and haunting. It’s almost as if we’re meant to conclude that the robot is just a shell of what it once was. Nah, I’m just spouting nonsense. There’s no way the person-shaped thing could be the lobotomized body of an actual person. Ignore me completely.
As Harry peers into a window at a large farm bay, the robot guy walks out. Harry yells at him to come back. Since none of these guys have ever responded to yelling, the guy fails to respond to yelling. Harry runs (as well as Ernest Borgnine can run) into the hall to find the robot dude long gone.
Another cut and we’re with Holland, Pizer, and Vincent repairing the Palomino. I have no idea where Maximilian is. I’d like to imagine he’s staring at himself naked in the mirror and imagining he’s a pretty girl. Holland tells Pizer about the funeral he saw, but Pizer scoffs that robots don’t have funerals. Holland answers, “I never said it was a robot.” And I, for one, am overjoyed. Finally, two characters in this movie are comparing notes.
Pizer and Holland conclude that Reinhardt is lying. Pizer asks, “What do you think he’s up to?” And Holland replies, “I haven’t got a clue.” Guys, he intends to fly into that huge black hole. He basically told you so himself. See, I hate this. I hate when the characters in a movie are collectively dumber than the audience.
Holland and Pizer conclude that they should just repair their ship and get out of there. Pizer tells Vincent to hurry up, and Vincent, having not said anything ridiculous in ten minutes, answers, “A pint cannot hold a quart, Mr. Pizer. If it holds a pint, it’s doing the best it can.” And let’s take a moment to mourn the first three letters in Vincent’s name, “Vital Information Necessary”, because that nonsense was not vital, very likely wasn’t informative, and certainly wasn’t necessary. It’s like if every time I tried to open two windows at once, my Chromebook flashed, “Hey, Mary only had one lamb, okay, jackass?”
Dr. McCrae and Anthony Perkins are back on the bridge with Reinhardt, who still hasn’t noticed that Booth is missing because plot. They’re all looking out the window, contemplating the beauty and deadliness of the black hole. Dr. McCrae calls it a “long, dark tunnel to nowhere.” Reinhardt quickly corrects her, “Or somewhere.” Once again, he might have well have said, “Hey guys, I absolutely intend to fly into that black hole. Also, I killed a bunch of the crew and you really don’t want to know what I did with the rest.”
Reinhardt guesses that Anthony Perkins longs for a sense of his own greatness, but has not yet found his true direction. I don’t know why Reinhardt would think that, seeing as Perkins scored a seat on a journey to find extraterrestrial life in the galaxy. That seems like a job that requires some vague sense of direction. It would be like if Gene Cernan shrugged, “Eh, I’m not sure what to do with my life. Let me check out what these moon landings are all about.”
Anthony Perkins, for his part, agrees that his life has no meaning. Regarding his true purpose, he says, “Perhaps I could find it here, if you’re in no hurry for us to leave.” This directly contradicts Holland’s wishes, but since nobody in this movie ever talks to anybody, he has no way of knowing that. Radios appear not to exist in the future. Reinhardt invites them all to discuss it further over dinner.
Next time: The crew’s dinner goes slightly better than The Empire Strikes Back and way more boring than My Dinner with Andre. Also, you have a Merry Christmas as I eat Chinese food, as is the custom of my people.