Black Hole [1979]

Disney's foray into big-budget science fiction, close on the heels of Star Wars, had some of the most impressive special effects to grace theater screens in the 1970s. Graced by handsome production design--most notably a glass and latticework interstellar craft that looks like a battleship crossed with a modern skyscraper--The Black Hole is in many ways the most beautiful science fiction film of its era. Unfortunately, the graceful and gorgeous picture is jarred by dialogue that wouldn't pass muster in a comic book and a silly conclusion that plays like a murky, dime-store knockoff of 2001. Too bad, because the visual realization of the film is a veritable haunted house of futuristic phenomena, from the cloaked zombie-like drones shuffling through corridors to the devilish, crimson robot Maximillian, the strong arm of the mad scientist played by Maximilian Schell (a kind of wild man Captain Nemo with an even more ruthless temperament). Only the way-too-cute robot V.I.N.CENT (voiced by Roddy McDowall), a merchandising gimmick that looks like a Fisher-Price toy, mars the technological landscape. Robert Forster is the quietly authoritative captain of an exploration ship that stumbles across the seemingly derelict ship, and Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, and Joseph Bottoms fill out his crew. This is one case of a triumph of art direction and special effects over story--it's worth sitting through it to see the magnificent scene of the fireball rolling through the ship's enormous hull alone. The rest is just atmospheric gravy. --Sean Axmaker

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