Seen as how BOB has been hanging around the website for some time now (he's the robot at the top left) I thought it was about time that I reviewed The Black Hole, the book (and film) that features BOB. The book is a direct novelisation of the 1979 Disney film of the same name, written by Alan Dean Foster.
Where Lucas presented to the world a galaxy of myraid strange alien creatures, here we have the polar opposite, despite 18 months of searching for habitable planets and alien life the crew of the USS Palomino have found nothing outside of a few microbes and unusual chemical reactions. While plotting a course back home they detect the largest black hole they have ever seen and on the edge of the event horizon is an impossible object, a ship that is somehow resisting the singularities relentless pull.
The film was the first ever Disney created product to feature a PG rating and there is a much more mature, darker feeling than anything Disney had created up to this date - it's also the first real foray they made into science fiction and also the most expensive film they had created (costing $26 million including advertising).
It was Disney's big Christmas release of 1979, however it didn't make the splash they were hoping (making more of a very small "plop"). Even though it was well received at the time by critics such as Variety, The New York Times and Time Magazine and had very advanced special effects it is thought that many couldn't get round the idea that Disney could produce this kind of film, coupled with the fact that a rather popular science fiction film released two years previous set viewers expectations of what a sci-fi film should look like.
I first watched The Black Hole in the early 1980's and I was already enamoured with space - Black Holes fascinated me with the sheer power, something that not even light itself can escape - bending time and space with it's incredible intensity. I loved the film with it's dark, gritty feel and intelligent robots V.I.N.CENT ("Vital Information Necessary CENTralized") and B.O.B. (BiO-sanitation Battalion).
Although there are some Disney hallmarks it's not like any other of their films i've seen before or since, with a brooding score (composed by the late John Barry who wrote 11 of the James Bond soundtracks), dramatic camera angles and a striking ending. It starred many familiar faces of the time including the irrepressible Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Perkins (best known as Norman Bates) and Robert Forster.
I managed to pick up the DVD of the film a few years ago and thought it only fair that I re-watched it as part of the review. I must admit that even now some of the special effects have aged very well - the most telling signs of it being a 32 year old film is the way computers are depicted and the actors clothes and hair. The film itself is just as good as I remember with the brooding music and striking camera angles.
Ernest Borgnine is his usual distrustful self and the acting better than most Disney live action films (certainly less twee), the star of the show of course remains old BOB. The book and the film follow very closely to each other for most of the duration, with the exception of the ending - the book even has a few pictures taken from the film dotted through it's pages.
In my opinion Alan Dean Foster is a master when it comes to writing novelisations, his ability to infuse his work with the films character and feeling is unmatched. He also manages to always bring the characters to life on the page and effortlessly fills in all those blanks needed when reading rather than watching.
The story itself follows our intrepid explorer's search of this incredible ship at the edge of the Black Hole and there they find Dr. Hans Reinhardt, the brilliant but possibly mad scientist who was thought lost 20 years ago along with the USS Cygnus exploration vessel. Things aren't what they seem though it it isn't long before everything goes a bit pear shaped (and not due to gravity). The dialogue is tightly written, the characters full of little human foibles and the pace spot on, the plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested and overall it's a great, albeit brief book. I must admit that I struggle to understand why the ending was changed, while the books ending is great, there was also nothing wrong with the films finale.
The Black Hole remains a classic work of film and literature, a hidden gem that has been sadly overlooked by many.
Written on Friday 13th May 2011 by Antony.
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