Friday, May 4, 2012

Film Friday: The Black Hole (1979) v. Event Horizon (1997)

Disney’s The Black Hole and Paul Anderson’s Event Horizon don’t seem to have much in common. Black Hole is classic science fiction with robots and mad scientists and questions about the meaning of life. Event Horizon is a slasher film set in space. So why compare them? Because they’re actually the same movie.

** spoiler alert **

Black Hole has a fascinating history. It was the first Disney film not classified as suitable for all ages and it made $36 million at the box office and another $25 million in rentals on a $20 million budget. This success led Disney to experiment with more adult-oriented films, which led to the creation of Touchstone Pictures.

Black Hole is the story of the crew of the USS Palomino, whose mission is to search the universe for signs of life. In the process, they discover a derelict ship hovering on the edge of a black hole. This is the USS Cygnus, captained by Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell). After boarding the ship, they discover that Reinhardt is still alive. He’s surrounded by robots -- drones, security troops and a sinister robot called Maximilian. Reinhardt claims the original human crew abandoned ship when the Cygnus was damaged. He stayed aboard hoping to save the ship and continue his research. In the twenty years since the ship went missing, he has perfected an anti-gravity drive and he now plans to use that to take the Cygnus into the black hole itself. Soon, Reinhardt’s story starts to unravel and the Palomino crew discover that the Cygnus crew never left, they have been turned into these drones. Reinhardt tries to kill them and a running battle ensues. During this battle, the Cygnus enters the black hole, which we learn is a gateway to both Heaven and Hell.

Despite surface differences, Event Horizon is rather similar. In Event Horizon, the crew of the Lewis and Clark are dispatched to investigate and rescue a derelict ship. That ship is the Event Horizon, which vanished seven years prior. It vanished because it was using a gravity drive which harnesses the power of a man-made black hole. When the original crew operated the gravity drive, that drive sucked them to Hell. It then returned the ship after the crew slaughtered each other in an orgy of blood. Like Black Hole, there is a mad scientist in the person of Sam Neill, who designed the Event Horizon and is a passenger on the Lewis and Clark. The return of the ship pushes him over the edge of sanity and he eventually tries to kill the crew of the Lewis and Clark, and that’s the whole plot. This film was a bust making only $26 million on a budget of $60 million.

So consider this: both stories involve derelict ships found by rescuers. They are derelict because of black holes, which become the cause of the plot. Both black holes lead to Hell. Both films involve killer mad scientists as the villains. Both films have someone on the rescue ship who lost a family member when the derelict disappeared. Both rescue ships get destroyed, as do the derelicts, and both crews escape in lifepods. That’s pretty similar. Yet, Event Horizon stunk whereas Black Hole is truly an under-appreciate gem. Here’s why.

Event Horizon is one of those films with lots of promise which never pays off, which is typical of Paul Anderson films because they lack substance. Look at the characters for example. Despite having a solid cast (Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill and Jason Isaacs), you never care about the characters because they’re all the same. They all have the identical motivations and personalities. You could literally swap their names and jobs halfway through the film and no one could tell. Black Hole, by comparison, has inferior actors, but vastly superior characters. Each characters has their own strengths and weaknesses which make them relevant and memorable. Captain Holland is smart and cautious. Lt. Pizer is reckless and brave. Booth (Ernest Borgnine) is cowardly. Dr. Durant (Anthony Perkins) is easily awed and becomes torn between the crew and Reinhardt. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) has ESP, and VINCENT (Roddy McDowall) is the feisty, brave and motherly floating robot sidekick. The Black Hole crew are interesting and unique, with each guaranteed to have their good and bad moments in the story. The Event Horizon crew are just bodies to be fed into the special-effects grinder at regular intervals.

Now consider the villains. In Event Horizon the villain is ostensibly the ship, only the real villain is Sam Neill. And while I normally like Neill, here he just plays the standard “appears out of nowhere, says something evil, slaughters crew” type villain. You can’t remember a single line or moment. By comparison, Black Hole has three layers of villains, plus a surprise villain in Borgnine. The first layer is the security robots, who are easy to evade unless they appear in great numbers. Then you have Reinhardt who is crawling with complex motivations. He’s upset the world hasn’t recognized his genius and he’s obsessed with entering the black hole. He’s also gone mad living alone and fears Maximilian. Finally, you have Maximilian, who is a silent mechanical killing machine, like an early terminator, who becomes the personification of Satan. This affords the heroes in Black Hole a much greater and more interesting challenge.

Interestingly, Black Hole also becomes the more effective horror film, even though it’s not a horror film. And no, I’m not kidding. Black Hole means to be science fiction, not horror, but it has a tension which ratchets up repeatedly and leaves you with chilling psychological questions. The film begins with the discovery of the seeming ghost ship, the Cygnus. The ambiance is eerie because it is the kind of environment you can easily imagine where people once occupied the ship and now they are gone to some unexplained fate. It’s like being in an abandoned building where you know something evil happened, and it plays on our fear of being alone, fear of being hunted, and fear of the unknown. Then the Palomino crew discover that the drones are what is left of the original crew, who now live in a desiccated, zombie-like living-death existence. The terror of being imprisoned as the walking dead within your own body for the last twenty years suddenly hits the audience. Finally, the fight for survival begins.

Event Horizon offers no such mid-level tension, it just proceeds from creepy arrival to bloodbath. The ship is dark and ugly and unrealistic, and the plot is entirely watching these people get blown up and sliced apart in an orgy of blood. It’s all very gross and very generic. Yawn. The difference is this: Black Hole touches upon things that scare us and leaves you with several disturbing thoughts to consider when the film is over, Event Horizon leaves you with some ugly pictures you soon forget. Supplementing this, Black Hole has a masterful John Barry soundtrack which has a dizzying effect and supplements the emotional triggers of the film. Event Horizon has a forgettable heavy-metal soundtrack.

The endings are substantively different as well. Black Hole poses the interesting question of what lies beyond the event horizon of a black hole, and it answers that Heaven and Hell are there. It then suggests a view of both, with Hell involving fire, perpetual slavery, and loneliness. Event Horizon sets up the same premise that black holes are gateways to Hell, but it never really explains anything except to say that this somehow caused the crew to butcher each other. . . for some reason. That’s hardly contemplative.

Both Event Horizon and Black Hole have become cult classics, but there’s really no comparison. Black Hole is a well-designed movie which steps up the tension bit by bit, creates a solid eerie atmosphere, gives you lively and unique characters, and finishes with some memorable and thought-provoking ideas. Event Horizon is a bloodbath and nothing more. Its characters are carbon copies, its plot is minimal, it relies on cheap tricks to shock you rather than scare you, and it’s entirely forgettable.

It’s fascinating that two films with virtually identical premises can turn out so differently. I would love to see what a Ridley Scott could do with this concept.


K said...

It would have been nice if Black Hole had foreshadowed the heaven and hell effect more - and even given it some kind of convincing philosophical discussion.

The ending always struck me as tacked on pseudo profundity ala the 2001 Star Child.

tryanmax said...

The ideal would be Black Hole with the aesthetic of Event Horizon. Ridley Scott could probably surpass even that. I'm having a hard time keeping my Jockeys dry waiting for Prometheus to come out.

DUQ said...

Andrew, I'm amazed you spotted these as the same movie! The absolutely are and never put that together! Excellent analysis.

DUQ said...

tryanmax, I'm excited for that one too! Prometheus is going to be great!

AndrewPrice said...

K, I agree, it would have been better if they had set the ending up more clearly. I also think Disney was constrained by still being a company which made films for kids at the time, so there are lots of little "cute" elements which keep the film from hitting its potential. But it is a solid film -- though a remake would be excellent.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, The problem with the aesthetic of Event Horizon is that it was all so fake. They built a ship that you couldn't believe anyone would board. Seriously who paints the walls of a spaceship black and then puts random spikes along the walls so you can spear bodies? It was the same problem with Pandorum -- the ship was simply a nonsensical maze designed to give the characters a challenge rather than a spaceship.

That's one of the genius things about Alien. The ship is truly believable. It's livable (it even looks lived in unlike so much science fiction), it's functional and everything about it makes sense. BUT when the lights went down slightly and when the danger appeared in the shadows, it became a truly scary place.

Anderson has a history of getting great concepts and ruining them with unbelievable sets and flat characters and blood-bath plots.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, It didn't occur to me for quite some time because the execution of the two is so very different. But they are fundamentally the same film with the same elements. They've just tinkered a bit with each element and ended up turning out very different films.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen Event Horizon in years and I only watched The Black Hole for the first time last year.

I agree that TBH has a few too many cutesy elements but the ending kinda freaked me out. Yeah, it kinda comes out of nowhere but it's effective. John Barry's score certainly helps there.

As for Event Horizon, it's been a while but from what I can recall, the Hell thing almost comes across as an afterthought, as if the filmmakers wanted to make a haunted spaceship movie but couldn't think of an explanation until the day they had to shoot one. (I'm not saying that's what happened, only that it appears that way).

And even when I saw the film for the first time when it premiered on HBO (I would've been 14 or 15), I was surprised at how wooden the acting was. In Fishburne's case, I don't know if it was intentional or not. I also thought Richard T. Jones (the other black actor) was terrible but years later he appeared on the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and he was excellent... so consider my opinion changed!

By the way, we discussed the ships from Event Horizon here. I believe the filmmakers wanted their ship[s to look like Gothic cathedrals even though there is absolutely no reason for a spaceship to look like that.

As for the music, I'm not 100% sure but I believe the score is a combination of heavy metal by a group called Orbital and an orchestral score by the late Michael Kamen. I get the feeling some of Kamen's material wasn't used and I agree that the heavy metal songs at the beginning and end are totally out of place.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ and tryanmax, I'm excited about Prometheus too. Scott has an excellent track record with everything he's done and I think he'll do a great job here.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Welcome back from your vacation from vacation! ;)

I think Black Hole was handicapped by Disney's need to stay kid-friendly throughout. That kept it from really hitting its potential and them making another 2001 or Alien. In fact, I think people think of it as a kids movie today, even though it wasn't. In any event, what they did is still highly effective. And I think it ultimately does achieve an excellent level of horror. It's not the gross-out kind of horror, but it's more the suspense/psychological horror of a Sixth Sense... though not quite as dark. One reason I'd love to see it remade is to see it reach its full potential all around.

On Event Horizon, I agree with you. They set up the idea of a mystery ("where was the ship") but don't really seem to have an answer -- again, not uncommon in Paul Anderson films. So it feels like they sat around scratching their heads until someone said, "where could this ship go that would be really bad? Oh, how about Hell?!" Then they decided to include a line or two about that and then move on back to the bloodbath. Apparently, Anderson was actually forced to cut out close to 30 minutes of violence believe it or not.

You are right about the soundtrack -- Orbital did the heavy metal... and it was crap and it was misused. They basically used it like you would use something jumping at you out of the shadows.

And yes, we have discussed the ship design before. Event Horizon loses a lot of credibility with me in that regard. It's just not believable that anyone would build or board this ship. And so much doesn't make sense, like how does Neill move around the ship unnoticed? It's just not possible with their design.

Doc Whoa said...

Black Hole is a fun film. I think it's not consequential for the reason you mention -- they tried to "kiddie it down." But it still achieved a lot and made for a fun and interesting film, with some good thoughts.

Like you, I would love to see it remade.

I hear lots of people just lapping praise on Event Horizon and I don't get it. I've seen the film a couple times and it just can't hold my interest. It's a better concept than an execution.

Doc Whoa said...

DUQ, Andrew often finds strange things that other people miss. I never recognized these as the same film either, but now that he's mentioned it, the similarities are striking.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, "kiddie it down" -- well put! I think Black Hole is ripe for a remake. Using more modern storytelling techniques and effects, take a guy with some talent like a Nolan or Scott and let them run with this story... it could become legendary science fiction!

I hear that a lot about Event Horizon too and I never have understood it. I've seen the movie maybe a dozen times now because I've wanted to like it and I wanted to see if I was missing something. But the dialog is weak and pointless, the characters indifferent, the acting (as Scott says) is pedestrian, the "plot" is almost nonexistent after the set up, and there just isn't much to hold your interest. I can't explain why this has become a cult hit except that the idea itself has a lot of potential.

DUQ said...

Doc, Andrew is good at that, he does that all the time. :D

AndrewPrice said...

Doc and DUQ, I call 'em like I see 'em! ;)

Ed said...

DUQ and DOC, Andrew has an interesting mind. We should dissect him! ;D

Ed said...

On the films, I enjoy Black Hole, but I have to say it does always strike me as kiddie show. This is one time being a Disney film really does hurt. So I have a hard time taking it seriously like I do something like Blade Runner or 2001.

I like Event Horizon because I like the aesthetics (as trynamax put it) and I like the actors a lot. I don't think it's a great film and never seek it out, but I watch it sometimes when it's on.

Commander Max said...

I never saw "Event Horizon", but I know "The Black Hole" very well.
I disagree about the casts, the Black Hole had a superior cast sporting Oscar winners, and household names. I can't say the same of Event Horizon since I haven't seen the film. I can't account of performances. But the cast members are familiar, but not as memorable. But the Event Horizon cast were not in the old Hollywood system.

What I really liked about the black hole was the world it presented outside the movie. Reinhardt was an acknowledged genius(they refereed to the Cygnus, as the costliest fiasco of all time, and Reinhardt refused to admit failure). His character came across as more of a mad ego driven genius, with delusions of his own grandeur. That drove him to the level of thinking that he can play God. Or in simpler terms made him insane.

The problems with The Black Hole were not the actors, but in story and editing. It suffered from rewrites, and a desperate Disney trying change it's image.

AndrewPrice said...

Bad Ed... no dissection!

Event Horizon does have a cult following, I just don't get it. I've tried many times to like it and I just can't. There's just nothing to latch onto.

CrispyRice said...

I remember that I sooooo wanted to see Event Horizon when it came out. I love Sam Neill and I love sci-fi. Alas, it was a slasher bloodfest. Blah.

I barely remember Black Hole from my youth, but I'm sure I'd be happy to watch it again!

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Opinions may vary on the cast, but I personally think Fishburne, Neill and Isaacs are top notch and are better actors than Perkins, Borgnine and the rest. I'm not saying the Black Hole cast is bad, I just don't think they're first rate.

In terms of the problems with Black Hole, I suspect the biggest issue is Disney's unease with what they were trying to achieve. I think they wanted to do something "adult" and "significant", but then were too afraid to venture away from their roots. I suspect this would have been a very different film if they'd made it 10 years later under Touchstone.

I totally agree about Reinhardt. He's a great villain because he makes so much sense. He's an ego maniac genius who gets publicly recognized as a genius (feeding his ego) and comes to believe he's above the rest of humanity. Indeed, the whole "Reinhardt's folly" thing even demonstrates that he's gotten to the point where he thinks that his own priorities should now be national priorities. And then he gets slapped down by the budget people and that seems to have set him off. Then the crew of the Cygnus rebel and that finally pushes him over the edge. It's all very credible and, interestingly, his whole motivation is delivered with a minimum of effort through the dialog -- a comment here, a comment there. That's very well done.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I felt the same way. I was really looking forward to Event Horizon which seemed to have everything you could possible want... and it never came close to its potential.

You should watch Black Hole again, it is an excellent movie -- and good science fiction is sadly rare.

CrispyRice said...

I seem to remember having a very hard time finding The Black Hole, too, for years. There were tons of Disney movies available, but they were mostly the cartoons. Here and there you'd find some of the live action stuff, eg Apple Dumpling Gang, Pete's Dragon, The Ugly Dachshund, The Nutty Professor, etc. But never never The Black Hole. I always thought that was strange.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Disney was finicky about what it would release and for how long it would let its films be released. It used be that they would release a cartoon on VHS for a few months and then not release it again for ten years. And their live action films were almost an after-thought.

At this point, I think they're over that and most everything is available. But for a long time, you are right that getting your hands on films like you mention was quite difficult.

CrispyRice said...

Well, it's an interesting marketing technigque they had. If you wanted a cartoon, you'd better buy it while it was out! I'll say that it also added to the mystique of movies. I had vague memories from my childhood of Escape to Witch Mountain as this great film, but I could never find it when I was older. I hunted and hunted and think I may have finally paid quite a bit for a used VHS copy. It was, ummm... disappointing, LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, It was an interesting marketing technique, but it wouldn't work today because people are too quick to make copies and put them on the net. So if they tried to hold off for ten years, they'd find that everyone already had a copy by the time they re-release it.

But you are right, it did add to the mystique!

I've had similar experiences with many Disney films from my childhood. Many seemed truly amazing and just incredible... and they didn't hold up. Witch Mountain is one of those as is Boatniks.

CrispyRice said...

Oh no no no... Boatniks held up. ;)

As did the Ugly Dachshund!! Which may or may not be the same movie as Event Horizon, too...

Oh wait, no it's not, despite the mayhem. ;)

Anonymous said...

Yes, that would be the Disney "vault." They still do that on their big titles but I don't think The Black Hole falls into that category. On DVD, I think they actually licensed it to another company to release, then they released it themselves a couple years later once the license expired.

Disney seems to have a weird relationship with some of their titles. On one hand, you have the classics but on the other hand, you have movies like this, The Black Cauldron, Condorman, and Night Crossing - I haven't seen any of them but they aren't as well remembered as the animated films from other eras.

I read rumors of a Black Hole remake a year or two ago but not much since then. Apparently, the director of Tron Legacy was (is?) attached to it.

On the brighter side of things, Intrada released John Barry's complete score last year, remastered with extensive liner notes. (Andrew, I know that's old news for you!) :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Didn't you know that the script for Ugly Dachshund was originally called The Dachshund Event and it did indeed involve a black hole!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That is old news now! Thanks! :)

Oh joy, Tron Legacy, why not just post a screensaver for two hours... it would be as meaningful.

I've seen Black Cauldron several times, including in the theater. It's a strange movie. It's very, very dark and not Disney-like at all in its animation style. I don't think it's bad, but it's not up to Disney standards and I'm not surprised if they want it to quietly go away.

On the vault, I thought they had stopped that, but I guess not. It's an interesting marketing idea, but I don't think it works in the modern world.

CrispyRice said...

LOL! I KNEW there was a connection between dachshunds and black holes!

That's interesting, Scott. I figured Disney had stopped, too. But you do hear about "new, remastered" movies now and then. With the internet, though, it's easy to get a copy anytime you want one. I remember when you just couldn't get Cinderella, no matter what. Even all the copies at the video stores had usually been "lost" already.

And I thought I heard something about a Black Hole remake, too. Black Cauldron is a strange one.

Tennessee Jed said...

I have to come down on the side of Max, Andrew. I believe your problem with the cast basically stems from a rather lackluster script rather than the acting chops of the cast. If you don't believe me, check out Judgement at Nuremberg, Marty, Green Mansions, Fear Strikes Out, and Psycho. Ernest Borgnine is one of the best and most versatile actors on the 20th century. I can understand why the younger generation probably equates him with McHale's Navy. Fischbourne is solid, Isaacs is extremelye good, although his best stuff came later, and Neill one never come withing shouting distance in a list of top 100 actors. Of course, since I didn't see this one, I shouldn't be so harsh

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Yep. Dachshunds are big on holes. And if they can't find one, they will create one.

I heard rumblings about a remake, but there always seem to be rumblings about everything being remade. They're also apparently remaking Capricorn One which I can't wait to see. :)

Yeah, Black Cauldron is just strange somehow.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't really have a problem with the cast. I think they do a fine job and turn out an excellent film. I do think the Event Horizon cast is better, but I don't think that means the Black Hole cast was bad. And it is despite having (IMO) a better cast that Event Horizon still stinks. I think the actors just can't save the film because there's nothing for anyone to latch onto. Black Hole, by comparison, gives the actors a lot to work with and they do a great job of making themselves stand out.

By the way, when I think of Borgnine, I actually think of Poseidon Adventure and Ice Station Zebra.

Also, on Neill, he's been truly solid in horror films for a long time. He's not an A-lister, but he's got quite a following.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - nor do I have a problem with either of the casts either, and hope I didn't imply otherwise. Like Max, it's nothing more than my own opinion that the three actors mentioned from Black Hole hold up very nicely against the other three from Event Horizon. Then again, I guess if Poseidon Adventure is what one uses to judge Borgnine, I probably would give the nod to the Event Horizon guys as well. In the end, as you say, it's just an opinion.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, To me, Poseidon Adventure is actually quintessential Borgnine, or as a supporting player in films like Dirty Dozen or The Wild Bunch. I don't really know him from much else.

tryanmax said...

There's a reason why Black Cauldron is so un-Disney. The 70s and 80s were a tough time for Disney's animation studio, which was terrible for the company overall as feature-length animation had become their signature product.

Walt had been the creative driver of the studio’s animation division until his passing in 1966. His brother Roy stepped up until his passing in 1971. In addition to these losses, the 70s saw the retirement of the fabled "Nine Old Men" (the core animators). Another blow came when the most promising member of the next generation of animators, Don Bluth, left Disney to start his own production company, taking eleven other animators with him.

Disney was a ship without a rudder for those two decades. They quickly went through the projects that had been planned prior to the passing of the Disney brothers, and the last of the Nine Old Men’s fingerprints were left on The Fox and the Hound. Eisner took over as CEO just before Cauldron was released. Their next release, The Great Mouse Detective lost at the box office to Bluth’s An American Tail, a disheartening blow. Still, Eisner regarded animation as the company’s core and wisely allowed Roy E. to oversee the animation department. Disney Television Animation was created to produce high-quality, big-budget TV animation (considered a great risk at the time) which ultimately made the Disney Renaissance possible.

Anonymous said...

Re: Borgnine, I actually think of his guest appearance on The Simpsons where he played himself. Bart has accidentally joined the Junior Campers and troop leader Flanders has organized a father/son rafting trip.

Flanders: "Oh, Warren, I know your dad is in prison, but don't you fret! A special celebrity dad has been arranged for you."

Warren: "But -- my older brother would like --"

Ned: [cheerfully] "Sorry, but I'm afraid Ernest Borgnine has already been confirmed."

[Ernest Borgnine walks in laughing]

Ernest: "Hiya! I'm sure you kids know me best as Sergeant Fatso Judson in From Here to Eternity."

[The kids except for Bart and Warren cheer]

On the DVD commentary, the creators mention that, during the recording session, Borgnine said that none of the kids would've been familiar with that film but they went with it anyway. I think it's hilarious. :-)

Kenn Christenson said...

When "The Black Hole" came out, I remember it being compared to an earlier Disney film: "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Definite similarities between those films, as well.

Really didn't like "Event Horizon." Basically a slasher film in space. While, I always had a little soft spot for "The Black Hole." Definitely Disney-fied sci-fi - but fun to watch.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Disney was definitely floundering at this point. I recall them making a lot of life-actor films, like the Apple Dumpling Gang, but with no hits. And I recall their animation losing steam.

I suspect, Black Hole was meant to capitalize on Star Wars and to thrust Disney into the science fiction landscape, where they had not been (they even tried to hire ELI to do the effects, but ended up doing them in-house). It's not a bad entry at all as far as science fiction goes, except they couldn't shake the need to "kiddie it down" to stick with their focus of kids films. That gives it a bit of a schizophrenic feel. Tron, which came along a year or two later (1982) is already further removed from being for kids and has a much more adult feel to everything.

After that, they started making a whole host of kid-unfriendly films, but they did it under other studio names. It would have been interesting to see how different the Black Hole would have been if they had made it 5 years later?

Anonymous said...

ELI? Do you mean ILM?

According to IMDb, they wanted to rent ILM's patented motion control camera system but it was too expensive so they built their own.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Yes, ILM... not sure why I wrote ELI? Hmm. But yes, I understand that ILM was busy and couldn't meet the schedule and then their cameras were too expensive to rent, so Disney invented their own.

I remember that Simpson's episode. That's the one where Bart steals his knife and they end up being killed be a bear, if I remember correctly?

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, I felt the same way. A science fiction film with apparent high production values, a cast I really like -- Fishburn was proving himself, Neill had been great in a lot of sci/fi/horror films, etc., some creepy scenes and a really interesting sounding plot. I was stoked.

Then I saw it. Total lame slasher flick. There was no plot other than "we gathered some actors to kill them." It was a total let down.

I've even watched it several times since just to see if I was wrong the first 4-5 times I watched it and it never improved. If anything, it's gotten to the point that the flaws are even more glaringly obvious.

Black Hole, however, has continued to improve with time and with the relative lack of really cool science fiction to push it aside. I wouldn't call it a top 10 or anything, but it's proven to have a lot of longevity because it really does have a high level of quality all around, a much higher level of quality than is common in such films.

ScyFyterry said...

The Black Hole has a special place in my heart for some reason. I think because it was the first film I remember seeing in the theater and then my parents bought me all the toys. :)

Event Horizon was a let down. I don't hate it, but it wasn't nearly what I was hoping from the trailer.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, Believe it not, I had the action figures! :) I never had the ship though.

ScyFyterry said...

Andrew, Small world! LOL! I kind of wish I still had all those toys. I'm not even sure where I lost them, but I did.

ScyFyterry said...

Scott, Didn't you used to write for a soundtrack website?

Anonymous said...

ScyFy -

I wrote a handful of blog entries for Film Score Monthly's website. Needless to say, I cringe when I look at them now. It was a few years ago and my writing skills have improved tremendously, not to mention my editing skills (ahem).

The main problem was that, to this day, I can't actually read, write, or perform music so I hit a wall - I ran out of topics because I never knew what the hell I was talking about!! :-)

ScyFyterry said...

Scott, LOL! Honesty is a virtual, but excessive honesty can be detrimental! ;D

In all seriousness, I've done that too where I look back on something I did and just cringe at what I once thought was great.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I haven't seen that Simpsons episode in a long time but I believe the gag at the end is that they're around a campfire and surrounded by bears and other forest creatures and Borgnine's knife is missing, thanks to Bart.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, Small world indeed! I suspect I still have them stored in a basement somewhere, but I haven't looked.

LawHawkRFD said...

Count me in as one of those who didn't see that the two movies were basically the same movie. After your exposition, I definitely see it. However, I don't remember being depressed after Black Hole the way I was with Event Horizon. Now I'll have to watch both again. Thanks, pal. LOL

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's the one. If I remember something, he says, "don't worry kids, we're ok so long as I have my trusty knife!" And then he can't find it because Bart stole it. LOL!

"Don't do what Johnny Don't does!"

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

It was actually "Donny Don't" which is even funnier. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, It only hit me the other day for the first time when I started thinking about The Black Hole in depth.

"Depressed" is a good way to put it. Event Horizon doesn't really scare you or make you think, it's just kind of a depressing, bloody mess.

Can you believe they actually cut 30 minutes of violence out of the film? Wow.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Some extra violence might have made it less depressing. LOL

Outlaw13 said...

I think Reinhardt in the Black Hole was a graduate of Medfield College. It is rumored he tried to steal the formula for flubber and butted heads with Dexter Riley, "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes".

I have only seen "The Black Hole" once, that was when it came out and I was not impressed. I want to say it came out around the same time as the "Flash Gordon" abomination.

Su Wei said...

I remember the critics ripping The Black Hole for that strange, "religious" ending but I liked it nonetheless. Haven't seen it since the 80's. I think I'm due a rewatch. If nothing else then for the artistic direction the movie took and John Barry's phenomenal score.

About The Black Cauldron: the critics were ripping that one too (although I think they really wanted to like it). Disney was hurting, as has been already pointed out. And in hindsight they were pretty embarrassed by the effort and tried to bury it deep in the vaults. My problem with it was that the story strayed so far from Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles (a recommended read) that it basically became a Dungeon and Dragons-style movie (D&D being EXTREMELY popular when the film was made). Fortunately it's been unearthed but I'm not sure any copy is the actual same version that was shown in theaters. At least, my VHS copy was definitely edited.

tryanmax said...

I actually like the Flash Gordon movie, but I've never seen any of the source material. In any case, my world would be incomplete without the title song by Queen.

I'm a big American animation-phile (if you couldn't tell) and I've never laid hands on a copy of The Black Cauldron. By contrast, I've actually acquired a bootleg copy of Song of the South ripped from laser disc, if that give you an idea how hard it is to find Cauldron

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw and tryanmax, I'm a big fan of Flash Gordon. I reviewed it here: LINK. And yeah, the soundtrack is awesome! Flash... ahaaaa!

tryanmax, We've got a copy of Song of the South around here somewhere. It's actually pretty crappy. I don't have a copy of The Black Cauldron, but it was on Cartoon Network regularly about 3-5 years ago. I haven't seen it on VHS or DVD, but I honestly never looked.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Yep, Donny Don't. LOL!

Lawhawk, You're right, it might have helped! ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Su Wei, The John Barry soundtrack is awesome! It's easily my favorite soundtrack.

I don't remember the critics at the time the Black Hole came out as I was too young and didn't care about critics at the time, but it wouldn't surprise me if that bothered them.

I didn't know Black Cauldron had source material? It did just strike me as a very standard D&D story. I last saw it on Cartoon Network about 3-5 years ago, but I can't say if it was the same version I saw in theaters.

Outlaw13 said...

Andrew, I have no great attachment for the "Flash Gordon" source material so if you and anyone else enjoyed it, that's great.

I enjoyed the soundtrack as well, but I thought the movie was just too cheesy...but I was a teenager and I haven't seen it since, my opinion might be differnt if I saw it today.

I also understand that Reinhardt from "The Black Hole" was a distant relation of Medfield College's Dean Higgins.

Anonymous said...

I agree re: Flash Gordon. It's just a lot of campy fun and it's worth it for Brian Blessed who utters his now-famous catchphrase in the film. :-)

As for The Black Cauldron, I've never seen it but it's on DVD. I have no idea if there's a longer version or if the cut version is the only one out there. Intrada recently released Elmer Bernstein's complete score for the film and there is music on the CD for scenes that were cut, which implies that they were cut pretty late in the process if they were scored.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, LOL! No doubt the Cygnus was made of flubber and dachshund skins! ;)

Flash Gordon is cheesy, but it's kind of cult-fun cheesy. Some people like it, some don't.

Shawn said...

Ah, Paul W.S. Anderson. The man who has directed so many films that should be epic, and yet they almost universally all fall flat. "Soldier", "Event Horizon", "Alien vs Predator", "Resident Evil", "Death Race": the man can certainly make a good looking film, too bad he can't tell an intersting story.

I remember watching "The Black Hole" with my dad when it was released back in 1979 and we were both looking forward to something a little more Star Wars-ish and hence were both dissapointed. It had pretty good effects and nice designs, but it was a watered down horror flick and not what we were expecting at all.

I think I'm going to watch it again with new eyes, thanks man.

tryanmax said...

I will admit, I gave up looking for Cauldron some time ago and haven't had cable for a few years. Sounds like it's time to venture out.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I agree 100% on Anderson. When you look at the films he's done, every single one should have been an epic homerun... a sci-fi/horror classic. And yet, they all end up just dull. Every single time I've seen the concept and the trailers and gotten excited and then the movie just bored me. I don't get it. How can one guy be so good at picking ideas, but so horrible at executing them?

I definitely think Black Hole could have been a much stronger film. I think the problem was they couldn't quite pull the trigger and truly aim it at adults, so it's got this odd mix of great ideas that they cut short right before they get beyond something kids could appreciate. That keeps the film from hitting its full potential, but the ideas are all there for something truly special -- that's why a remake would be a great idea!

And you're right, compared to Star Wars this was a disappointment. But as science fiction goes generally, I think this film deserves to be remembered because it is a pretty solid film with an interesting take on the future. I enjoy it a good deal for what it is.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, It looks like Amazon has it -- both new and used. LINK.

PikeBishop said...

I was fourteen or so when I saw "Black Hole." My best friend and I, SF geeks to the core who loved Star Wars and Close Encounters, saw the movie together and were blown away by the ending. I remember both of us discussing it in the car as one of our Moms drove us home that night.

We both rushed to the Encyclopedia (remember those boys and girls.....back in my day.....we didn't have no fancy internet.............), called each other on the phone and read about Dante's Inferno for the first time. What a cool learning experience.

Just think, a movie that makes a teenager thirst for classic knowledge! Imagine, I am sure kids today are running to outside sources after they walk out of "Transformers," Pirates of the Caribe........oh skip it. You get the point.

Around that time we both saw Flash Gordon, which he loved and I lost interest through about half way through. I get it that I was too young to truely get the camp aspect or the fact that it was "supposed to be a comic book" but still, the guy having a different Flash tee shirt for every scene just struck me as idiotic.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, It is an increasingly rare film which inspires people to learn something. My friends and I were the same way when we saw Black Hole. We talked about it all the way home and then for a couple days what the ending meant and what Heaven and Hell would really be like, etc. In that regard, this film was as effective as 2001 or Planet of the Apes in terms of making you ponder what you had seen.

Films rarely achieve that today, even science fiction films. I think that's because Hollywood has become scared that people won't get it. I could imagine a look of genuine horror in the studio if someone recommended adding a complex, thoughtful idea to Transformers.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, next week I'm going to review a movie called Triangle. It's on Showtime right now and I recommend seeing it before I review it.


PikeBishop said...

Andrew: Do you remember the foreshadowing of the ending in the very first scene? Borgnaine's character says "It looks like something out of Dante's INferno" when the crew of the Palomino are looking at the image of the Black Hole.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: Or let's pretend that Planet of the Apes wasn't pitched until this year.....

STUDIO EXEC: So wait a second. They were on Earth the whole time? Huh? Boy, I don't get that! And just a wreck of the Statue of Liberty? Hmmmmmm. its gonna confuse people. I can't see any sequels here. Naahhhhh, maybe you should try Paramount instead.

AndrewPrice said...

Pike, I do. And they hid it well though with VINCENT then quoting Cicero. That just made the whole crew seem erudite and thus it didn't stand out like seeing a gun in the first frame.

Also, throughout, Maximilian sure looks a lot like Satan. And the idea of the crew in this living death kind of state -- and when one of them dies, they eject the body into the black hole.

There's a lot of foreshadowing, but it's all very subtle.

AndrewPrice said...

Pike, They might allow that as a "twist," like they did in the remake. But there would be absolutely no discussion of how this could happen. It will just be an ironic surprise completely out of the blue at the end. And if they do give an explanation, it will be the fault of one person doing something which doesn't lead to anything more thoughtful for people to consider.

Anonymous said...

I saw The Black Hole when it first came out in the theater (yes, I'm that old) and don't remember being particularly impressed. However I did love the Cygnus and bought the model (still the most expensive model I've ever purchased). I watched it again a few years ago and appreciated the look of the film, but it was still too childish. Still love the Cygnus design.
I rented Event Horizon several years ago and agree that it was just a slasher film. Didn't care for it.

AndrewPrice said...

mycroft, I love the Cygnus design. It's truly a unique spaceship. I also like when they are trying to identify it how they are going through the silhouettes and each of the other spaceships looks so completely different. That kind of neat, given that science fiction is normally so uniform these days.

Jason said...

The one Paul W.S. Anderson movie I do like is the first "Mortal Kombat" flick. Simple, straighforward story - martial arts tournament put on by super powered warriors from another dimension - and good use of Hong Kong-style martial arts that sort of heralded the approach The Matrix would use just a few years later. Not a great movie, but it did well for what it was.

I actually saw The Black Hole when I was little, and saw it many more times since then. Not a terrific film, but so much of it clicks, especially the soundtrack. It can be creepy, suspenseful, heroic, all that good stuff.

If TBH suffers from "kiddie" film moments, at least there's nothing as jarring as Jar Jar Binks's antics in The Phantom Menace.

I saw Event Horizon once...and I honestly don't remember much of it.

Back to Anderson, Soldier could have been good. I liked Kurt Russell and Jason Scott Lee in it, but much of the good parts were shown in the trailer, which spoiled a lot of the experience for me. Interestingly, John Carpenter said the original draft of Soldier was "terrific." It'd be a shame if it was in fact dumbed down.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I hadn't heard that about Soldier but I could see where the it had huge potential. There's a lot in it now which I like. It just feels flat like all of Anderson's other films.

In terms of the kiddie factor in Black Hole, I think it's more a matter of Disney trying to keep everything at a level children could understand rather than inserting too much stuff for the kids -- though VINCENT kind of fits that.

Peter M said...

Agreed - and good point RE "K"'s suggestion that The Black Hole could have foreshadowed the Heaven/Hell ending more. That aside - and I sometimes feel guilty saying this - I watch 2001 all the way through about once a year and The Black Hole probaly every 2 or 3 months (if I don't actually sit down and watch it [usually when my wife's asleep], I'll put it on when I'm working and need some creative inspiration.)

AndrewPrice said...

Peter, I'm the same way. I watch The Black Hole a lot more than 2001. I just enjoy it more.

Anonymous said...


I`ve never seen or heard about The Black Hole but I really consider Event Horizon a hugely underrated horror film. I saw it for the first time sometime during the change of the millennium, just because of Sam Neill. I had never heard of the film before so I had no idea what it was all about, I was just glad to see Sam`s name in the cover of the VHS. I was amazed of how good the film actually was. Space has always interested me, back then I wasn`t really into horror but I really liked this film already at that time.

It had been some time since I last saw EH (several years), but last week I bought the bluray and the movie was even better than I remembered. Nowadays most of the films I buy are horror, so I`ve seen quite a bunch of horror films. This is definitely one of the top-10 horror films I`ve ever seen.
Why I DIDN`T like Event Horizon was:

* the terrible musical score (I`ve never been into techno music, it sucks... and in this film the score seemed so out of place)
* the ending sucked also, I think they could have come up with something more interesting than just a press of a button. So boring!!!
* the film being cut so much. I`d love to see the things they cut from the film, even if they were of the worst quality. I`ve read that they`ve found the original cut in VHS format. I really hope they`ll publish it in some form soon!!!

What I LIKED about it:

* do I even have to say? Sam Neill, definitely in one of his best roles. I love seeing him doing horror films. He was great in Omen III too.
* the storyline. So interesting. I`ve heard people referring to it as The Shining in space. Well, if it is, it`s superior to The Shining (mind you, I`m a fan of Kubrick`s too but even though I like The Shining, it was a bit of a bore to me actually). Right from the beginning the movie is really exciting and you`re just aching to see more, more, more of it!
* special effects. They don`t seem aged at all. They make films with so much worse special effects today. I didn`t even notice there was a CG Sam Neill flying out of the Event Horizon in one part of the ship, I only found it out last week when I watched the extra material from the bluray
* good cast. I liked everyone (except for Laurence Fishburne and Jack Noseworthy [I think he was a bit too young for his role]) in the film. It was especially interesting to see Joely Richardson in her role since I mainly remember her from Lady Chatterley`s Lover-kind of roles (she was excellent in it)
* even though I wouldn`t consider EH a scary film, it has some of the most memorable horror scenes in it (like the scene where Joely Richardson is tied with a barbwire with her eyeball sticking out... that was quite a disgusting frame to see)
* talking about memorable, I don`t think there`s a line from a movie I can remember better than Dr. Weir`s "Where we`re going, we won`t need eyes to see". It stuck with me right from the first time I saw the film, and I was hardly in my adult years back then (I`m 31 now). There aren`t many films that have lines that stick to your mind right from the first viewing

Regarding Paul Anderson, most people seem to consider Mortal Kombat his best film. Even though I`ve played most of the MK games, I didn`t like the film. Of the films I`ve seen directed by him, I find EH by far the best. I haven`t seen Pandorum though, many people seem to like it.

I`d like to see the Black Hole, if it really is so much like Event Horizon. Too bad I always cringe when I heard the word Disney. If it`s true horror (it must be, if someone calls EH less effective as a horror film when compared to it!!!) then it`s a must.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, The Black Hole isn't intended as a horror film. It's more of a suspenseful science fiction film. You won't find any horror scenes in it, and it still has hints of being for children. So don't expect it to be a horror film.

The best comparison is probably to The Exorcist rather than a slasher film. It's the type of film that presents you with a story with some things in it that are intellectually horrific/unsettling -- loss of personality, what is hell, what is madness -- but it's not a film that tries to scare you in the presentation. So don't expect it to scare you.

The reason I say it's more effective than Event Horizon is because after the film ends, you find yourself thinking about the various unsettling ideas the film raises. By comparison, Event Horizon's effect pretty much ends the moment the credits roll because it only offers adrenaline and no intellect.

On Anderson, I enjoyed the first Resident Evil the best, but the rest of his stuff leaves me flat. He's great at coming up with ideas, but poor at finishing them.

Camera Obscura said...

I think the final part of the black hole was satanic, a bit of a satanic allegory. Maybe I’m wrong but I haven’t found another way to interpret it.

Reinhardt is God, his followers are mindless (a satanic point of view) and his right hand man, Satan, is Maximilian (strangely with name of Reinhardt’s actor). At one point Reinhardt says he is scared of Maximilian, even though he is supposedly only a droid totally controlled by Reinhardt. They play this as if it’s signs of Dr Hans going off his head, but it still doesn’t make any sense unless we suppose Maximilian is a sentient being.

At the end hell scene, we see Reinhardt swapping places with Maximilian, the red light in the helmet disappears replaced by Reinhardt, and god is imprisoned in hell. We also see his crew in hell, which is odd considering they are supposed to be all victims. Finally we see a single spirit going to heaven whose identity is mysteriously not revealed, could this be Satan/Maximilian swapping places with god?

AndrewPrice said...

Camera, That's a really interesting and smart take on it. I'm going to have to give that some thought.

My first impression, though, is that I don't see Reinhardt as God. I see Reinhardt as a false "wannabe" God. And his punishment is to spend eternity trapped in his creation (Maximilian) in Hell. The angel, I think isn't leaving hell so much as it's a sign that the Palomino crew has finally left hell and is now crossing over into Heaven. (Or you could see it as a sign that redemption is possible even from Hell.)

I'll have to watch it again to see if the people in hell look like the crew or are just other people who have been damned. If they are the crew, then that would be a strong indication that your interpretation is right.

Excellent comment! Thanks! :D

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