Saturday, August 22, 2015

Back Down Disney's Black Hole

Not quite as memorable as the Millennium Falcon, the Cygnus
 rests on the edge of a... BLACK HOLE!
Prior to enacting their modern creative approach of "If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em" that paved the way to their acquisition of Pixar then Marvel and finally the Star Wars franchise rights, Disney, then not nearly the juggernaut they are now, attempted to begin their own science-fiction, adventure franchise with The Black Hole (1979).

Following the huge success of the original Star Wars in 1977, every television and movie studio was looking to get in on the profits and the House of Mouse was no different. It probably seemed an easy enough task given the superficial formula Lucas had laid out in his film. Unique, toy-ready robots? Check. Rakish, bad-boy hunk? Check. Respected European actor in a key role? Check. Potentially iconic villain-in-mask? Check.

Disney's The Black Hole, directed by Gary Nelson (whose previous effort was the original Freaky Friday in 1976), was released in 1979 featuring performances by Oscar-winning actors Maximilian Schell (Judgement at Nuremberg, 1961) and Ernest Borgnine (Marty, 1955), as well as respected actor Anthony Perkins, best know as Norman Bates in Psycho (1956). The voices of the main robot characters are provided by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens.

Giant bad robot Maximilian and Dr. Hans Reinhardt played by Maximilian Schell.
A financially successful cinematic space opera was not, however, meant to be. As I came across my ancient (36 years!) 80 card complete set of trading cards released by Topps in support of the film's release, my own memories of seeing The Black Hole in theaters were neither warm nor fuzzy. Apart from the robot characters voiced by familiar genre voices, the film, like the trading cards, left me cold. Of course, many years later, the awkward tone of the film (with some rather mature philosophical ideas for a Disney film) reflected in poorly designed (repetitive images and story summaries out of order) trading cards can thank the warming effect of nostalgia for my even revisiting them. Sometimes even "bad" movies or collectibles find a place in one's heart for the period of time they fleetingly capture.

B.O.B. (BiO-sanitation Battalion), a battered early model 
robot voiced by Slim Pickens.
Our heroes led by V.I.N.CENT ("Vital Information Necessary CENTralized") 
voiced by Roddy McDowall.
V.I.N.CENT. and Captain S.T.A.R.("Special Troops/Arms Regiment") 
played by Tom McLoughlin.
Maximilian listening in on Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins) 
and scientist Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux).
One of three color-coded puzzles to be constructed using the backs of the trading cards.
V.I.N.CENT ("Vital Information Necessary CENTralized")
in action!
The climactic battle between Maximilian and V.I.N.CENT!
I vividly remember being weirded-out by the image (strangely not captured in the trading card set) of the movie's villain, Dr. Reinhardt, encased in the robotic shell of his chief minion, Maximilian, floating above a hellish landscape at the climax of the movie. Even reading the story summary below, suggests that the filmmakers were going for something "deeper" than a standard sci-fi action/adventure movie.perhaps. The "Or should I say the beginning?" commentary points to the intention to continue the story of the crew, a sequel that has been forever left to the imagination.

On second thought, maybe these cards aren't so bad...

Oddly, the Story Summaries on the backs of some cards are 
presented out of chronological order and therefore not aligned with 
the images on the front. The warning at the bottom 
warns you about it, too!

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