The Black Hole

The Black Hole iTunes HD Review

The Black Hole is a gothic science-fiction film made by Disney and released in 1979. Arguably a creative triumph for all involved. The film was a mixed-success commercially, grossing 35 million dollars on a budget of 26, in a post Star Wars world (260 million dollar gross on a budget of 11) that didn’t look like much of a success.

I’ll take a look at the Black Hole on iTunes HD, since it isn’t available on Blu-ray yet.

The Cygnus lit up.

The Cygnus lit up, as the Palomino comes in to land.

The film tells a ‘Heart of Darkness’ story. Staring into the abyss of a Blackhole from the comfort of the huge cathedral like USS Cygnus, has driven Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) quite, quite mad. Into his private kingdom, wander the crew of the USS Palomino. Reinhardt sees a chance to gain recognition of his genius, but the crew quickly stumble upon the dark secret at the heart of the Cygnus, and begin a life or death struggle to escape before the black hole swallows them all.

Reinhardt shows off his ship to four of our heroes.

Reinhardt shows off his ship to three of our heroes.

The Black Hole is doomed to always be compared to both Alien and Star Wars, both of which had lower budgets and grossed much higher. I personally think all three films are excellent, but there are reasons for The Black Hole’s lack of success.

Star Wars tells a much more standard Action/Adventure ‘heroes journey’ story that hadn’t been worn out in the re-telling by that point.

Alien, on the other hand, tells a different sort of haunted house story, backed with H.R. Giger, Ron Cobb and Chris Foss’s extraordinary production design and Ridley Scot’s attention to detail. This was simply something that audiences hadn’t seen before.

The Black Hole is perhaps a touch too retro, feeling more like an late 1960s or early 1970s film. Some of the sets could have been part of ‘Forbidden Planet’. And despite excellent performances, the movie is hampered by a script that gives us too little time and information to develop affection for the characters before it starts placing them in peril. Further, none of the characters changes significantly through the movie unless you count dying.

The final confrontation with ‘Max’ the evil robot is satisfying, but surely the heroes should be confronting Reinhardt, whose death at the hands of a falling display screen feels arbitrary.

Max and Reinhardt on the bridge of the Cygnus.

Max and Reinhardt on the bridge of the Cygnus.

One of the problems is that there are just too many ‘good’ characters. Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) and Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins) appear to have shown up just to get killed, and serve little purpose beyond that. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) primary function is to require rescuing, and the Captain and Lieutenant are virtual ciphers. Thinning out the ranks of good characters would allow the remaining characters more screen time to develop, and would have perhaps allowed for a ‘bad’ human character (the probe pilot perhaps?) whose redemption could have been killing Reinhardt.

Script problems aside, I ate this up like candy when I was a kid. This was a frequent rental for my family.

A giant red hot meteor rolls down the Cygnus towards our escaping heroes.

The Black Hole isn’t exactly 2001 when it comes to mixing science fact with science fiction.

Made two years after Star Wars, we are still very much in stop-motion, model and blue-screen territory. The effects themselves are a mixed bag, pure motion-control shots look awesome, but various live action/effect shots blended with blue-screens are a bit rough.The immense Cygnus provides a variety of beautifully designed set-based locations that must have been extra-ordinarily expensive to build. The Cygnus itself is a first class haunted house, limited, of course, by the fact it must have been built by human hands.

Vincent, the Robot is arguably the most useful member of the Palomino’s crew, and a very interesting piece of production design. Arguably a much more believable piece of hardware than C-3PO or R2D2. And Dr. Reinhardt’s ‘Max’ is a truely terrifying creation.

Vincent and old Bob.

Vincent and old Bob.

The Black Hole iTunes HD Review

The version presented on iTunes includes the full overture, and the ending sequence that has the ‘Angel flying through the arches’.

The overall picture quality is excellent. The Cinemascope format means proportionally less pixels to encode, and the result is that the encoded video captures the texture of each shot perfectly. It’s easy to spot the jumps between effect shots, and even spot the joins between matte paintings and live action. Grain texture is apparent throughout.

Artifacting is almost non-existent, I only detected it once or twice when smoke gushes from vents during action sequences, and a little during the de-pressurizing shoot out in the garden.

The 1080p iTunes HD download clocks in at 3.72GB, and clocks an average bitrate of 4.9 Mbps, with a peak of 12.45 Mbps. It includes both a AAC stereo and 384kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I have not checked, but I suspect this tracks mirror the previous DVD release.


Great: 5/5. The Black Hole looks great on iTunes HD, representing a definite upgrade over the DVD. A Blu-ray might look better, but don’t hold your breath !

iTunes 1080p Screenshots

Vincent and Bob show the other robots how it's done

Vincent and Bob show the other robots how it’s done

The Captain checks out the empty sleeping quarters.

Given the huge size of the corridor, you’d have thought the cabin space would be a bit bigger. One of the many matte paintings that I never noticed before.

Happy endings ?

Happy endings ?

A Holo viewer in action on the bridge of the Palomino.

A 1970s vintage holo-viewer in action on the bridge of the Palomino.


The Black Hole iTunes HD Review
A review of Disney's 1979 'The Black Hole' on iTunes HD.
The Black Hole
Date Published: 06/07/2013
A classic late 70s gothic sci-fi film, beautifully rendered in HD. Highly recommended.
5 / 5 stars

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