Monthly Archives: May 2016

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The Indefinsibles: The Black Hole (1979)

Gabby: ‘Time and space as we know it no longer exists. We will be the first to see it, to explore it, to experience it!’ So is the mantra of The Indefensibles, as we go forth into Jeremy’s Dark Disney pick…

Jeremy: The Black Hole. A reclusive astrophysicist promises to pay five astronauts and their wacky robot sidekick $10,000 apiece if they spend the night in his haunted spaceship.

I should start by saying that The Black Hole was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I’ve probably seen it a hundred times – no exaggeration. I can be objective about it, but I love the hell out of it to this day.

Brett: So I kind of had the same problem as I did last time I watched this.

Jeremy: It’s, like, three or four different genres awkwardly crammed into one movie? The tone is all over the map?

Brett: No, that’s fine, if a little clunky in parts. It’s not as “exciting” as I wanted. I wanted Rollicking Space Adventure, but it’s not that kind of movie. It’s a Disney film and all that entails. It’s my own fault for thinking “Disney’s Star Wars” rather than just a Disney Movie set in space. It feels like a Disney movie, it’s even shot exactly like Treasure Island of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Nobody does that “Comedy Lighting in a Dramatic Movie” thing quite like Disney Live Action. 

Jeremy: Yeah, there was probably some corporate synergy going on here. Some of the set pieces seem tailored for subsequent attractions at their theme parks – the tram, the shooting range, the meteor storm. (The rolling ball of death is one of my favorite shots in any film, by the way.)

Brett: It also feels like this is like a 2 1/2 movie crammed into a 90-minute bag.

Jeremy: I get that. Dr. Reinhardt’s mad scientist plan is revealed about halfway through. And it’s only in the last half-hour that the movie really gets going. The action scenes are pedestrian, even by ’79’s standards. And like Something Wicked, there’s a great, startling scene – the reveal of the robots actually being the crew, f030901_theblackhole04ollowed by Anthony Perkin’s death – right before the climax that the climax can’t top.

Despite some problems with the script (ESP with a robot?), I still enjoy the first half and how it gets all the pieces on the board. My favorite part of movies like Alien and The Thing are the early scenes before everything goes to hell – the setup, the mystery. Granted, the mystery is obvious here in a way it’s not in those movies.

I’m not the first to say this: The Black Hole is a haunted house movie in space. I love the long, lingering shots of characters exploring this gothic spaceship, accompanied by that moody John Barry score. The part of me that turns this on when I can’t sleep – that wants it to wash over me as I’m drifting off – eats this up.

Gabby: I find the vibe unique, which I like. At times, I was not entirely sure what I was watching. For instance, there is a section with a big red blob coming towards them and they escape through the ecosystem.

Jeremy: Those are meteors that the black hole is pulling in. The timing’s certainly convenient.

Gabby: Have you ever seen the Planet of the Apes film series? Other than the first one, I mean. Beneath the Planet of the Apes is my least favourite. That is one of those films where I didn’t know what I was watching. In a bad way. Whereas I kind of enjoyed this Black Hole flavour bag of nuts. Another film similar to Beneath, for me, in terms of the way I reacted to it, was The Mole People. The Black Hole is definitely not The Mole People. The Mole People, Dinosaurous and Jack and Jill are some of my least favourite movies of… all time.

Jeremy: I actually revisited Beneath the Planet of the Apes a few weeks ago. It was rough. I’ll leave it at that.

Brett: There is no single item that I can point to and say “That just doesn’t work” but it doesn’t all fit together. It doesn’t gel for me.

Jeremy: What really sticks out to you as not working?

Brett: B.O.B. didn’t work for me. They could have cut the robots and just made the movie half an hour longer. The mystery of the crew felt rushed, and having B.O.B. just take V.I.N.C.E.N.T. to the factory where everyone is transformed felt cheap. V.I.N.C.E.N.T. should have discovered the crew on his own. The shooting gallery bit didn’t seem to fit in the movie either, but at least it wasn’t very long.

Gabby: The shooting gallery was a part I did not enjoy, also. It was like watching trash bins made from tin have a game of bullet tag. On a different note, why does one of the robots sound like a hillbilly? blackhole2I didn’t exactly get why some of the robots were without emotions, but V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and the cute southern robot had them.

One small issue I had is the overuse of sound effects for the space devices. It got on my nerves at one point. The reveal of what is behind the masks I found very effective, very good makeup design.

‘You mean we’re going into the black hole?’ ‘Yep.’ Yep! Sorry, I found that funny. The segment where they go through the black hole is disorientating with the use of sounds, thoughts and dizziness inducing circling close-ups – a good way to play with the unknown fear of what lies in store for them. Anyone else think that image of the robot on the mountain surrounded by red is inspired by Fantasia? That segment in Fantasia is one of the most terrifying things I ever saw as a child. If we talked about that and the Mickey segments on its own, that would be the film I would have picked. But the rest of that film comes with a whole bunch of things I really dislike.

Jeremy: The one thing I still enjoy about the shooting gallery scene is seeing Maximilian’s predecessor and the weird social structure the robots have. Here’s this older robot who’s now irrelevant and whiles away the hours being a bully at the local robot bar. It’s bonkers – but it adds to the house of horrors. If left alone, these robots would probably go on doing this forever. That’s chilling.

Back to V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and B.O.B.blackhole2 (1) I can barely stand them as an adult. Roddy McDowall tries to make V.I.N.C.E.N.T. work. There was no way to make V.I.N.C.E.N.T. anything but insufferable with this script. They crammed R2-D2 and C-3PO into one character without understanding what makes those characters or their dynamic work.

Slim Pickens was a Disney regular, I believe. This movie has weird little nods now and again to westerns that really stick out. B.O.B. is the most glaring example of that.

Brett: Also, did anyone notice that the black bot was supposed to be twirling the guns, but was actually just twisting his wrists around?

Jeremy: You know, I’m not sure. You think I would be able to recall that, given how many times I’ve seen this.

Brett: Check that scene again, he’s just flipping his hands around. Each set piece works pretty well, the end is actually pretty exciting, but it feels old-fashioned. Had I not known this was 1979, I would have never pegged it as a Post-Star Wars movie. Granted, that’s a problem Disney movies had and would continue to have for some time. I think the old-fashioned feel is actually part of the charm now. Although the bit where Capt. Holland explains to Kate that he’s thinking of quitting because of a recent event where he was sitting in a guy’s house with a stun gun was a little weird.

Jeremy: Wait. What?

Brett: That was probably a bit from Jackie Brown, now that I think about it.

Jeremy: Doh! I get it. I’ve only seen Jackie Brown once at a press screening way back in the day.

Brett: Of all QT’s movies, that one is probably the most underrated. Which is a shame because it’s pretty good.

Gabby: Hold up. Jeremy, go watch that film again. Brett, pretty good? I have a poster of Jackie Brown on my wall. Jackie Brown is fucking great. I might be biased as it is in my top 10 favourite films. But honestly, that movie is so brilliant. On rewatches, you can see how well choreographed everything is; Sally Menke was an editing goddess. And I love you, Pam Grier. Pam Grier is the bomb. Pam Grier forever.

Brett: Anyway… I liked The Black Hole but I didn’t love it. And I kind of wanted to love it. All in all, though, this is one of those “everything works on paper” sort of things. It just flopped a little on the screen. 030901_theblackhole03Each piece works (save the shooting gallery) but it doesn’t come together into a complete package. I know I keep saying this, but I just wish this movie was a little longer. Give it a little more room and I think it does work. And the special effects were kind of stellar. One of the benefits of having money and existing in the late ’70s.

Jeremy: The effects hold up. If you’re a fan of optical effects, listen to Saturday Night Movie Sleepover’s podcast about this movie. They go into detail about all the technical innovations that came out of making this movie. The effects have a different look from what ILM was doing at the time. They’re quite distinctive. The production design is equally singular. Even if you haven’t seen this movie in years, you would never mistake it for another sci-fi movie made during the post-Star Wars boom.

Like Something Wicked, this probably isn’t scary for adults, but what did you think about how violent it is? And how much it leaned into the hellscape at the end, where we’re led to believe that hell itself lies within the black hole? It’s hard to believe this movie and Alien came out in the same year, because they’re both going for the haunted house vibe. Dr. Reinhardt could’ve been played by Vincent Price.

Gabby: I would have loved a bit of Vincent Price in this film! I thought the film could definitely be scary for kids. The hellscape leaning for one thing.black03 But another is the way in which it twists and turns. Not knowing what you are watching as an adult might be confusing and maybe entertaining, but as a child that kind of thing could put you on edge and even frighten you.

Jeremy: Yeah, I grew up in a relaxed Christian household. Reinhardt’s descent into hell and the good guys possibly going to heaven blew my mind as a child (in the best way possible). This sequence and the mishmash of genres throughout the film expanded my ideas about what a story could be.

I loved how this movie scared me as a kid. As an agnostic adult, I’m kinda like, “Heaven and hell. That’s all you got, Disney?” 2001: A Space Odyssey this is not.

Brett: But at least their time warp sequence doesn’t carry on for 10 damn minutes.

Jeremy: True. And Reinhardt in hell is still a powerful image that works at a gut level. It’s all about the procession of souls marching below him. It’s somehow haunting and kinda dumb at the same time. And John Barry’s music…

Since this is my pick. I’d like to talk about the cast some more. Annoying robots aside, there are some strong casting choices here. Robert Forster is, like, extra laconic here, but I dig The Right Stuff vibe you get from him. He’s the guy who’s going to stay cool under pressure no matter what. You want this guy as your leader. Unfortunately, the character has nothing to do but stay level-headed.

Kate has her father, but that doesn’t go as far as it should because it’s obvious he’s dead. It’s interesting that Ernest Borgnine and Anthony Perkins end up having the most to do, dramatically speaking. What other kids movie is going to have a character do a 180 like Borgnine’s character, who suddenly panics and ditches everyone? Or have a likable, if misguided, character get an immersion blender through the chest?

Gabby: Robert Forster having nothing to do was a waste. I also kept thinking something would happen with Kate’s father. Like he would be one of the zombie masked people.

Jeremy: Exactly. She should’ve met what was left of her father.

Gabby: I am not sure about the blender, but we all have seen The Lion King right?

Simba, a baby lion, has a wise, kind father, Mufasa, who loves and cares for him. Mufasa is then plunged to his death on top of a cliff by his own brother who pretends to pull him up first, to really add to that horror, he is not only killed by being murdered and thrown from a cliff, but also totally trampled by a flock of wildebeest intended to kill him and his son. If that isn’t enough, we see the little lion go up to his father’s corpse crying for him to wake up. I mean I still cry like a baby at that scene.

Jeremy: For my money, Woody and the gang going into the inferno holding hands in Toy Story 3 trumps them all.

One last thought about Reinhardt. I like Maximillian Schell, but you know he’s cuckoo-crazy-bananas from the start. We needed to see more of the visionary and less of the madman before the third act. You’re left wondering, what does Anthony Perkins see in this guy? Also, here’s another shout-out to Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers, who turned me on to the idea that Perkins’ character is turned on by Reinhardt. I can’t unsee it now.

And, er, on that note, final thoughts?

Brett: For the most part the movie is fine. It’s a good movie, and I wouldn’t turn it off if I happened upon it.

Jeremy: One of my earliest memories is watching The Black Hole. Being scared, awed, and overjoyed by it. Sure, it’s a mess – but it’s my mess. I can’t overstate how much of an impression it left on me, how it shaped the stories I consume and create. Despite all the Disney touches, I miss the populist sci-fi films from this era like it (and, of course, The Empire Strike Back and The Wrath of Khan) which had a little more teeth.

As Brett said in our live-tweet, I live for giant spaceships lumbering through space, black-hole31heading  towards both wonders and nightmares. As silly as this movie gets, it still delivers on that front for me.

Thanks for reading, everyone. We’ve got one more movie to go in our Dark Disney retrospective series, The Black Cauldron. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

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The Indefinsibles: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Gabby: The crew jump on a carousel as we whirl over Brett’s pick…

Jeremy: Something Wicked This Way Comes. A movie that besmirched the good name of carnies everywhere.

We should say what we’re up to with this latest block of movies, which we’re calling “Dark Disney.” We’re covering three films from the late ’70s through the mid-’80s when Disney was making dark, scary movies aimed at young viewers. These movies may not seem scary now, but if you grew up with them, they were the stuff of nightmares.

As Gabby said, we’re starting with Brett’s pick this time. What’s your history with it?

Brett: I have only ever seen this on TV. It was one of the movies that showed up on one of the cable channels. I don’t remember which one. Maybe the Disney Channel, maybe Showtime, whatever.

It’s one of those Saturday afternoon movies. One of those movies that I often walked into 10 minutes in and just kept watching. Life is full of those. It was a while before I worked out it was a book. I read it and kind of forgot about it. What I mostly remember now is that I was reminded of it when reading Needful Things.

Jeremy: Needful Things is sooo this story. A mysterious stranger comes to town, pretends to ply his trade, and bargains for the locals’ souls by tempting them with their innermost desires.

Ray Bradbury is a geek blind spot for me. Imagine my surprise, then, when watching this movie for the first time and realizing that. I mean, all tales are built upon existing stories, but jeez…

Speaking of Needful Things, we’ve talked about doing a Stephen King round of movies before. Would that be anyone’s pick?

Brett: I don’t hate Needful Things as a movie, but it would totally work for us. Creepshow 2 might work, but I feel less solid about that choice. The Dark Half is probably the best choice. Someone remind me of that later. 

Jeremy: If a miniseries counts, I’d go for The Shining. There are way too many choices. Needful Things would be a good one, though. I’m curious to revisit it after seeing this. It now feels like a paler imitation of this story. Something Wicked has a clearer point of view – and definitely something on its mind. I love that it’s about the passage of time and how time takes everything away from us. It’s not dour, just bittersweet – an “enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think” story. I’m a sucker for those.

Also, I enjoyed the hell out of this. It isn’t my favorite movie that we’ve covered, but it’s probably the best.

Brett: This is one of the few movies where a story involves what could be called “daddy issues” that I don’t mind. I think it’s because the father and son have honest feelings and both of them are well represented.

The father’s regrets are given a lot of weight. As Jeremy said, it does the “later than you think” thing very well. That kind of goes into the book scene, which I wanted to talk about anyway.

It’s an old standby, but I will always love a movie that shows me something new. The way the pages glow when they’re torn from the book and fade as they fall to the floor was one of those amazing things that stuck with me for years. UntitledNow that I’m actually old enough to understand what that scene is really about, it means a lot more. I had never seen anything like that book scene before, it really had an effect on me. And then Pryce and Robards sell the hell out of the scene.

Jeremy: That scene is amazing. Why it doesn’t get talked about more is beyond me. As we get older, we perceive time as if it’s moving faster, and this scene brilliantly captures the feeling of life passing by too quickly, of realizing how close you are to the finishing line. It’s the highlight of a comparatively weak third act – one of my few problems with the movie. The third act probably worked on the page, but the production fails to keep tightening the screws as we build to the climax.

Gabby: That book scene is great. The visuals, as Brett said, are unique. 

Jeremy: Back to what you said a moment before, Brett, I wouldn’t even call this “daddy issues.” The moral of the story is that even if you’re blessed with great parents, they’re still just people doing the best they can. I know that’s something I figured out a long time ago with my parents. And Jesus, I hope my kid gets there in the end.

Brett: Okay, here is my deep dark secret. I don’t actually think Mr. Dark is a stupid name. It’s a kid’s book, it’s a kid’s story, he’s a kid’s villain. I’m into it.

Jeremy: No problems here, either. You understand, though, why I had to make this joke on Twitter.

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Brett: Oh yeah. Actually, a lot about this movie feels like it shouldn’t work. 

Gabby: Mr Dark does sound like a Mr Men character, which, could almost be toying with a child’s imagination. The villain has a name that sounds like a cartoon but is damn scary. So, even if that sounds like a silly name when you go past a certain age, I agree with Brett that it could play well with a younger viewer.

Jeremy: Almost everyone had a clever name, which got to me. But, yeah, it’s right for the story. And Mr. Dark would choose that name and wear it proudly.

Brett: Almost every word that comes out of Jonathan Pryce’s mouth are things that would just die on the lips of lesser actors. And yet, he makes it work. He’s usually good, but I think this is one of his best roles.

Jeremy: Yeah. When I think of him, I usually think of his later roles, where he’s hamming it up. Something like Tomorrow Never Dies. His performance is pitched perfectly here. It was kinda like revisiting a Pacino performance from the ’70s and remembering what he was capable of.

Jason Robards goes in the other direction, underplaying a lot of moments, which was the right choice. This movie is another reminder of how good he was.

Gabby: I like Pryce a lot in this movie. He does carry these lines. I cannot imagine, either, it working with many actors. He totally gets what movie he is in – which is weird a common mistake with actors. When they don’t get what movie they are in, I mean.

Jeremy: And how great are the child actors in this movie? Screenshot (64)We’re talking ’80s Spielberg/Amblin good.

Gabby: It is also rare to have such enjoyable child actors in films! I second what Brett said about so many things seeming like it wouldn’t work.

This could have easily ended up a hot mess. But the casting is one of the reasons it doesn’t. The casting director should get a good reward for that. It really works for the whole tone and set up of the film.

Brett: So, did any of us actually find this scary? I was more feeling that it was a dark adventure. But it didn’t strike me as a scary story.

Jeremy: Not really. I don’t think it’s meant to play that way unless you’re a kid. I could see anyone who’s got a thing about spiders being unnerved. (Gabby Ferro, I’m looking in your general direction.) We’re only covering three Disney movies from this period. I wish I had time to revisit Watcher in the Woods and Return to Oz to see how this stacks up against them in the scares department. I remember them being scarier than this.

I think my pick, The Black Hole, would be more upsetting to a kid. Something Wicked has a great sense of atmosphere. It creates the right mood. Horror movies don’t scare me often, so the right mood is all I ask for. As I said before, it needed stronger, scarier third act.

Dark adventure is a good way of putting it. It feels like a Twilight Zone episode, in the way it’s more about the human condition. I love what this movie says about getting older and realizing that not all of your dreams are going to come true… and how tempting it would be to have the life you expected or used to have.

Brett: Yeah, I kind of feel like this movie is really about the father. It’s told by the son, but it’s about the dad.

Gabby: I think I might have found the carousel parts scary. wsadI always found some dolls quite creepy and some other inanimate ‘cute’ things made of plastic. So I can see that playing on my overactive imagination.

Jeremy: I was surprised by how little the carnival creeped me out. That’s usually a recipe for instant creepy. We all agree that there’s some inherently wrong about carnivals and circuses, right?

Gabby: But yeah. The carousel. That would have got me. But the carnival itself wasn’t. I agree, carnivals and circuses ate inherently creepy. Fun House is a horror film I really like that uses its setting to great effect. I mentioned in the live tweet that I had just finished reading The Night Circus before watching Something Wicked.

Brett: Oddly, I don’t remember the carousel killing Mr. Dark in the book. Coolest effect in the movie, and it’s not in the book. In the book, the dad hugs Mr. Dark and the power of love causes him to melt or some shit. (Spoilers for a 60-year-old book.) Unless I’m remembering wrong

Jeremy: One thing I was confused about: the traveling lightning rod salesmen was coming to town to stop Mr. Dark, right? I can’t remember it ever being overtly said.

Brett: It wasn’t specifically said. I think Tom just showed up at an opportune moment.

Jeremy: Mmm… If he is a Van Helsing character, we can all agree that pretending to be a traveling lightning rod salesman is, like, the worst cover story ever, right?

Brett: Yes, yes we can. I always thought the lightning rods should play a larger part in the climax. Like it was being built into something that never paid off.

Jeremy: I was surprised to read that this had a really troubled post-production. This character and the hall of mirrors scene are the only places where I can sense any disjointedness. In the cut of the film we have, he’s basically a drunken hobo Van Helsing, who sobers up long enough to impale Pam Grier with one of his lightning rods.

I was also surprised that James Horner was a last-minute replacement as the composer. It’s a very, very James Horner-y score. I’m not going to fault him for dipping into his bag of tricks if this score was composed at the eleventh hour, much like his score for Aliens.

Anything else we want to say before we get to our final thoughts?

Brett: I think this is probably the best movie we’ve seen for this group. It’s rare to see a movie come together this well and yet still kind of miss the mark at the crucial moment (that third act is sadly weak) but the rest of the movie builds up so much good will I don’t even mind.

Gabby: It is a film I really liked. I will be glad to watch it again. I do also enjoy the visuals and the way it explores time..You definitely feel what world you are in with this film. That is a hard job to establish. It makes an impact. I can definitely see why this would freak a child out. Especially, if you flipped this on watching TV late at night…

Jeremy: Good will is the perfect way to describe my feelings about this film. I know I’m asking far too much out of a pre-Marvel Disney film, but it’s too safe and pedestrian in places. The story could be clearer. There’s arguably a better adaptation that could be made, but not one that’s this earnest and melancholy in just the right way. Eight-year-old Jeremy would’ve eaten this up, and it worked almost as well on the cynical bastard I am today. This is a strong recommend from all three of us.

Thanks for reading, everyone. We’ll be back soon with The Black Hole. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter.