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THE BLACK HOLE ($25) is one of those films that I find impossible to watch on broadcast, simply because cropping away half of the film's 2.35:1 imagery removes any sense of pleasure derived from the movie. For those equally disenchanted with seeing THE BLACK HOLE horribly mangled by the pan and scan process, Anchor Bay Entertainment has released a terrific Letterboxed edition of the film with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack.

THE BLACK HOLE was released in 1979 to cash in on the STAR WARS craze. However, unlike STAR WARS, THE BLACK HOLE wasn’t well received by either critics or the film going public. Still, THE BLACK HOLE has loyal following that recognize that the film delivers campy sci-fi fun. Sure, THE BLACK HOLE is grounded in the kind of really bad "pop science" that is certain to leave real rocket scientists rolling on the floor in laughter. But then again, considering that THE BLACK HOLE is Disney film (the first to receive a PG rating), I would have to imagine that the film's intended target audience couldn't have been associated with the works of either Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking.

The plot of THE BLACK HOLE concerns the crew of the USS Palomino, a space exploration ship whose mission is to find signs of intelligent life in space. Instead, of extraterrestrial life, they locate the USS Cygnus, a spaceship thought lost for the past twenty years. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the Cygnus sits perched upon the event horizon of a black hole. When our band of explorers the board the Cygnus they discover a crew of robots and the lone human survivor, Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell). Dr. Reinhardt believes that he has some divine insight into the true nature of black holes and is planning to launch his ship right into the deadliest force in the universe. THE BLACK HOLE has a metaphysical climax with some effective imagery. However, considering that THE BLACK HOLE has already thrown science out the window, the climax is somewhat tame (I guess it's a Disney thing). Check out EVENT HORIZON, if you want to see a similarly themed film that isn’t afraid to go the distance. THE BLACK HOLE also stars Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, plus the recognizable voices of Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has made both wide screen and full screen presentations of THE BLACK HOLE are available on opposite sides of the DVD. However, as I said above, cropping the film's 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio renders THE BLACK HOLE unwatchable- so don't waste your time. The Letterboxed version of THE BLACK HOLE is very impressive- absolutely Anchor Bay's finest looking DVD thus far. My only disappointment with this DVD is the lack of the 16:9 anamorphic enhancement for wide screen televisions. Despite this, the DVD offers a razor sharp, highly detailed image that is only limited by the quality of the film's nearly twenty-year-old special effects. No they didn't have digital effects way back then. There is some evidence of film grain, but it never becomes a distraction. Blacks render deep and true, while contrast remains consistently good throughout. Color reproduce with better than average saturation. Chroma noise never becomes a problem, even with some of the film’s hotter hues. Precise DVD authoring tamed all traces of digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack sounds just wonderful. John Barry's terrific sci-fi score gets the biggest boost from the Dolby Digital encoding. Barry’s score has a strong musical presence in Dolby Digital that allows it to wash over the viewer. The forward soundstage also has good channel separation and the surrounds are well deployed with not only ambience, but also a number of directional effects. Bass reproduction is impressive for a film of this vintage, while dialogue is always clean and intelligible. The interactive menus contain music, animation and are far more impressive than any contained on any of Disney’s own DVDs. Through the menus one can access the standard scene selection feature, plus access a theatrical trailer and still gallery. The Letterboxed presentation also includes a theatrical overture that is not offered on the cropped side of the DVD.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has done a really good job with their release of THE BLACK HOLE. Fans of the film will want to own a copy of this DVD. Recommended.


Please note that the initial DVD release of THE BLACK HOLE contained an audio defect, in which the front right channel of the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack was absent. However, Anchor Bay recalled and replaced defective copies of THE BLACK HOLE in record time. Should you encounter a bad disc, you should exchange it for a corrected copy of the DVD.


The Black Hole (1979)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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