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A wolf remains a wolf, even if it has not eaten your sheep
on 31 December 2015
One can only wonder what Disney Execs thought when the first cut of this was delivered to them back in 1979. I'm only assuming this movie exists because every other movie had to be a sci-fi one in the wake of 'Star Wars' - but if they wanted a light, laser filled romp in order to sell bucket loads of toys, then they had surely backed the wrong horse...
In deep space, the USS Palomino is on its way back to Earth when it accidentally discovers the USS Cygnus, presumed missing for over 20 years. The ship is found lifeless, hanging dormant in space precariously hanging over a black hole so the crew decide to investigate and see if anyone is still alive (one being the father of one of Palomino's team). Led by Holland (a respectably stoic Robert Forster), telepath Kate (Yvette Mimieux), Pizer (a cocksure Joseph Bottoms), Booth (a roguish Ernest Borgnine), Durant (a suitably dour Anthony Perkins) and a know it all robot called V.I.N.C.E.N.T. (voiced by an uncredited Roddy McDowell), they board the Cygnus only to be greeted by megalomanic Dr. Reindhardt (a scenery chewing Maximilian Schell), his armoured robot body guard Maximilian and a bizarre, faceless army who plan to be the first people ever to enter a black hole. Only the crew of the Palomino aren't too hot on the idea of joining him and thus sets forth a hurried battle of brain, brawn and laser guns...
I hadn't seen this movie since I was a child and I dearly loved it back then but approached it with trepidation now. Sure, it has clunky dialogue and the cast are away too serious giving the film a po-faced vibe which jars quite heavily against the cutesy robot shenanigans of V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and his newly found cohort B.O.B. (again, uncredited voiceover work by Slim Pickings), but it really does have something to it. The production design by Peter Ellenshaw is still pretty stunning (the cathedral like USS Cygnus is a standout) and John Barry's score is one of his best, even if it is used incorrectly in certain sequences throughout the film. Gary Nelson's direction is swift, never letting the uneven script get in the way of a majestic image or a cool laser battle shootout, for which there are many littered throughout. It does have problems though: Characters do things... well, out of character in an effort to propel the story along and everything ends all too quickly. The build up to the finale seems to begin about 20 minutes in and the final hour is pretty much the end of the picture playing itself out... however, once you get to the finale and the crew (sorry, spoilers) do enter that black hole - its unsure of which vibe Disney were going for as it doesn't feel like a children's movie at all. Tipped somewhere between a cold 'Star Trek The Motion Picture' and a satanic horror movie, the final moments literally do send them to hell. And in an ambiguous manner, never really lets the audience come away feeling good, either. This ain't a movie Uncle Walt would have made, for sure.
Its a shame as of this writing, the movie still isn't available on Blu-Ray but Disney's UK DVD does sport a good transfer with vibrant audio (however, please note there is much film grain which may spoil the enjoyment for some, although I don't have an issue). No extras to speak of making this a bare bones, movie only affair (apparently a deleted Region 1 DVD offers a 16 minute retrospective documentary) - but for the price Amazon are asking for it, one can hardly grumble. All in all, I heartily recommend this bonkers descent into darkness, but modern audiences may feel shortchanged by the hokey script and pompous demeanour.