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Disney was there at the dawn of computer animation. They were the first studio to produce feature films using special effects generated with computers. You all know about Tron, their 1982 film which featured whole sequences of fully computer generated animation. The Academy Awards called it cheating. But Tron wasn’t the first. That honor falls to The Black Hole, their underrated (if somewhat cheesy) 1979 science fiction epic which used computers to generate its opening credits sequence.
So now that Tron is headed for a resurrection with a hotly anticipated sequel, it only makes sense that The Black Hole gets new life too. THR says Tron: Legacy producers Joseph Kosinski and Sean Bailey are working on a “reinvention” of the science fiction film. Standard code for “here comes a remake”.
Back in 1979 The Black Hole cost $26 million to make and was the most expensive movie Disney had ever made. Unlike Tron, it was a total flop. Critics hated it, audiences avoided it, and The Black Hole eventually drifted onto the bottom of VHS rental store shelves where it was finally discovered by a pre-teen Josh Tyler flush with excitement over having finally convinced his family to scrape together the money necessary to rent their first VCR. And now I’m here to tell you those 1979 audiences were wrong.
The Black Hole is a story idea loaded with potential. The 1979 movie never quite reaches it, but the potential is there lurking in the script. As is, the film is worth a quick look but it’s ripe for a remake that really gets it right. It’s ripe for a remake unhampered by the technological constraints of 70s filmmaking and freed from the fetters of Disney’s insistence on turning a PG-13 idea into a PG movie. This is what remakes should be for, not the retreading of already perfectly done ideas, but the reinvention of great ideas which in the past just never quite came out right.
The Black Hole is just such an idea. Done properly it’s a PG-13 or even R-rated space horror movie, close to the same level of atmospheric terror and suspense as the original Alien. In a far off future a small explorer vessel discovers a long lost, magnificent derelict (the USS Cygnus) trapped in the gravity pull of a black hole. Imagine if the Titanic hadn’t really sank, and James Cameron suddenly discovered it floating somewhere populated by only its captain. The astronauts investigate and find on board a lone scientist, surrounded by strange faceless robots (including a memorably menacing red robot named Maximillian) of his own devising. His crew is missing, his sanity is in question, and the ship may be crumbling around them. That’s The Black Hole and if someone ever gets it right, it could be brilliant.