Friday, December 9, 2016

Disney's The Black Hole (Mega Post!)

Thirty-seven years ago this month, Walt Disney Productions released the film, The Black Hole. I purchased this poster at Disneyland back in 1979 (before the movie's release) and it hung on my bedroom wall for quite some time.

The Fall/Winter Disneyland guide book announced the film's upcoming release on the inside of it's back cover.

The Black Hole was the company's first PG-rated film, because of some swearing and the depiction of human death (the death of Bambi's mom and Simba's dad didn't warrant a PG rating?) Regardless of the more mature rating, the movie was paired up with the second re-release of Sleeping Beauty and billed in some newspaper ads as "Two Worlds of Disney Fantasy."

I clipped this ad out of the Los Angeles Times.

My grandfather took me to an evening showing of this "double feature" at the Rolling Hills Theater in Torrance (now a BevMo!). I remember my grandfather nodding off during parts of Sleeping Beauty! And I nodded off during parts of The Black Hole! It was unfortunate because I had been looking forward to seeing the movie ever since I first read about the making of it.

The Fall 1979 issue of Disney News Magazine had included a cover story about the movie's upcoming release.

The back cover featured an ad for the movie:

I always thought that this movie was Disney's response to Star Wars, but Disney was reportedly planning this movie as early as 1974. After rereading the Disney News article, I see that it even starts out by saying "After five years preparation....."

Going back a few years earlier, here is what the company had to say about the film in their 1977 Annual Report. It's working title at that time was "Space Probe."

And here's what was written about the movie's progress in the 1978 Annual Report.

After it's release, the film had several mentions in the company's 1979 Annual Report. The caption for the photo below reads, "Maximilian Schell, commander of a massive derelict spacecraft in The Black Hole, stands amid some of his ominous creations. Four Academy Award Winners contributed to design and execution of film's spectacular special effects."

And the caption for this next photo states, "A team of technicians from WED Enterprises and Disney Studio developed the film industry's most advanced computerized motion-control camera, "Automated Camera Effects System (ACES)," to accomplish the complex miniature effects in The Black Hole.

The following info abut the ACES system is from Wikipedia: "Although Star Wars had revolutionized the use of computerized motion control miniature effects, The Black Hole was shot using a blend of traditional camera techniques and newly developed computer-controlled camera technology. Disney had wanted to rent equipment from Industrial Light and Magic, but it was unavailable during the film's production schedule and was also prohibitively expensive. In the end, Disney turned to its own engineering department, which spawned the A.C.E.S. (Automated Camera Effects System), the Mattescan system (which enabled the camera to move over a matte painting), and a computer-controlled modeling stand. The movie's opening credit sequence featured what was then the longest computer-graphics shot ever filmed."

The 1979 Annual Report also mentions a December episode of Disney's Wonderful World, which included a tribute to special effects in (Disney) movies and a sneak preview of The Black Hole. Joseph Bottoms, who played Lieutenant Charlie Pizer in the film (and pictured below in the "M.E." costume), played "Major Effects" in the episode.

Here is the listing for that episode, from the December 15, 1979 issue of TV Guide. (Fonzie Alert!)

Below, composer John Barry is shown conducting the musical scoring of the film, and the merchandising campaign for the film is discussed. (Disco Mickey Mouse Alert!)

I remember that there was a lot of The Black Hole merchandise available at the time. The photo below shows action figures, models, lunchboxes, coloring books, shoes and more. Right now on ebay, there are also ViewMasters, Colorform playsets, comic books, board games and even bed sheets. I had/have the 1980 Calendar that is shown in the lower right corner.

I also purchased several packages of "The Black Hole" trading cards at the local "Stop 'N Go" store. I remember asking the clerk if I could have the display box that the packets of cards came in.

I even saved a wax wrapper from one of the packages. Each packet contained ten "movie photo cards," one sticker, and one stick of gum, which was standard at the time for "Topps" brand trading cards. I had been collecting various Topps cards from a very young age, starting with "Wacky Packages."

I never got the complete set of 88 cards, but here are 47 of them.

Spoiler alert! The gruesome "human death" scene was shown on a couple of the trading cards!

And here are 9 of the stickers:

In 2009, it was announced that a remake of The Black Hole was planned. In the meantime, while we wait to see if this really happens (Helloooo, Jungle Cruise Movie?), here is the original trailer for the film:

And this is a fan's "modern" version of a trailer:

Here's one last little (obscure) detail that I remember about the 1979 release of The Black Hole. Space Mountain at Disneyland received some large rear-lit photos from the movie, along the wall of it's exit corridor (which were later replaced with photos of the cosmos and then again with photos of "aliens" in advertisements for Fed-ex). Another change that was made to Space Mountain at that time, was the addition of three small video monitors that were placed above the exit speedramp. The monitors played a short video, which placed us, the viewers, traveling around the outer rim of a black hole and eventually being sucked into it. It ended with the title of the movie coming up on the screen. The black hole in the footage was represented by an animated green line grid, just like the one visible in the original trailer above. The video was very short and would repeat on a loop over and over. Does anyone else remember this?

After the film came and went, the monitors were removed and the holes where they were located were covered up with square panels. For years however, you could look up and still see the recessed areas in the ceiling where the three monitors had been. I believe the ceiling remained that way until Space Mountain received it's massive redo in the mid 2000's and the exit speedramp was replaced with stairs, however I don't have photos or video to confirm that. I do have some home video footage from the nineties of the ramp itself (in case anyone is feeling nostalgic about that old exit ramp!) Below, is a screen shot from that video footage. The monitors were located in recessed niches, just above the guest's heads.

If you have stuck with me this far today, thank you! And I hope you have enjoyed this "Journey that begins where everything ends!"

****Just in case anyone is interested in watching that entire Space Mountain video (even though at this point in time, there weren't any "Black Hole" movie tie-ins), it does include footage of the old Space Mt. loading station, the Fed-ex robot that used to be located in the station, and a complete ride-thru prior to the first on-board soundtrack being added to the vehicles. And by the way, as was usually the case with Disneyland's speedramps, the one at the exit was turned off and guests were having to walk up it!

*****POST UPDATE***** (May 2024)

I recently came across this 1979 advertisement from The Los Angeles Times. A robot "inspired by" V.I.N.CENT, from The Black Hole, was going to be appearing at select May Co. department stores. Someone was going to win this clone of the robot, valued at $1,000. According to the ad, he could "play games, tell jokes, answer true, false, and multiple choice questions, and even play cassette tapes."