|Ever since I was about 8 years old, I have been pushing myself on these quests. I call them quests because there is no other appropriate word. My first one began when I was in the second grade. If you recall, there was once a show on TV where they would read snippets from novels for young people, and sketch pictures to go along with them. Well, I was watching that show and they were talking about a book called The Witch of Blackbird Pond. That book struck me as being a good book, and I swore that I would read it some day. Years passed. I would constantly scan the card catalogue at the local library, looking for it. My eyes were peeled for that book. Then, as the sixth grade was drawing to a close, I spotted it there in the “new releases” area of my school library! I read that book, and it was a good book.There have been other quests since then. One that sticks out in my mind was wanting to see Ducktales the Movie. I wanted to see it when it first came out, but I didn’t get to see it until I saw it at Video Update in my first year at university. Obtaining my Princess Leia in the Gold Bikini action figure was another. The longest quest was trying to get my hands on a copy of Transformers: The Movie soundtrack. I wanted it when I first saw that movie on video in 1987, and I wasn’t able to get it until my second year of university 10 years later. I have since compiled a list of movies I am “questing” to see, and when I see them in the video store, I have no choice but to snap them up and see them. So, imagine my delight when I was at Video Superstation in Drayton Valley, and discovered I would be able to complete not one, not two, but three of my quests! There, I was able to rent: an episode of that classic, forgotten 80’s cartoon Visionaries, the sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner, and Disney’s infamous sci-fi film, The Black Hole.
Of that list, The Black Hole is the one I’ve been wanting to see for the longest time. When I was six, a friend of mine had the read-along storybook version of The Black Hole, and images from that book stick out in my mind to this very day. Now that I have become a bit of a film buff, I’m fully aware of the sordid story that brought The Black Hole into existence. It was the late 70’s, and the 70’s were a time that wasn’t kind to Disney. Since Walt’s death in 1967, the studio had been plagued with bad decisions, and the Disney studios spent most of the 70’s just barely avoiding bankruptcy. Then, in 1977, with the release of Star Wars, everyone in Hollywood was making science-fiction films. Disney felt that salvation was at hand, and sunk every penny they could spare into a sci-fi film of their own. The result: 1979’s The Black Hole. Sadly, the film bombed and the critics weren’t kind. Disney was driven deeper into debt, and they didn’t attempt another sci-fi opus until 1982, when they released Tron.
Now, my review of The Black Hole. (WARNING: I pretty much give away the whole movie) The story goes like this: we meet the crew of the U.S.S. Palomino, as they are out seeking new life and new civilizations and boldly going where no one has gone before. They come across the long-lost U.S.S. Cygnus, which is sitting dangerously (and impossibly) close to an enormous black hole. They venture closer, and discover the Cygnus is sitting in some kind of anti-gravity pocket. Our heros board the Cygnus, and discover it is completely run by robots. They soon meet the only remaining human, Capt. Reinhardt. Reinhardt has been working alone for years, and believes that he has developed a way to enter the black hole. . .and survive. He is now preparing to test his theories by taking the Cygnus into the black hole. But, what happened to his human crew? Is Reinhardt a genius or a madman? And thus our story takes off.
When we were flooded with all those sci-fi films in the wake of Star Wars, so many of them seemed focused on special effects and zappity-pow space battles. But not so with The Black Hole. It tried to be more of a character study. It poses the questions of Reinhardt’s sanity, and our heros. One of the crew is seduced by Reinhardt’s experiment because of Reinhardt’s genius, and he believes that he will witness Reinhardt create scientific breakthroughs. One of those characters wants to be a hero, but sadly in the end shows his true cowardice. This movie tried to analyze where the line between genius and insanity should be drawn. And for the most part, it pulls it off beautifully.
The film also has some intriguing ideas. Like I read on the Internet, the concept of what happens to something in a black hole is something that mainstream sci-fi has left untouched. We also have robots that are outfitted with “ESP circuits,” allowing them to communicate telepathically with humans. And the climactic revelation (it turns out the robots are the human crew; Reinhardt turned them into cyborgs so they would quit questioning his orders) is a good 10 years before the Borg did it on Star Trek. Sadly, though, you can see the influences of Star Wars. Our heros are assisted by a robot named V.I.N.CENT, who appears to be an R2-D2 clone with the cuteness factor turned up a little too much. And, Reinhardt’s sentry robots do come across as being a little Stormtrooper-ish. And, it can’t resist a zappity-pow climax, as the ship is pummeled by a meteor storm and everything starts getting sucked into the black hole as our heros attempt a daring escape. Don’t worry, the effects are pretty good for 1979.
This movie is crying to be re-made, if nothing so we can get a version where the characters are fleshed out a little more. Get Stan Winston to design some brand new robots. And they can elaborate on that ending a little more. In the end, everyone gets sucked into the black hole, and Reinhardt has visions of hell and our heros ascend to heaven. Elaborate on those visions a little more! This movie deserves justice. It’s not as bad as history has led us to believe. If I have one complaint, it has to be the film’s music. The music was done by a man named John Barry, whom many attribute with establishing the musical style of the James Bond films. His main theme for The Black Hole sounds too much like a leftover James Bond villain theme. Don’t believe me? Watch The Black Hole, paying close attention to the music, then watch Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. You’ll pick up the similarities. (For an even closer match, watch The Black Hole, then watch Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The Black Hole‘s main theme and Dr. Evil’s theme music are almost identical.) But, all in all, it’s good, and not as bad as history would have us believe. Rent it should the opportunity arise!
And that brings us to Blade Runner. I’ve been wanting to see it since 1992, and Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut was released to theaters. Firstly, this sci-fi film has one of the most fanatical cult followings in film-dom. Secondly, I think it’s one of the most re-edited and re-interpreted films of all time, following Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It first came out in 1982, and then not one but two alternate versions circulated art house theaters until 1992, when director Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise) finally got the go ahead to do his official Director’s Cut. Since this Director’s Cut, I think one other alternate edit got a limited engagement run at an art house in LA. I guess this would be a good time to point out that what I rented (and what I’ll be reviewing) was the 1992 Blade Runner: the Director’s Cut, which most of those fanatical fans say is the best version of the film.
The plot is a little something like this: in the year 2019, society has been greatly advanced thanks to “replicants,” highly sophisticated androids. But, replicants are too real. After a while, they begin developing emotions and going insane. So, they were outlawed on Earth, being restricted to off-world colonies, and as an additional safeguard, they only live for 4 years. A group of these replicants, with the end of that fourth year coming quick, hijack a spaceship and return to earth with the goal of somehow getting a life extension. Enter Dekkard, played by Harrison Ford. Dekkard is a Blade Runner, an elite detective whose job it is to track down and retire (i.e. execute) replicants. Along the way, he questions the morality of what he’s doing and begins falling in love with another replicant named Rachael. Or something like that.
The best word I can think of to describe this movie is weird. Half the time, you are unsure of what’s going on. Dekkard’s motivations are never made clear. As the movie starts, he’s quit the force, but he’s enticed back, and I think at the end of the film he quits again. But why? And then there’s the replicants. We really only get to know two: the leader, “combat model” Roy (played by Rutger Hauer) and the “pleasure model” Priss (played by Daryl Hannah). But even then, we’re not sure why they returned to earth, or even if a life extension is their true motivation. Maybe they are just crazy. The plot, I found, was a confusing mess. I think it tried to tackle the same subject matter as the very fine anime Ghost In the Shell, but with less success. You know, questions of what is alive and what is dead, and what exactly can you call a soul? Was that the point of Blade Runner, or was it an allegory of the preciousness of human life like one of the fan reviews I read online said? I have no krunking clue.
But there’s one thing this movie does have: eye-candy. This must have been quite the effects achievement for 1982. We are presented with sprawling vistas of dreary, overcrowded LA in the year 2019. I now know what the “Blade Runner style” that a lot of movie critics talk about is. How can I describe it to you? It’s like Batman, only. . .futuristic. It’s like Ghost In the Shell, only. . .darker. It’s like Batman Beyond, only. . .taken up to the nth level. The sets are amazing. The effects (like those flying police cars) are spectacular. But there’s not much else I find redeeming about this film. See it for the effects, not the plot.
Maybe I should seek out the original version now. Apparently, the original version has Dekker narrating the whole proceedings, so that might help to fill in the gaps. Maybe I should see it with a group of those fanatical fans. Maybe they can tell me what I’m not seeing. Or maybe I should quit obsessing on this film and get on with my life. I’ve been told there are people out there who don’t like Star Wars, so maybe I should accept the fact that I’m one of the many who didn’t like Blade Runner.
And the Visionaries episode! I summarized the whole thing in great detail, so just scroll on down to it. This was one of my favorite cartoons in 1987, so every time I get a chance to see an episode, I don’t bad mouth it too much. I’ll let you read my summary and make your own decisions. I was hoping I could illegally copy the episode, but I couldn’t get my hands on a blank tape. Next time, then. I discovered that Video Superstation had that Visionaries episode back in March, and I think it’ll be waiting for me when I go back.
When the quest ends, I’m always amazed at how things ended. Because of the history of these two films, I was expecting to hate The Black Hole and love Blade Runner. But, the opposite happened. And now, I’m sure you are asking, what is my next quest? Where do I go from here? Well, here’s the short list of films I’m still questing to see: 2001: A Space Odyssey, because like Blade Runner, it’s a sci-fi classic I’ve heard so much about but never seen. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, because it’s the film the phrase “cult classic” was coined to describe. And finally, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Many Mel Brooks fans say that these two are his greatest, yet I’ve never seen them. And now, with this behind me, my journey continues!
Visionaries episode #4: The Power of the Wise
Written by Douglas Booth
Summary by me, Mark Cappis