Art Archives: The Black Hole, Pt. 1

I was four years old when I saw The Black Hole.

Apparently Disney had decided to cash in on the success of Star Wars by crafting their own cute talking robot space adventure. Theaters throughout the U.S. booked the film, and chain stores throughout the U.S. stocked the merch. The stage was set for Disney to move effortlessly into the realm of live action blockbusters.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The Black Hole did have talking robots, and it did have amazing special effects for its time. It even had a strong cast (Maximilian Schell, Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Perkins, and Roddy McDowall for starters). Yet for some reason, the filmmakers opted to explore thematic territory that we would nowadays refer to as “hard sci-fi.” The plot was borrowed heavily from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and infused with elements from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. It featured violence and death, and ended on a darkly surreal note that was confusing to parents and upsetting to children.

Ernest Borgnine.

The Black Hole wasn’t exactly a flop, but it failed to capture the imaginations and pocketbooks of America, and Disney backed off in its attempts to usurp Lucasfilm.

Like many kids, my sister and I went to see the film during its opening week. We returned from the theater in tears. I couldn’t process whether I liked the movie or not. All I knew was that I was upset, but couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually we stopped crying, and began the cathartic mission of drawing all the memorable scenes from the film.

I recently found, organized and scanned all the Black Hole drawings we made as kids. I’m not sure how many days we worked on them, but they were created on several different types of paper, using a combination of crayons and ink pens. Amazingly, they pretty much explain the plot of the movie, although it comes across as much more violent and action-packed than it really is.

One of the talking robots was Old B.O.B., as voiced by Peckinpah favorite Slim Pickens.

In the years since I was first traumatized by The Black Hole, I’ve grown to appreciate it as a flawed science fiction masterpiece, and as a snapshot of the time before the PG-13 rating and CGI changed the genre forever. I also have a soft spot for the movie because I taught myself to read by following along to a Black Hole storybook that came with a 45 rpm record.

Sadly, my sister Ginger passed away a few years later, so I am unable to get her thoughts on the experience. I also am not 100% sure how many of these drawings were hers. I think the majority were mine, because even at that age I was a pretty big nerd, and it’s the sort of thing I would do. Ginger also helped me draw scenes from other movies like Blade Runner and The Dark Crystal, so her work may pop up in future entries.

NEXT: Stay tuned for the Story of The Black Hole!

(Characters copyright 1979 by Disney. Artwork copyright 1979, 2011 by Ryan Orvis.)
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19 Responses to “Art Archives: The Black Hole, Pt. 1”

  1. First of all, sorry to hear of the passing of your sister. Great review…but isn`t 4 a little too young to see this? No wonder it upset you..I saw 5 year olds getting upset in The Lion King…kids of that age cant understand that whats going on on the screen isnt real…at least it absolutely affects them deeply.. Ive seen it at age 8 I belive, and it left a lasting impression..and yes its a bit violent ,and pretty dark themed.

    • roarvis Says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I probably was too young to see it, but that’s what I love about the early 80s. Science fiction was still for kids, no matter how adult the subject matter. I saw Blade Runner when I was 7 or 8 – that was a mindfuck.

  2. Good review, but minor point. Black Hole was already in production before Star Wars came out. It used obsolete technology and cost twice as much as Star Wars, but by the time they were finished, Disney could not afford to shelve the film.

  3. Thanks for sharing pieces of your childhood. It is amazing that you kept all these pictures.

    I’m writing a book about my “fallout” from watching this movie. It caused me nightmares for years as a kid. Could I contact you about your childhood reaction to the film (not limited to these drawings)? I’m glad I’m not the only one who left the movie bewildered and scared.

    • Hi, sorry I did not reply sooner. Your book idea sounds great! I’d love to discuss it with you.

      • I’m revising my 1st draft now. So, as you think back to the Black Hole, did it frighten you as a kid? If so, what about it was particularly scary? What is most striking to you about any of your drawings?

      • Apologies for not replying to this sooner.

        It did scare me. On one hand there was the visceral horror of seeing humans attacked and killed by robots. On the other, there was the confusing end scene where Reinhardt is fused with Maximilian. All of this was overwhelming to me as a little kid.

      • The most striking things about the drawings when I see them now are the attention to detail, and also how crappy they are.

  4. Ryan, your and Ginger’s Black Hole art, and your posts about it, made my year. I couldn’t resist posting about it on my blog, http://2warpstoneptune.wordpress.com/. I hope that’s okay. If not, let me know and I’ll take it down right away.

    Not only did we grow up watching and drawing the same stuff, but I was obsessed with David J for many years and have seen him solo and with Love & Rockets many times. The last time was with the Jazz Butcher, probably 10 years ago now. Crocodile Tears is still one of my favorite albums ever. (I was also a music reviewer for a few years. I can’t believe you got to interview David.)

    And we’re both obsessed with trashy horror flicks, etc., etc. Anyway, thanks for these posts, and I hope you haven’t given up on the blog.

    • Thanks for the kind words! I approve of your post, and am just now skimming through your blog and reveling in the awesomeness of it all.

      I have not given up on the blog, but have been on hiatus from writing in general. Expect a new post at some point in the next six months.

    • Great avatar btw. ;)

  5. Terry [ dad] Orvis Says:

    I am curious how you got to the movie at 4 yrs. of age. Did we have the tape? I can’t recall taking any of our kids to a movie at that age. Great drawings though.
    Pops

    • Hi Dad!
      This was in the days before VHS. I believe you took us to see it at the Chardon Theater, then mom got mad at you because we wouldn’t stop crying afterward.

  6. It’s important to remember, too, that it was at a time when Disney had only produced family friendly entertainment. I’m sure Terry (and thousands of other parents) had no way of knowing what they were walking in to.

    Not that it may have mattered for some. My best friend and his wife and I took his kids (10 and 4 at the time) to see “Revenge of the Sith” despite the public warnings by Lucas that it was going to have intense material.

    When Mace Windu got his hands cut off and when Anakin Skywalker got fricasseed on the volcanic sands, essentially becoming human bacon (!), all of the kids (we weren’t the only dummies in the theater) lost their little minds.

    Back to “The Black Hole”, I was 8 when it came out and, even though it was pretty insane, I was old enough to not be terrified. I did become as obsessed with it as you did (had all of the figures, the cards, that same record / book you did) – for me it was the designs and the feeling like I had just seen something ‘adult’. I mean, it had to be adult – I didn’t understand it!

    These drawings are brilliant, this story is fantastic – thank you so much for sharing!

    • roarvis Says:

      Thank you! It’s interesting to find out so many people were affected by this movie at an early age.

  7. Great story – great art! I used to do the same thing, but I’m about 8 years older than you…but still young at heart.

    I saw THE BLACK HOLE with my grandmother, her second husband, and my siblings (and a cousin) — it was being shown as a double feature with SLEEPING BEAUTY nationally, and I asked my grandmother afterward (at McDonald’s) which movie she liked best. She smiled and gently said, “Well, I like the classics, and I’m really fond of fairy tales. Guess I’m still a little girl at heart. I think I liked SLEEPING BEAUTY better.” — The way she said it was very tender, and it touched my heart because she knew I was a full bore Science Fiction nut, and I could tell she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I also knew she had a really horrific childhood, and to think of her enjoying innocent stories like SLEEPING BEAUTY meant a lot to me

    Check out my blog at budsreviews.blogspot.com if you’d like. I review a lot of movies from that era, and a lot of eclectic and modern stuff. I dabble in fiction writing, too, on another blog, and some nonfiction. Have a great week!

    BUD

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