Saturday, June 29, 2013

SciFi Gothic

I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid.  Obviously, I'm not the only one.  It's not the quantity of television shows and movies I'm about to discuss but the quality.  The programming that influenced me during those formative years is worth re-examining.

In the last decade, I've been able to revisit practically all the stuff I watched as a tender scifi/fantasy loving youth.  However, there was one film missing (doubtless, there are a few more out there that I still don't recall)... The Black Hole.  The first PG rated Disney motion picture.

All I remembered of the film, before watching it again last night (and for the first time in 25 years) was a swirling black (blue, actually) hole and a dark red robot with fan blades for hands.  That's it.  So, it's no wonder that it took me so long to seek it out.  I couldn't remember the twisted root, only a couple brightly colored branches!  In fact, I probably would have let even more time elapse if it wasn't for a recent amazon search for Disney movies.  My daughter Briella is two.

Well, seeing it again was like a nostalgia enema.  My initial impression: parallels between The Black Hole and Event Horizon - another fantastic film in the scifi gothic vein.  A long lost ship, thought destroyed, suddenly reappears unharmed but somehow haunted.  I love Event Horizon, so didn't mind the similar set-up.

Gothic to the 9th degree.  Ok, here's how to do scifi gothic:  amidst all the space ships, robots, laser fire, and  assorted cosmic phenomena, characters should talk about at least some of the following: God, heaven, hell, biblical stories, dreams/nightmares, prophecy, destiny/fate, ambition, the unknown, life and death, as well as, what lies beyond.  The atmosphere must be dark and forbidding, too.  Just for good measure, at least one terrible secret must be revealed by the end.

The trick is to juxtapose the new with the old.  The more quantum slingshot calculations referenced, the more an audience must see "medieval" black shrouded androids.  When a character does any spaceship exploration, the decor must be weird and oppressive... as if reflecting the warped mind who built it.  There's a frequent interplay between intellect and emotion, the future and the past, man's optimism and his base realities.

Along with being a scifi nut all these years, I occasionally relate to the megalomaniac diagnosis.  Nothing says scifi gothic like a madman on a mission to godhood.  That's the essence of megalomania, and Dr. Reinhardt has all the classic symptoms.  Just did some google searching for quotes, and couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.  Sure, he talks about the word "impossible" being in the dictionary of fools, going where no man has dared to go before, etc. but where are all the demented, juicy lines which put him on that razor's edge between genius and insanity?  A lot of other characters talk about Dr. Reinhardt when he's not around.  Or maybe the shadows of my mind are playing tricks on me?

I watched it alongside a friend, joking to him that Dr. Reinhardt reminded me of "the most interesting man in the world" from those Dos Equis commercials.  He couldn't help but agree.  There's something fascinating about the character which Maximilian Schell brought to the role.  Those eyes!  Those eyes have seen too far, we cannot follow his gaze.

Additionally, I thought it was interesting how Anthony Perkins' character seemed to gravitate towards the good doctor, almost become infatuated with him without coming right out and declaring their BFF status.  Did that work so well and so subtly because Anthony Perkins was gay?  I merely speculate.  The dinner scene is probably the simplest and most effective of the movie and, ironically, the least science fiction.

So, The Black Hole is another piece of the puzzle to my adult psyche.  I watched it so many times that its distorted themes embedded themselves into my subconscious.  But how much did it shape me as opposed to the idea that humans come pre-shaped or predisposed to certain concepts and aesthetics by the time they stumble upon and connect with something that resonates with them?  Good question.  I don't have an answer.  Perhaps both.

To those who have never seen The Black Hole or haven't seen it in decades, you could do a lot worse.


p.s.  Oh yeah, and Dr. Reinhardt is rewarded for his iron will and presumptuous risk-taking with a suitably satanic compensation.

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