"Beyond hope, beyond fear, beyond science—the most terrifying force in the universe. Nothing can escape it ... not even light!”
That’s the narration for a two - minute trailer film currently touting Walt Disney studio’s monumental Christmas release, The Black Hole, a $17.5 million science fiction opus that may be a landmark Disney film in more ways than one. The Black Hole is the most expensive movie in the studio’s four-decade existence and the company’s biggest gamble since namesake Walt risked his reputation to build a groundbreaking amusement park some 24 years ago. Plotwise, The Black Hole also breaks with Disney tradition.
A straight science fiction adventure penned by Jeb Rosebrook and Gerry Day, the movie strays away from the current, whimsical Disney train of celluloid thought, detailing the exploits of a lone starship encountering a black hole in deep space. The movie stars Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forester, Ernest Borgnine, Joseph Bottoms and Yvette Mimieux; a cast which does not fit into the established, lighthearted Disney mold.
“We wanted an international cast of important actors who hadn’t worked at Disney before,” Martin Rabinovitch, Disney’s director of market planning, commented to the news media recently. “We wanted to let people know that this was a new kind of movie, that we are now going to pursue stories that are a bit broader.”
Disney studio’s pursuit of “broader” storylines comes at a time when the studio is attempting to recapture the young adult audience; a teenaged crowd that once flocked to see such features as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but has avoided such recent Disney releases as Freaky Friday and The Apple Dumpling Gang. The studio, which once was able to effortlessly produce such high flying adventures as Leagues, is making an all-out effort to return to those high standards of filmmaking. Supervising the out-of-this world production designs for The Black Hole will be matte artist extraordinaire Peter Ellenshaw; the British genius who was responsible, by the way, for much of the splendor of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some 25 years ago. Ellenshaw was actually talked out of retirement by the eager Disney camp, who wanted The Black Hole to simply reek of quality. Aiding the elder Ellenshaw with the matte work will be son Harrison Ellenshaw (formerly known as P.S. Ellenshaw), who did the excellent matte paintings for Star Wars.
The Black Hole may indeed win back the waning young adult crowd into the Disney camp. Studio executives, however, want to stress that the movie will be PG, an exciting film, but a family film nonetheless. Serious science fiction, it‘ would seem, fits nicely into the everexpanding Disney niche. “Science fiction,” Rabinovitch acknowledged, “like animation, is free form.”