I remember having the V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and Maximilian pencil holders when I was a kid, as well as some of the action figures, the soundtrack album, as well as the storybook album, the comics and finally I had a giant puzzle from the CNE one year.
And I remember watching this film in the theater, Perkins’ death freaked me out, as well as watching it countless times on VHS in the early 1980s.
This is a movie I remember fondly and while some of it hasn’t stood up very well, or even at the time (trying to balance between the ‘fun’ robots and a ghost ship storyline was a tough unenviable act).
The year is 2130 and the Palomino, an exploration craft, is on its way home after an unsuccessful search for life. During their transit home they encounter a strong gravitational pull, and discover a massive black hole.
Tumbling toward the event horizon, they are stunned to come across a lost ship in an undisturbed, sustained and stable orbit around the singularity.
The ghost ship comes to life, lighting up like a Christmas tree, and the Palomino lands to investigate, reminiscing about the crew, one of the Palomino’s crew’s father, and the ship’s captain, Durant.
The ship, they discover is run by robots, overseen by the monstrous and intimidating red-shelled Maximilian, until it’s revealed Durant (Maximilian Schell) is still there, studying, and preparing for a transit through and beyond the black hole.
The Palomino crew led by Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) begins to investigate Durant’s story about his missing crew, to its horrifying conclusion.
All the makings of a gothic space horror, or at least drama, however, some of the goofy robot escapades detract from the overall adult story, so Disney could market it better I suppose.
The special effects hold up very well, yes sometimes you can see the wires for the flying robots, and you can see the matte lines for some of the blue screen work, but overall, it looks great. The model work, not to mention the design, is some of my favorite.
The cast, including Forster and Schell are top-drawer, there’s Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Bottoms, and the voice of Roddy McDowall (who voiced V.I.N.C.E.N.T.).
It also features one of my favorite John Barry scores, with a fantastic overture – brave, bold and heroic, representing the Palomino and her crew, and a haunting main title that suggests the mystery of not only the Cygnus, but the rip in space-time off its starboard bow.
As mentioned the film is far from perfect, but no matter how many times I see it, I can forgive it for that. Even the acting, with such a strong cast is a little cold and wooden at times.
Then, of course, there’s the meteorite rolling through the middle of the ship, once the climax gets underway.
Finally we reach the ultimate climax of the film, with our heroes tumbling towards the black hole, and the marriage of the physical forms of Durant and Maximilian. The film goes all out for a high-brow 2001 conclusion… our heroes seem to be traveling through a slice of heaven with a being flying about, and Max/Durant seem to be finding their place in Dante’s Inferno (or is all of that in Kate’s mind, because the camera pushes and zooms in on her eyes, and then that whole sequence unfolds).
Not exactly a straight cut ending, and no doubt confused a lot of younger viewers, heck, it probably stumped some older ones as well.
For all of it’s faults though, I still love this film. The Cygnus bridge is brilliant, while the spartan corridors seem to stretch on forever, the gothic robed robots, V.I.N.C.E.N.T., the Palomino and the Cygnus, the over-under blasters, the score, the score, the score, the Palomino crew uniforms, the Paolomino bridge layout and design, and the fantastic effects, when taken into account this was made in 78, just after the original Star Wars, just wow.
And now, they’re talking about re-imagining it. We’ll see.
If you haven’t seen it, and are looking for a corner of sci-fi that seems to be overlooked, check it out.
If you’ve seen it, what did you think?