Monday, August 31, 2015

Is "The Black Hole" a 1970's reboot of "Lost in Space"?


The crew of the Jupiter 2 Lost in Space

The crew of the U.S.S. Cygnus
- The Black Hole

The hit TV series Lost in Space aired on CBS for 3 seasons (1965 - 68).  For the first two seasons, the Robinson family remained mostly planet-bound.  For the third and final season, the crew of the Jupiter 2 journeyed throughout the stars having various adventures on different planets and space stations.  After the series was cancelled and went into perpetual reruns, a number of die-hard fans (including series star Billy Mumy) lobbied the studios, TV networks and producer Irwin Allen for a revival.  Thirty years after the cancellation, fans were rewarded when Lost in Space hit the big screen in 1998 with an entirely new cast and a darker spin on the concept.

But...is it possible that Lost in Space was rebooted in 1979...as The Black Hole?  I rewatched The Black Hole awhile back (not having seen it in years) and thoughts of Lost in Space began to creep into my mind...!

I'm a huge fan of The Black Hole (1979).  I saw this wonderfully imaginative movie in the theater with my family the first week that it came out so many decades ago.  It's no secret that many aspects of the film borrow elements from many diverse sources - too numerous to fully mention here, but a few of the influences appear to be: Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Doctor Who ("The Ark" and "The Ark in Space"), numerous episodes of The StarlostThe Poseidon Adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Night of the Living Dead (the "zombie-fied" Cygnus crew-members!), Dante's Inferno...and even The Bible!

Yet, my most recent viewing of the film leads me to believe that several...but by no means all - elements of The Black Hole might possibly (I'll say that again...**possibly**) have been at least partially influenced by the characters and even several episodes of Irwin Allen's Lost in Space TV series, most notably "The Reluctant Stowaway", "The Derelict", "War of the Robots", "The Ghost Planet" and "Condemned of Space".

First the characters: Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) - a strong, heroic middle-aged man not unlike Lost in Space's Professor John Robinson.  1st Officer - Lt. Charles Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) is a brash, impetuous younger man, not unlike LIS' Major Don West.  Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) is the "mother-figure" of the crew, not unlike LIS' Dr. Maureen Robinson.  Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) shares many character traits with LIS' Dr. Smith - mainly cowardice and an eager willingness to deceive - even the names of  both characters are somewhat similar - Smith / Booth.  Also, Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell) is **very** similar to the initial (pre-humorous) characterization of Dr. Smith in the first 6 episodes of LIS!  Check out various scenes in the movie where Reinhardt commands the Red Robot Maximillian to do his bidding and / or act as his protector - this is very similar - almost identical to the early episodes of LIS where Dr. Smith had complete command of the Robot (B-9) and used him to terrorize (and in fact attempt to murder) the Robinson family on more than one occasion!  Lastly, V.I.N.C.E.N.T. (voiced by Roddy McDowall), the heroic Robot of The Black Hole is not unlike the Robot on LIS - the robots in both productions have distinctive, friendly personalities - both robots quote "the classics" as well as spout literary cliches - and both even have similarly designed round heads that have the ability to "rise and fall" at will.  Both robots also have the unusual ability to spin their bodies around and travel forwards, while facing backwards!  I haven't mentioned Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins) or Old B.O.B. (voiced by Slim Pickens) - as far as I can determine, neither character has a Lost in Space counterpart.

Several scenes in The Black Hole have counterparts to various Lost in Space episodes.  For instance, in "The Derelict", after avoiding a collision with a comet, the Jupiter 2 is drawn inside a mysterious derelict spaceship.  A similar scene occurs in the opening minutes of The Black Hole.

The Jupiter 2 encounters a derelict spaceship
- Lost in Space ("The Derelict")
The Palomino encounters the U.S.S. Cygnus, a derelict spaceship
- The Black Hole
In the 3rd Season Lost in Space episode, "Condemned of Space" the Jupiter 2 is damaged by a comet and the Robot is drawn outside the ship and almost becomes "lost" in the void of space.  A similar scene occurs in The Black Hole when V.I.N.C.E.N.T. is cut adrift from the Palomino and is almost drawn into the black hole.


The Robot adrift - Lost in Space - ("Condemned of Space")

V.I.N.C.E.N.T. adrift - The Black Hole

Dr. Smith, The Robot and Robby the Robot
in Lost in Space - ("Condemned of Space")
Shortly thereafter, the Jupiter 2 avoids both a comet and a super-nova and encounter a mysterious derelict(!) space ship.  Since the Jupiter 2 has been damaged, they have no choice but to board the derelict in order to make repairs. Once inside the ship, they learn that it is Lorded over by an Evil Robot [Robby the Robot] (not unlike The Black Hole's Maximillian) who is in charge of hundreds of prisoners who have been frozen. Another scene in the episode features a now-thawed out prisoner attempting to freeze Don West (who is subsequently rescued by John Robinson) - this is *somewhat* similar to a suspenseful scene in The Black Hole when Dr. McCrae is *almost* turned into a mindless / faceless zombie but is rescued by Captain Holland at the last second.

V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and Captain S.T.A.R. - The Black Hole
The Robot and Robby the Robot
 in Lost in Space - ("War of the Robots")

Other memorable scenes in The Black Hole feature V.I.N.C.E.N.T. outdrawing the "quick-draw" robot, Captain S.T.A.R. and later his battle with the evil Maximillian at the climax of the film - both of these scenes are **somewhat** similar to scenes in the 1st season Lost in Space episode "War of the Robots" [which, like "Condemned of Space" also features Robby the Robot].  Also worth noting - the "faceless zombies" - who wear opaque masks and cloaks look **very** similar to the automated robots in the 2nd Season Lost in Space episode "The Ghost Planet" (and "The Ghost Planet" also features a "haunted house" type plot featuring an Evil Robot who dominates the slave robots on his planet)!

Maximillian and Dr. Rheinhardt - The Black Hole

The "zombie-fied" crew of the Cygnus - The Black Hole

The "faceless" aliens of Lost in Space - ("The Ghost Planet")
Several scenes near the climax of The Black Hole, practically scream "Dr. Smith!" - Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) at first plots to take over the Cygnus and pilot it back to Earth.  When this proves unfeasible, he feigns an injury (a broken leg) and then hijacks the Palomino - this is reminiscent of numerous scenes from various Lost in Space episodes where Dr. Smith would feign an injury or illness ("Oh, the pain!" or "My back is a disaster area!") and then later commit one heinous act after another.  There were also numerous episodes in which Dr. Smith would plot to take over the Jupiter 2 for his own ends - his main goal is (of course) to return to Earth by any means necessary. Another similar plot point - in the Lost in Space pilot episode, "The Reluctant Stowaway", the Jupiter 2 is heavily damaged / crippled by a meteor storm - caused by the stowaway Dr. Smith's excess weight which causes the ship's navigational controls to malfunction.  This is not unlike the meteor storm at the climax of The Black Hole that damages / cripples the Cygnus - damage which is the direct result of Harry Booth's failed attempt to hijack the Palomino - but instead he crashes the ship into the Cygnus - damaging its gravity / navigational controls - allowing the meteor storm to badly damage the ship. So, in both productions, the meteor damage to both ships was the direct result of the actions of Harry Booth and Dr. Smith!

Harry Booth and V.I.N.C.E.N.T.  - The Black Hole

Dr. Smith and the Robot (B-9) - Lost in Space
To summarize, The Black Hole shares plot points, story arcs and character traits with many, MANY previous movies (as well as books and myths).  The creators of this amazing film may have been influenced by some elements of Lost in Space...but then again, they may not have had Lost in Space in mind at all when the film was written and produced.  The next time you watch The Black Hole, keep an eye out for the above (and perhaps other) perceived similarities to Lost in Space...kudos to the immensely talented creators of The Black Hole and Lost in Space!  :-)

The Black Hole and all images, characters and logos are copyright (c) and trademark Walt Disney Productions.  All photos are used for illustrative purposes only.

Lost in Space and all images, characters and logos are copyright (c) and trademark 20th Century Fox and Irwin Allen Productions.  All photos are used for illustrative purposes only.