From the start, The Black Hole was designed to be a game-changer for Disney. The ripples from the splash Star Wars had made at the box-office reached the boardroom in Sleeping Beauty's castle and the Disney executives were determined to get in on the action. With actors Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins and Robert Forster onboard, The Black Hole had a far from traditional Disneyesque cast. Disney had such faith in the film's potential that it put it in direct competition with the highly-anticipated Star Trek -The Motion Picture, which was opening at the same time - Christmas 1979.
For the music, they turned to a seasoned professional. John Barry had already gone into space that year with his score for Moonraker; the music he composed for The Black Hole is even better. It begins with the anthemic "Overture", played before the opening credits, like the old roadshow presentations. We then go into the sweeping, circling "Main Title", with Barry's trademark strings in full effect:
This tone is kept through the score - there are no "cute" themes for the robots, none of the chirpy melodies that would have usually been expected in a Disney release. It's powerful, stirring music, often raising the film from the numerous stumbling blocks of its plot and script.
Full disclosure: The Black Hole was the first film soundtrack I ever owned. By the time I was given the album as a Christmas present, I had already seen the film a couple of times. Thanks to continuous performances and the unallocated cinema seating of those days, I was able to duck down and sit through an additional performance, seeing in twice in one afternoon. From these viewings,I soon realised its faults - those stupid Mickey Mouse-eyed robots, the often risible dialogue and a climax that wanted to be Kubrickian in scope and meaning but failing completely. I also knew what was good about it - the production design, the special effects, Maximilian the robot... and the music.
With the sad passing of John Barry earlier this year, releasing one of his most-requested film works is only fitting. It's particularly welcome that his score for The Black Hole has been given such a respectful and thorough presentation.
The Black Hole soundtrack is a Walt Disney Records/Intrada release and can be ordered from the US here.