The Black Hole (2006)

Hi, how ya doing? Today's review is of The Black Hole, a 2006 SciFi Channel original movie by (in)famous b-movie director Tibor Takacs, one of numerous similar direct-to-video disaster films by him. The Black Hole is not bad, nor is it good, it's just sorta of there, with uninspired effects, tame direction, lackluster performances that will have you yawning and fast-forwarding through the talky parts and finding reasons to get up and go online and surf for porn during commercial breaks. But I predict that you will stick it out to the end against your better judgment and maybe even enjoy yourself. If not, sorry.

I feel the need to note here and now that this is NOT the Disney movie of the same name from 1979. That movie done freaked me right the hell out as a kid. The freakyass glass-face-plate dudes, the killer robot Maximilian, the gloomy music, Ernest Borgnine's hairy butt crack, it seemed like every other scene was designed to give a nine-year old me a case of the willies. I've purposely not watched it since, and may never.

Schell's wicked awesome Unabomber hair left me critically afraid of televangelists and George Lucas for years.

Anyway, our movie is set in Saint Louis, Missouri using a lot of local talent as extras and production assistants (though the special effects were done in Bulgaria, of all places). I used to live in the STL suburb of Brentwood so it was cool to see a lot of familiar landmarks and buildings (even as they were being demolished).

Ok, enough of that, let's get on to this horrid little movie...

It's 2am at the impressively-named "Midwestern Quantum Research Laboratory", the night shift scientists are running some routine tests on the lab's bigass particle collider thingie. Quantum physics confounds me to no end (though I do enjoy kittens and spooky actions) and I guess I don't understand why someone would spend vast amounts of cash trying to smash atoms together (not sure messing with atoms is a good thing, as my Luddite cult brothers have told me). Something goes wrong (of course) and a small singularity, a "black hole" if you will, is created down in the bowels of the lab. This, of course, is an issue that is dodging the infamous real-world Large Hadron Collider Thingie over in Europe, a monstrous science experiment that will either expand our knowledge of the universe and fundamentally alter our understanding of particle physics, or it will end up crushing the planet in a blink of an eye like a beer can at OzzFest. At the time of this writing, however, the LHC is broken and is looking like a bust (but at least we aren't dead).

The lab (actually the McDonnell Planetarium down on Oakland Avenue).

Two guys go to check it out, showing that just because you have an advanced degree in Atomic Lego Blocks does not mean that you have any more common sense than your average teenager in a slasher flick. They find the hole, which is now just the size of a basketball and stand around dumbfounded as it sucks stuff into it slowly. It's odd that a 900 pound powered industrial golf cart is pulled sideways towards the hole but Joe Scientist (who can't weigh more than a buck o'nine without his slide rule) doesn't even have his hair ruffled. [Editor Pam: According to Wikipedia, black holes don't actually suck things into them. It's just that once an object passes the event horizon, it can't get out.]

Blurry effects show the matter-sucking properties of the black hole on a wrench.

To make matters worse an alien life form appears from out of the black hole! First contact is violent and deadly as the creature zaps dead the scientists, frying them to pieces with a zillion volts of electrical energy (or maybe some offworldy plasma phaser touch thingie, who knows). The alien is in the vein of a cloaked Predator, barely seen in blurry bluish glimpses, always accompanied by electrical flashes and discharges. It's clearly something that doesn't live like we do, it seems to be more of an energy being like in the old TOS Day of the Dove episode.

Zapped by the alien (there on the left).

The only survivor of the lab's night shift is a female employee named Shannon Muir, who was back at the control center monitoring the tests and the aftereffects. Shannon, who will be our film's heroine, is played by 37-year old Kristy Swanson, who must be begging people to remember her as the kickass cheerleader from 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and not from her embarrassing turns in forgettable lowest-common-denominator movies like Big Daddy and Dude Where's My Car?. Shannon wears the same generic white lab coat over a twill red sweater for most of movie, giving little indication that underneath that nerdirific uniform is a killer pilates body.

Shannon ordering a calzone from Domino's (for some reason, she's never referred to as "Doctor Muir", just "Shannon", suggesting she's just a flunky lab tech, maybe a grad student).

So now the cat's out of the bag. The US military is called in, though they were not called by Shannon, but somehow alerted to the black hole's appearance (maybe something I missed, I wasn't paying attention and I'll be damned if I go back and watch this movie again now). Helicopters swoop, trucks and jeeps roar, guys with guns run around, and poor Shannon is hauled out of the bathroom where she was hiding to answer questions she has no answer to (like why is no one in the metropolitan Saint Louis area even noticing the full-scale military operation taking place right downtown, complete with armed attack helicopters and mechanized transports, not even the mayor calls).

Three armed helicopters swoop over the trees in an insert scene almost certainly filmed in Bulgaria, or, more likely, stolen from some much better movie.

A team of highly-skilled Special Forces soldiers takes over the lab and throws a tight cordon around the area to keep people out until they can ascertain what is going on. These "soldiers" are clearly bargain-basement extras dressed in JC Penney black sweaters and Army-surplus cargo pants, their rubber prop guns and painted-on camo stripes painfully obvious in daylight scenes.

Soldiers and their off-the-lot Hummer H1.

The soldiers are led by a grizzled old General with graying hair and lined face, but quick-thinking eyes and a better grasp of atomic physics than you might expect from a cardboard cutout. He starts out as your typical b-movie gung-ho military man, but by the end of the film softens up considerably and actually helps save the world by doing the most logical thing (stepping aside and enabling the Hero to save the day).

The General (looking like he should be on Mount Rushmore).

Since Shannon is no help to them, they go and get a scientist named Doctor Eric Bryce at his house nearby. Our film's Designated Hero Eric is played by 47-year old former Brat Packer Judd Nelson (Jimmie Wing from Airheads!). When they come to his door, Eric is liquored up pretty hard and is blissfully unaware of accidental black holes and killer aliens until the tell him on the side.

Eric (that's some crazyass hair!).

Eric used to work at the lab up until six months ago when he was fired over some interpersonal problems with his staff. He's still the best of the best, however, and did the first groundbreaking research on the black hole theory thing, which is why he was called in. It does seem odd that a guy who, by his own admission, hasn't had anything at all to do with the lab's work in half a year, is the best last hope for humankind in this case. Is there no one else in America who both understands the principles of quantum physics and isn't perpetually drunk as a Shreveport hooker on a Friday night?

Shannon watches with scorn as Eric weakly throws up some gang signs he learned by watching Pimp My Ride.

Eric and Shannon do some quick reconnecting as the General nudges them along with the very real threat of the world ending (if the black hole gets bigger, it could suck the entire planet into itself, which is not good). Eric and Shannon never seem to have been more than friends in the past, but you can tell there is some chemistry here (fueled both by the apocalyptic tension and the way her sweater clings to her breasts). They discuss what happened during the test that went bad, Shannon hasn't a clue as she can't remember anything different about this test that they haven't run a hundred times before. She and Eric go over the lab results, page by page, looking for some tiny variable (if they find it, I can't remember, sorry, I was watching the Desperate Housewives season two box set at the same time and was more concerned about Gabby and Carlos getting back together than worrying about some inane technobabble rambled off by Bender from The Breakfast Club).

Looking over papers, all the maps of the planets on the wall behind them give away the "Quantum Research Lab" as a rather innocuous planetarium.

We also have this pointless subplot about Eric's frosty ex-wife and their tweenage daughter, designed solely to pad our running time and to distract us from the stupidity. They divorced because Eric was a dick (apparently) and they have nothing but animosity for each other (though more on her side, because the husband is always the noble one...). Once Eric realizes that the black hole is un-containable, he remembers that his ex and kid are living nearby and are in danger. The General has ordered a communications blackout until he can figure out what is happening, so Eric can't call her without subterfuge. But he's sneaky and uses the fax machine to call his ex who hangs up on him (he might want to also try calling CBS News, this is a big story).

Eric's ex on the phone (she's working the Hillary pantsuit well).

Something (?) happens now, something science-y related and the black hole begins to expand out of lab! As everyone runs for the doors, the building is sucked down into the swirling singularity. Oddly, most oddly in fact, the black hole emerges from the underground lab and spends the rest of the movie on the surface, moving latterly along the ground. Why it does so is never said, and it certainly seems to violate everything I know about the nature of black holes (which comes almost exclusively from reruns of Futurama and Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" on my iPod).

Lab being sucked down from the inside (why is the center of the black hole glowing orange?).

The alien jumps out of the crumbling lab now and leaps up onto some nearby high-tension electricity wires (it was established earlier that the alien "feeds" off electricity, and is drawn to it like kids to Skittles). The creature "runs" down the wires in a flowing shower of sparks and iridescent streaks (a CGI effect that really is better than you would expect from the effects team behind the near-Oscar-contender Crocodile 2: Death Swamp). The alien is followed not by the military but by a local news chopper, which sends back real-time television images that both baffle the anchors back at the studio and chill the blood of the General and his staff who are watching it themselves.

The alien running along the wires.

The military is apparently way too busy doing things and stuff, so it's up to Eric and Shannon to give chase to the extraterrestrial killer monster (let me say that again, EXTRATERRESTRIAL FUCKING KILLER MONSTER! You'd think that someone in charge would give it more than a "Meh, sure."). They are given a (civilian) Hummer H2 and a two-way radio and sent off on their way, chasing the alien, who is by now on the move, following the power lines.

In the Hummer, Shannon whips out her Mageto-hootchie-detector-thingie to follow the alien's path (which should be easy as it's giving out a glowing trail of sparks).

They chase the alien along the lines to a transformer substation, where the life form is attracted to all the big shiny electrical towers and stuff. A hapless Saint Louis County union electrician is here doing some maintenance work and they watch the alien zap him dead. No particular reason is offered why the alien killed his guy, other than he just really doesn't like trade unions with their protected benefits packages and their "Union Proud" bumper stickers.

Zap! I hope that's covered under his life insurance policy.

Eric and Shannon realize that they need to get the alien off the transformers before it blacks out the entire city (not really the biggest problem facing them, I'd say, as the way things are looking with the black hole there might not be a city to worry about soon) so they hatch a plan to lure it out. Seeing that the alien seems to also be attracted to loud piercing noises, they roll the Hummer at it with the alarm blaring (seriously). It fails and the alien zaps the truck into a smoldering hunk (slo-mo this scene, notice the model car looks nothing like the real truck they were driving). Since the now-fried electrician isn't using it, they steal his van.

Shannon finds the keys to the van behind the visor (who the heck does this still?).

Meanwhile the black hole is getting bigger by the second, on the loose in the all-you-can-suck buffet line that is downtown Saint Louis. A total evacuation is ordered and everyone panics and clogs up the roads out of town in an ultimate rush hour clusterbone, which is what would really happen in real life. Buildings fall, cars hurl, people run about, it's all very dramatic, and almost all shown via grainy television monitors, usually from over some guy's shoulder. I know this was a cheapass production, but maybe they could show us a little bit of the destruction clearly?

The Saint Louis Cardinal baseball stadium gets eaten on television.

Anyway, back now to finishing up that pointless subplot with Eric's ex and kid. They are trying to flee the area but have run out of gas (awesome, in most of these movies everyone has a full tank of gas at all times, just in case some killer phenomena appears suddenly) and every station is either closed or jam packed (again, kudos). Further, they can't get through on their cellphones as "all circuits are busy" (wow, that would really happen, as everyone freaks out and tries calling their mom in Chesterfield or their boss to say they won't be back to work after lunch because the office has been sucked into a black hole. I take back all the mean things I said about this movie, this is the first realistic portrayal of the overloaded cellphone system in an emergency I've seen in one of these disaster movies). Eric has to come save them, which is nice, but his ex isn't too happy that the sorta-hotter Shannon is here (hmm, maybe there were "other reasons" they got a divorce?).

Eric saves his ex.

Back at Movie Disaster Headquarters, Eric presents his theory that the alien and the black hole are somehow symbiotically linked. Without any sort of evidence whatsoever other than the ramblings in his head, he says that the alien has been using the wormhole-like properties of the black hole to travel around the universe ravaging unsuspecting planets and sucking them dry (Earth is its target today). Eric then explains to some blank-eyed military men how wormholes work, using a pencil and a piece of paper to describe a theoretical physics concept so mind-bogglingly complex that causes blood to drip from my ears when I try to think about it too much.

Advanced physics explained with paper and pen.

Washington is totally freaking out now, fearing both the loss of Saint Louis and the possible end of Western Civilization as a whole. Being stodgy, non-scifi reading Beltway types, they are iffy on the whole idea of the alien life form but are leaning towards using nukes to "close the hole". Clearly, the President's science advisors are dolts, as they arbitrarily rule out every other option and don't even bother to call for anyone else's opinion.

The President's National Science Advisor and Secretary of Homeland Security, apparently.

The military on the ground in Saint Louis still has some wits about it and they try to lure the alien out and kill it. Realizing that the creature is attracted to electricity, they rig up a metal cage buzzing with enormous electrical energy. This cage is dropped near the transformer substation by a Blackhawk helicopter and a squad of soldiers take up positions around it to try and herd the alien into the cage (where it presumably will be taken to Area 51 with the other aliens...).

Helo with box, a nice mix of CGI and live-action filming (where would you rent a Blackhawk?).

We now have some lame Predator-type action as the partially-cloaked, virtually-invincible alien life form wrecks havoc on the ill-prepared and clearly under-armed soldiers (who lack even the basics of small unit tactics and weapons proficiency, despite being talked-up all movie by the General). Bullets and grenades and crudely-stitched-on Special Forces shoulder patches are useless against an energy beast like this, who just seems to get annoyed when shot at. The soldiers are routed easily, at least seven of them are killed, atomized by electrical zaps, and the rest run away like little girls.

A soldier with a dinky H&K machinepistol and plastic helmet prepares for the big game against Notre Dame this Saturday.

Back in Washington, the nuke option is voted in by old white guys in expensive suits. Eric freaks out at this, warning them that to do so could make it exponentially worse, maybe even cause the black hole to rapidly grow and suck up the entire planet! Eric is the only scientist in the world who is urging caution, apparently. No one in authority can provide any scientific reasoning to back up their claim that a nuke will close the hole (though, to be fair, Eric isn't holding any cards either) but they are determined to DO SOMETHING!

This is the "Department of Homeland Security Crisis Center", which looks like a corner of an office with an borrowed end table, an American flag from K-Mart, a 1980s corded phone, and gas station roadmaps of Saint Louis scotch taped to the walls. On the plus side, that woman has awesomely sexy eyebrows.

An Air Force F-117 fighter bomber is loaded with a nuclear weapon and sent off into the night sky for an appointment with doom. If they are going to nuke it, they need to evacuate the city better as in most scenes we see that there are still an awful lot of people still in the area.

F-117 takes to the air (stock footage).

Meanwhile, in total desperation flush with the knowledge that the world is going to end soon and he still hasn't written the great American novel or slept with Jessica Alba yet, Eric hatches plan with the General to lure the alien out. His plan is to use a big electrical generator thingie mounted on the back of four-ton truck. Eric alone will drive the truck, with the generator thingie spewing out electricity like a popcorn machine, down to the transformer substation, where he will (hopefully) pick up the alien and drive it towards the black hole (currently absorbing downtown like a bunch of teenagers at a pizza bar). Shannon wishes him godspeed and they share a first kiss (well, there was that drunken slobbery mouth-suckage at the Christmas party back in '03 when Eric and his double dose of Zoloff met Shannon and her six-too-many Tom Collins in a cataclysm of awkward groping in the copy room and punishing next-day regret).

Truck with thing on it, the alien firmly attached.

The first part of the plan works beautifully, with the alien attracted to the truck's energy gusher and jumping on the back as Eric roars off through the strangely-clear streets of Saint Louis. It's now a pulse-pounding soundtrack-thumping race against time with the fate of the world at stake! The Air Force jet is tracking the alien on the truck as it races towards the hole, seen in "green night-vision sight" and the pilot has his finger on the drop-bomb switch awaiting the final word from the ground. Uh, I think that nuclear weapons release is something that has to go through the President, though he seems conspicuously absent in this movie, probably out eating the flesh of innocent children to slake his demonic bloodlust (fucking Republicans...). [Editor Pam: I think you're right, although it's possible that this authority can be delegated to someone other than the President. I also think that there's some sort of interlock to prevent a disgruntled pilot from triggering a nuclear weapon just because he thinks it might be a good idea. I do know that just dropping a nuclear bomb won't cause it to explode, but I'm not at all sure about what procedures have to be carried out in order to make one detonate. For obvious reasons, this doesn't appear to have been made widely known. In a really irrelevant aside, I found out by accident a few years ago that local fire departments have to be notified when nuclear weapons are in the area.]

In the jet.

The General has come around to Eric's way of thinking by now and he works hard to convince his boss to give it just a minute to work. His boss, who controls the nuke launch, relents, he's about to obliterate a major American city, so waiting a few minutes more isn't really going to make him look any less the monster in the history books. And his patience is rewarded as Eric races the truck/alien combo at the black hole, jumping out at the last minute. The alien hits the hole, something spooky happens, the hole collapses, the world is saved! Physics be damned!

The black hole goes poof!

Eric and Shannon reunite on the street, he wrapped in a Red Cross blanket (which I want, for the sheer kitschy value of it) and she with her hair tied back and much shorter than in any other scene in the movie (late pick-ups, perhaps?). This movie only lasted 90 minutes, but I can still hear the screaming in my head long afterwards.

A nice ending shot of Saint Louis after the disaster is over, showing the damage to the buildings and even where the hole grazed the Mississippi River.

The end.

Written in December 2008 by Nathan Decker.

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