The Black Hole, Walt Disney’s 1979 sci-fi blockbuster, with its multimillion dollar state-of-art special effects and a star-studded cast featuring such notables as Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Perkins and Maximilian Schell, was clearly intended to be the studio’s answer to Star Wars. That was the plan, anyway. Instead the film has become one of those forgotten movies to which the epithet “cult” is often applied. My own memories of the movie were very dim, so I watched it again on DVD recently, happily prepared to embrace it as a lost gem.
Oh dear. Sadly, The Black Hole remains as spectacularly bad today as when it first appeared. In spite of the often stunning sets for the cathedral-like spaceship at the centre of the movie, the amateurish robots (which, incidentally, look like flying Henry vacuum cleaners), a pedestrian script, and for the most part, just plain bad acting, make this a total flop. Almost. The film has one saving grace – the wonderfully over-the-top performance by Swiss actor Maximilian Schell, who in the role of the brilliantly bonkers scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt (think Captain Nemo, if 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had been set in space) looks like he’s having a whale of a time. Reinhardt also has the coolest robot in the movie (confusingly named “ Maximilian”), a Shogun Warriors-style monster with built in weapons for slicing and dicing humans. Maximilian Schell quite literally saves the movie.
Not to be outdone by Kenner’s incredible luck in landing the Star Wars license, Mego Corp. snapped up the Disney deal and produced a line of 12 inch and 4 inch action figures for The Black Hole, including this wonderful 12 inch Dr. Hans Reinhardt. Released in 1979, these figures predictably didn’t sell well, however, and the line was cancelled pretty early on. This may have been bad for Mego back in the day, but these figures are highly collectible today! I was thrilled to pick up this vintage figure in an online auction recently. His costume is bright and clean, and he is in fabulous condition – there is just a little damage to his golden medal emblem. Made from a shiny gold sticker, one of the five prongs has torn. He also has his original black boots. Most importantly, he doesn’t look too pasty, although I’m resigned to the fact that this may change over time. Many Mego large figures seem to suffer from “Grey Face” or “Zombie Face” syndrome, an unpreventable discolouration that occurs over time in the plastic used for the faces, with the Buck Roger’s line the worst affected.
The attention to detail is second to none. There’s a strong likeness to Schell, with careful paintwork on the eyes, eyebrows and greying beard and hair. The two piece outfit is also movie-accurate, and has some lovely details such as velvet trims on the pockets and shoulders and trouser crease.
The body is the Mego 12 inch “skinny” body type, very similar to that of the classic 8 inch version, and has a very respectable 14 points of articulation at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles. The copyright information on the back reads “© Mego Corp. 1977 / Made in Hong Kong” over two lines, indicating that these body types were the same as those used for the 12 inch World’s Greatest Super Heroes line earlier in the decade, while the head is stamped “© Walt Disney / Productions 1979” along two lines on the back of the neck, and discreetly hidden by his collar.
Whatever you may feel about the movie The Black Hole, the Mego figures are a fabulous set to have if you can find them. Collect them all, you KNOW you want to!