I have waited over 30 years for an official CD release of John Barry’s The Black Hole. That 3 decade wait ended last night when I destroyed the bubble wrap package holding a bright shiny new CD from Intrada. My precious, and after a few listens it was worth the wait. The score was released in vinyl format shortly after the theatrical release, and then nothing. There were a few high priced but low quality rips of the vinyl release and recently iTunes was offering a digital only version that was not much better in quality than the bootleg analog rip. Until recently fans of this great score were just out of luck. The Black Hole is a childhood camp favorite and the score caught my attention 30 years ago and it has refused to let go.
There really is not much to say other than, it is bad. In fact it is so bad it swings around awful and lands right in the middle of awesome. Not many films can do this. In fact most of my childhood favorites leaving me shaking my head thinking “How could I like this crap” I personally call this phenomenon the Willow Effect, simply because I adored the movie as a kid and cringed through a repeat viewing a few years ago. Yes The Black Hole is crap, crap writing, crap science, crap acting, special effects are hit and miss, but somehow it is crap made of solid gold and the music has a lot to do with that. The score is pretentious and overblown, no movie so bad should have a score like The Black Hole but there it is. Even my wife commented on how such a silly movie could have such a majestic score. This is not just lipstick on a pig it is bringing the pig to the makeup counter at Macy’s and having the sales demo people go wild.
I always figured that The Black Hole was Disney’s reaction to the success of Star Wars. I was shocked to find out that the production concepts of The Black Hole had more to do with cashing in on the early to mid-70’s disaster movie craze. Disney was not trying to replicate Star Wars but Earth Quake, Towering Inferno, and mostly The Poseidon Adventure. If you have ever wondered why Ernest Borgnine was cast in The Black Hole, well now you know. The concept was put forward in 1974 years before Star Wars and centered around a large deep space station damaged by a super nova explosion. As with every disaster movie; a handful of survivors must overcome various obstacles in order to escape to safety. Remnants of the original concept remain in the finished film as the survivors of the Palomino crew race back to their ship as the Cygnus comes apart around them.
Star Wars did have an impact. Writers at Disney saw that laser battles and robots were in, and included a couple pitched laser fights and robots. Star Wars also had an impact on the score. Disney wanted to replicate the big orchestral sound of Star Wars so they hired John Barry, composer most known for his Bond scores and Born Free.
Putting the score on CD
Surprisingly the score was the first digitally recorded movie sound track. Since the source material was initially recorded in a digital format, it would seem that a digital release would be easy. The initial 400,000 vinyl pressings have long been out of print and by the time Disney executives realized that yes people did want this score and the original recording did exist there was a big problem. The recordings were digital but on a 30 year old obsolete format. A machine and a technician to run recorder were located in Minnesota. Once the tapes were delivered to Minnesota it was discovered that the recorder for the 32 track tapes had a bad power supply. Once again the producers were faced with trying to repair or replace 30 year old electronic equipment. Unfortunately the power supply was deemed unfixable and it took 3 years to find another compatible machine.
Treasure Isle Recorders in Nashville had several working machines that could handle the original 32 track recording session tapes. Two days before transferring the tapes, Nashville and Treasure Isle was hit by devastating floods. Luckily the producers called Treasure Isle to make sure everyone was ok and if they could still perform the transfer work. They responded that the equipment was in good shape and as long as the producers did not mind a musty smell and the sound of fans that the transfer could go on as planned. Transfer of the score started exactly 30 years to the day of the original recording sessions.
Worth the wait?
The quality of the new release is outstanding, amazing. I can hear more on this cd than I can on the older Anchor Bay DVD release. 20 extra minutes of music and a bonus track is included. More on that bonus track later. Every theme is now on the release even the march from Hot and Heavy, a cue completely absent from the original release. I am positive I am hearing instrumentation and nuances that I have never heard before. Theater sound presentations in late 1970’s were not all that great and since I have only seen The Black Hole in theaters, on tv, on tape and on DVD. I can say that nothing matches the quality of the recent cd release of the score. It is IMHO almost flawless. The only disappointment is the bonus track, “In, Through… and Beyond”. The track was not used in the film and is a synthesizer rendition of the score. It reminds me of the awful disco tracks tacked onto the end of the original Search for Spock and 2010 score releases. It is more than a bit of a shock after luxuriating in nearly an hour’s worth of fat John Barry string and horn composition.
If you are a fan of John Barry’s music or a fan of the movie, the Intrada CD is a must buy. It is a well spent 20 dollars. The quality of the recording is outstanding, as is the large nicely illustrated and informative liner booklet.
You can purchase a copy from my friends at Screen Archives Entertainment.
I am deliriously happy with this score release.