V.I.N.CENT. was originally supposed to have more elaborate electronic eyes, based on electronic stock ticker-type billboards, which would have given him a greater range of facial expressions. The electro-mechanical eyes didn't work properly, and the effect was abandoned at the beginning of principal photography.
To film the special effects, Disney originally wanted to rent the Dykstraflex camera system, the first computer-controlled camera, created for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), from Industrial Light & Magic. The price and rental terms were unacceptable, so Disney created its own version. The result was Disney's A.C.E.S. (Automated Camera Effects System), which was radically superior to the Dykstraflex system, the Mattescan system, which enabled the camera to move on a matte painting, and a computer-controlled modeling stand.
This was regarded as the last big special effect production to be made under the "old studio system." All of the elaborate special effects were created within the Disney studio and not farmed out to outside special effects companies.
The laser pistols originally had light up tips that would activate when the actors pressed the trigger, giving the animators cues as to when someone was actually firing the guns. The actors would unconsciously press the triggers when they were not supposed to, often inadvertently shooting cast members.
This film and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) were the last two Hollywood films to include an overture, once a common feature of "major" studio releases. This film's overture is usually cut from television broadcasts, though it's included in showings on Turner Classic Movies and the DVD release.
Gary Nelson was not satisfied with the way the model shop made "BOB", saying that the robot did not look battered enough. He went to the clay model they were using for reference and hit it several times with a baseball bat. They built a new robot based on that model.
Like many other science-fiction films released after Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), which had generated a fortune in licensed merchandise, this film had a lot of tie-in merchandise. It didn't sell well. Vintage toys from the film are highly sought-after, and often sell for huge amounts of money.
Alan Dean Foster, who wrote the novelization of the film, was so appalled by the bad science in the script that he provided a list of changes to the producers which he felt would improve the story. Upset by this, the Disney brass actually called a meeting to decide what to do.
The film was originally supposed to take place in a completely weightless environment. The technical difficulties prompted a re-write of the script so that when the Palomino ties up the Cygnus gravity returned.
Hanging on Dr. Reinhardt's cabin (though blurred) is a portrait of admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. Although it is curious having the portrait of a British admiral on an American spaceship, Nelson was known in his time to be a revolutionary -and often reckless- tactician. Posibly the reason Reinhardt wanted it in his cabin.
Harlan Ellison was briefly brought on as a scientific consultant on the film. He was fired on his first day, before lunch was over, because he pitched an animated porno movie starring Disney characters. Roy Edward Disney was sitting at the next table, heard everything, and had Ellison fired on the spot. Ellison insists he was simply joking, but others who were there say he was talking about it sincerely.
Considered for the role of Reinhardt were Harry Andrews, Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Curt Jurgens, Patrick Troughton, Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence, Anton Diffring, Hardy Kruger, Max Von Sydow and Jeremy Kemp.
Whitman produced a comic book adaptation of the film, which was published in two parts as the first two issues of an ongoing comics series. The third and fourth issue, retitled "Beyond The Black Hole", continued the adventures of the characters past the events of the film, but was cancelled before the storyline was resolved. The first three issues (the two-part movie adaptation and the first "Beyond" story) were packaged and sold in a bagged set and are now relatively common on eBay. The fourth issue, however, is very difficult to find and highly collectable, especially in good condition.
The robot "Maximilian" is named so for the actor Maximilian Schell who plays its master Dr. Hans Reinhardt. It's common to see the robot's name misspelled as Maximillian with two "LL". Preproduction scripts originally had the name as Maximillian, but when Maximilian Schell was added to the cast the robot name was changed to match.
Any sharp-eared viewers who also watched Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) might recognize the sound of the spaceships' doors opening and closing - this borrowed sound effect has not, as of this writing, been officially confirmed, however.
There are similarities between the probe ship's journey into the Black Hole and Dave Bowman's through the star gate in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both phenomena are wormholes. However, both experiences are ambiguous. It's unknown what exactly Bowman passed through, and this film seems to be implying time travel, although it's unclear why there was emphasis on the characters recalling excerpts of past dialogue.
V.I.N.CENT stands for "Vital Information Necessary CENTralized". S.T.A.R. (the name of the black sentry robot) stands for "Special Troops Arms Regiment". The name of Old B.O.B. stands for BiO sanitation Battalion. All of this comes from dialogue spoken by V.I.N.CENT or Old B.O.B throughout the film.
As the crew of the Palamino asks how Dr Reinhardt lived alone for 20 years, Dr Reinhardt repeats 20 years as if taken aback. He then says 20 EARTH years, perhaps. This leads to a scientific theory that gravity affects time. According to the theory, an object or person at the event horizon of a black hole would experience a time dilation or slowing of the passage of time. This would mean that while 20 years have passed on earth, less time would have passed for Reinhardt and the Cygnus. How much less is not clear.
Extremely similar to Disney's 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea. The smartest crew member Anthony Perkins learning from the world-weary, isolated mad scientist Maximillan Schell is liken to Paul Lukas learning from James Mason. The ever-reluctant hero, Robert Forster, is the Kirk Douglas character while sidekick Peter Lorre is a combination of Joseph Bottoms and V.I.N.C.E.N.T. The similarities include the scientist's crew (although they're much different here), and especially the crew-member's burial sequence at sea and in space.
At one point towards the end of the movie Winter Kills (1979) (which starred Jeff Bridges of TRON (1982) fame), at the information center, John Cerruti (Anthony Perkins) refers to "black holes". Perkins starred as Dr. Alex Durant in this movie which premiered in cinemas later that very same year of 1979.
Reinhardt's robot was already called Maximilian before Maximilian Schell was chosen for the role of Reinhardt. Reinhardt would end the film merged with the robot, thus being ironically trapped in "Maximilian's Shell".
When the film was broadcast on ITV in the UK in the late 1980s during the daytime. There is a scene removed: after it cuts from Reinhart on the mountain-top in Hell, the removed sequence is of an angel is flying through the arches, the to the Palamino crew heading to an unidentified planet having apparently survived.
V.I.N.CENT. defeats the robot Maximillian by boring through his mid-section with a high powered drill bit. This is similar to how Maximillian killed Dr Durant, so it would seem an appropriate end for the robot.