Although largely slipping by unnoticed in the UK, Pitch Black is one of the best sci-fi genre films of recent times. It doesn’t pretend to be greater than what it is, and establishes the credibility of its writer/director David Twohy. Here he manages to create a film that is both visually and creatively stunning.
The premise is straightforward enough and an overview will sound very simplistic. The opening scene of a spacecraft being torn apart by comets is one of the most impressive effects seen to date. It really catapults the audience into the spacecraft right next to the passengers who are rudely being woken from hyper-sleep. During this crash, the captain is killed by some of the many high speed whizzing, popping bits of debris tearing through the craft. The docking pilot, Fry (Radha Mitchell) loses most of the passengers during the violent crash-landing on a nearby planet. Out of the handful of survivors there is the realisation that not only are they stranded on a baron inhospitable desert planet, with no visible means of escape, but one of the survivors is missing, a psychopathic escaped convict, Riddick, played superbly by Vin Diesel. He was being transported back to prison by Johns (Cole Hauser) an ex-cop turned bounty hunter.
This planet they have landed on has three suns and it seems that there is never nightfall. At this point the film could have fallen foul of the classic killer-on-the-loose premise but a twist of events leads to survivors with not only the means of escape, in the form of a spacecraft abandoned at a mining colony, but also Riddick back in chains. However Fry learns that the miners at the colony did not abandon it as first thought, but were killed by an unknown entity. Every 22 years the surrounding planets have a total eclipse to bathe the planet in, yes, you guessed it, pitch black. Normally this is not a problem but its discovered that the miners were wiped out by very fast flying creatures capable of tearing anything to bits like giant piranhas, who can only come out in the dark, they spend the rest of their lives underground. Here is one of a few plot ‘coincidences’, the survivors have crashed a few hours prior to this event. They race desperately to get the power cells from the crashed ship to the abandoned craft before the eclipse takes full hold. Unfortunately, they run out of time and are trapped within their crashed craft. With creatures all around outside and their only defences are torches, flash lights and anything that emit light, things do no look good.
There is one hope however, Riddick. Riddick explains that while he was in prison he was told he will never see the light of day, so paid a doctor 20 menthol cools for a ‘surgical shine job’ on his eyeballs, to see them coming – in other words, he can see in the dark……………
Needless to say, the survivors who were at first horrified with Riddick, realise that there is something more fearsome than him and they have to trust a mass murderer to get out alive. The journey from the wreak to the escape craft begins , Riddick in front and the huddled group behind, trying to stay within the light of their torches while creatures surround them.
One of the good aspects of the movie is the amount of character depth given, much deeper than normal for this genre, there is more than meets the eye to most of the characters. All the cast are good, with the exception of Vin Diesel, who is outstanding. His character is truly mesmerising to watch and dominates the screen with menacing ease. Watch out for this lad - he's going to be a big star.
The cinematography of Pitch Black is excellent, utilising a technique called ‘bleach bypass’ to give the impression of a barren, desolate hot planet. It really gives the planet an alien environment. This contrasts very well with the second half of the film, primarily set in the dark. The darkness shows very well with hints and flashes of creatures speeding around in the dark. The creatures are never really fully shown, which adds to the suspense. They are a blend of CGI and puppetry that works very well.
Overall, Pitch Black is a very enjoyable thriller/horror, with good performances and adds a twist to a tired genre. It could have so easily been just another B-movie flick but manages to stay above that. Everyone should see it, just keep a light on!
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