Pitch Black Reviewby Homer Yen (homer_yen AT yahoo DOT com)
February 25th, 2000
"Pitch Black" - Sci-Fi Thriller Not Totally in the Dark
by Homer Yen
In the opening scene of "Pitch Black," an interstellar transport ship with dozens of passengers that are in cryo-sleep pods, runs into a devastating meteor shower. The ship is skewered and casualties are heavy. Fry (Radha Mitchell), the only surviving crewmember, tries to attempt a crash landing on a desolate planet. She frantically works the controls as the ship careens out-of-control towards the planet's surface. The opening scene is frenetic and successfully establishes its pace. And I'm enjoying the ride.
Ten people are lucky enough to survive the spectacular crash landing. But they may regret their seemingly good fortune when they discover that the planet is an arid ball of sand. Worse, they learn that subterranean Pterydactol-resembling aliens inhabit it. With raptor-sized teeth and claws that can easily rip apart flesh, it's a good thing that these aliens don't come to the surface because they can't stand sunlight. Even luckier for these marooned travelers, this planet's system has three suns, which provides perpetual daylight. Well, at least that's what they think. Soon, their situation gets increasingly dark, and they'll need to work quickly to get off the planet. Otherwise, they'll all become alien bird feed.
Sci-fi movies in the style of "Alien" (and that's exactly what this is) follows a familiar formula. And "Pitch Black" stays true to the blueprint. You can expect several of the survivors to be killed off (and it's usually the characters that either panic and run, wander off into the night by themselves, or the inconsequential characters that we don't really care about). You can expect a modicum of tense moments as the aliens close in. And, you can expect a mad dash at the end as the survivors grittily make their way to the final destination in a final attempt to escape. Indeed, the last twenty minutes offer a satisfying finish.
But what makes this a little meatier than other films of this type are the human-interest stories. One involves Riddick (Vin Diesel), a vicious murderer that was being transported to a prison. As a result of the crash, he has now awakened from his cryogenic slumber. He feels nothing for the other survivors or their perilous situation and only wants to escape. He is incredibly cunning and possesses an acute sense of smell and the ability to see at night. He may be even more dangerous than the predators that live beneath the planet's surface. The other features the feisty Fry who is referred to as "Captain" by the survivors, but is unable to cope with her responsibility and the burden of saving everyone.
"Pitch Black" also manages to satisfy on the visual level. Bleached hues accentuate their desolation and camera views are frequently seen through the infrared eyesight of Riddick, which adds color and beauty to the events happening on screen. The component about this film that was most underwhelming, however, was the aliens themselves. In a genre where there is no limit to creativity, these aliens looked inexplicably ordinary.
Although I enjoyed this offering (and probably much more than I had originally anticipated), this film's life span may be as short as some of the victims of the film. I say that because there are no big stars to attract anyone's attention, and if you've seen other sci-fi films about people-as-alien-fodder, then you'll probably think that you're experiencing a 2-hour case of deja vu. But "Pitch Black" does offer interesting story lines, a varied spectrum of likable personalities, and the enjoyable sensation of seeing who will survive and who won't. With a sustained atmosphere of suspense and just the right amount of pace, this film is a good choice for the weekend moviegoer in search of some entertainment.
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