Pitch Black Review

by Scott Hunt (hunt AT inetdirect DOT net)
February 26th, 2000

Pitch Black (2000)

Review by Scott Hunt Movie Hunt:

Rating: Good Shot (3 out of 4 stars)

Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Keith David, Cole Hauser, Rhiana Griffith, Claudia Black, Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Writers: David Twohy, Ken and Jim Wheat
Director: David Twohy

Pitch Black is a sheep in wolf's clothing. It is full of darkness, danger and violence and if you buy into the marketing hype, an unsettling and scary film going experience.

Don't be fooled. Pitch Black is a morality play masquerading as a scare-fest.

It starts off with blistering intensity. A cargo spaceship crash lands on a planet apparently leeched of life by the scorching heat of three suns. Among the survivors is Fry (Mitchell), the ship's pilot, who spends the film wrestling with the fact that she tried to jettison the other passengers in her effort to land the craft safely. There is Imam (David), an Islamic leader whose faith in his god is tested repeatedly throughout the film. There is a law enforcement officer in the form of Johns (Hauser), who attacks every situation with square jawed authoritarian zeal. And there is Riddick (Diesel), a menacing, muscle-bound convicted murderer who's being brought back to justice by Johns.

The group quickly sizes up the situation and each other. Confident in their assessment of matters, a plan is set in motion to escape their hellish environment. Those plans are shredded by the appearance of one of the planet's wildlife, a predatory, sometimes winged, species that enjoys the taste of blood and flesh. Fortunately, the creatures are light sensitive and are forced to live in networks of catacombs under the planet's surface. Unfortunately, the group has managed to land on the planet moments before an eclipse is about to occur, taking away their one protection from the monsters. The group's savior comes in the form of Johns, whose decisive leadership looks to deliver them from purgatory. Or does it?

Pitch Black deviates from the standard sci-fi fare by avoiding some of the stock "escape the boogieman" conflicts the genre typically serves up. Just as the planet gave a false facade of lifelessness, first appearances given by the survivors proves to be just as false. The excitement of the film comes not from the danger posed by the creatures, but rather from watching the shifting allegiances and emotional growth of the characters as the planet serves as a deus ex machina of sorts to catalyze emotional growth.

A recurrent theme runs throughout the movie of faith, whether it be religious or in a person, and how that powers their motivations. I found it telling that an accidental death occurs early on due to the misperception of a self professed atheist. Conversely, Imam constantly contributes any good fortune to Allah. One by one, his perceived heaven sent blessings are taken away and crushed. Imam is forced to reassess his faith. Another character expresses belief in god, along with a life long hate. Yet another character makes a decision that echoes the sentiments of Christ about selflessness and has lasting repercussions for several of group. It is a fascinating character study hiding under the guise of a scare flick.

Special mention should be made of Vin Diesel, who intriguingly conveys feral menace combined with a truly mesmerizing presence. His character could have easily slipped into a parody of the baddass killing machine, but Twohy and Diesel add surprising depth to Riddick. They can be excused for the two or three Shwarzenegger-like catch phrases that growl their way out of Diesel's mouth.

The movie has its flaws that can be nitpicked. The creatures do look derivative of the ones in Alien. The dialogue isn't the freshest at times, reminiscent of a bad comic book. Yes, the appearance of Riddick's vision skills are more than a little timely considering the situation. These trappings are on the periphery of the story Twohy is really trying to tell. Twohy may have lured you in under the pretense of scaring you with film fabricated boogieman, but he shows the real boogieman to be the prejudices and beliefs we use to direct decisions in our lives.

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