Pitch Black Review

by Frankie Paiva (swpstke AT aol DOT com)
February 29th, 2000

Pitch Black

rated R
108 minutes
USA Films
starring Radha Mitchell, Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Keith David, and Rhiana Griffith
written by Ken Wheat
from a story by Jim Wheat
directed by David N. Twohy

The entire science fiction genre has been beaten to death again and again and again. There's nowhere to go with this type of movie, except head into the direction of The Matrix, one of the few movies that has breathed life into this flailing category for many years. However, some recent films made too early to be influenced by The Matrix are still sticking to the formula. Witness the disaster that was Supernova. But when a film like Pitch Black comes along, that has just enough (and for this type of movie that's barely a drop) of originality to fuel it off the ground it makes you feel that sometimes, just rarely, they can get it right. They've obviously been paying attention to the movies of the past. While this still does feel like yet another version of Alien (how can a sci-fi movie today not try to be?) it manages to break free from the mold.

Fry (Mitchell) is forced to crash land a spaceship on a deserted planet. Almost everyone on the passenger ship dies, but some are awakened from cryogenic slumber. These handful set foot on a desert-like planet which they later discover has three different suns. They also discover an alarmingly high amount of bodies hidden in the basement of a sealed building. When one of the passengers is attacked by something hidden beneath the planet's surface they fear the worst. Especially when they find out that a triple eclipse in going to occur, spreading the planet with "pitch black" darkness.

Strange, bony, and silver evil bat-like things come crawling, swooping, and lurking in the night to feed on human blood. They have one weakness, light makes their skin dissolve. There are other dangers as well. The film's most fun twist is the extremely muscular Riddick (An awesome Diesel, who looks to be one of our major upcoming actors) he was a murderer imprisoned on the ship, and now he's free to join the group of survivors. He shaves his head with a huge knife and plays mind games with some of the crew. He also possesses a special talent which will aid to the group's survival. Fry and Riddick take command to try and save themselves and others from the monsters. Should Riddick be trusted? Is he just trying to save himself? Is he more dangerous than what's attacking them? These questions keep the film alive for it's second half.

There are several ideas in this movie that I found very interesting. The first had to be the beginning of the film which was shot obviously by hand and is very jerky, making the process of the crash more exciting. The second must go to the idea of placing different color filters on the camera while each different sun on the planet is up. In the first thirty minutes or so, we are treated to the entire movie in an orange tint or a blue one. Kudos to the casting director as well, Vin Diesel is perfectly cast, as is Radha Mitchell.
Though well cast, the acting is what you would expect for a sci-fi movie. There isn't much Oscar stuff here, but Diesel gives it a surprising amount of effort. The bad acting isn't entirely the actor's fault though. Of the ten remaining people on the planet, we only get to know about three of them. The amazingly underdeveloped other seven characters we never really know anything about, and that makes us care less about who makes a stupid mistake, and is eaten to death by the creatures of the night. This greatly impairs the building of tension that the movie tries so hard for near the end. Speaking of those creatures, they look pretty cool themselves. While it's rare that we ever get a full on glance of them (that helps the film keep it's excitement) the brief glimpses we get to see are pretty cool. Writer's block is apparent in snippets of the film. There is an awfully slow middle where nothing really happens, and the ending is kind of abrupt. But it doesn't take away from the entire experience. Obviously a male film, despite the amazing lack of nudity, and most of the time cleavage. Of the seventy or so people at my screening no more than five of the attendees were women. But this picture would be most enjoyable for anyone who's looking for some cheese. This is one to see in the theaters, as a video experience will take away much of the mood and atmosphere of the movie. But this is not an epic film (or an entirely good one), so please, take my advice, go to a matinee.

Frankie Paiva
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