Fast & Furious Movie Cash: Pitch Black
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(Mar 22, 2009)
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When their ship crash-lands on a remote planet, the marooned passengers soon learn that escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) isn't the only thing they have to fear. Deadly creatures lurk in the shadows, waiting to attack in the dark, and the planet is rapidly plunging into the utter blackness of a total eclipse. With the body count rising, the doomed survivors are forced to turn to Riddick with his eerie eyes to guide them through the darkness to safety. With time running out, there's only one rule: Stay in the light. Pitch Black is the original sci-fi hit that introduced the world to the character of Riddick, the ultimate anti-hero. Take a ride on the pulse-pounding adrenaline rush that USA Today calls "the best excuse to root for the bad guy since Arnold in the original Terminator."
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Riddick is somewhere between an anti-hero & a hero, & the ambiguity stays thru most of the Riddick series. He's a bad dude but not all bad, & with his physique & deep velvet voice is extremely watchable. The other characters are also more than just cardboard cutouts, again with more depth than one expects --the conflicted feelings of the pilot, Carolyn Fry toward the passengers, the always-rewarding performance of Keith David's Imam...good stuff.
I re-watch PB & the other Riddick flicks regularly, & enjoy 'em every friggin' time.
That describes David Twohy's most artistically adept movie, the raw and dusty "Pitch Black. This cult movie starts off as your average gang of embattled, ill-matched castaways struggling to survive, but it that becomes utterly brilliant as it slowly slips from gritty sci-fi to harrowing, claustrophobic horror. And yes, even Vin Diesel gives an awesome performance in this one.
After a meteor storm, a sleeper transport crashes on a desolate desert planet. Most of the passengers survive, including a stowaway kid and a dangerous prisoner, Riddick (Vin Diesel). Unfortunately, it turns out that the entire planet is a desert because it's blasted by three suns all throughout the day, and the survivors have little food, water or shelter. Oh yeah, and Riddick has broken out.
To find the necessities, a small group led by Carolyn Fry Radha Mitchell) sets out across the desert -- and discovers a swarm of vicious omnivorous creatures in a cave. Fortunately they can't come out into the light. But when the group finds a geological survey station, they learn that a monthlong eclipse is about to fall over the planet -- meaning the creatures will soon eat them all if they don't escape from the desolate planet, and some of them aren't gonna make it.
Personally I haven't liked David Twohy's work except the 1996 sci-fi film "Arrival," but "Pitch Black" is the kind of brilliant cult movie that almost makes up for an otherwise okay-to-bad filmography. This is not a polished space opera, but a dingy, grimy, dirty sci-fi movie full of recognizably ugly technology and stained morals -- not to mention some truly grotesque deaths. And not all of them are from the winged beasties either (think chest impalement).
And Twohy gives the movie a very bleak, vaguely disturbing look -- endless chalky deserts filled with bones, grimy ships torn to pieces, empty skies, and searing pale light that makes everyone look half dead. Even the beautiful colourful expanses of space seem vaguely ominous. But the whole thing suddenly becomes jump-in-your-seat scary when the monsters attack, and start eating people as they run. The one problem? COME ON, what are the chances that they would JUST HAPPEN to arrive for the once-in-two-decades eclipse?
And the feeling of suspense is heightened by sharp-edged, pared-down dialogue ("You're dancing on razor blades here") and a warped sense of humor -- we're assured that "No similarity to actual persons or predators, living or dead, is intended or should be inferred." Nice.
The characters are a pretty mixed bag, and there's always the haunting realization that most of them would easily turn on each other to save themselves -- and in fact, the main character even does that in the first few minutes of the film. There's benevolent Muslim pilgrims, a hard-nosed bounty hunter, a prissy dude who hoards booze, and an annoying urchin of ambiguous gender. The standouts are Claudia Black as the tough Shazza, and Keith David as the kindly Abu "Imam" al-Walid.
As for the leads, Diesel gives a pretty good performance as a wisecracking killer with a distinctly creepy edge (ew, he took a hair sample) and "shine" eyes that let him see in the dark. But I was most impressed by Mitchell's Fry, as a selfish hardened leader who learns to defend other people's lives in a crunch.
"Pitch Black" is a fast, eerie, bloody little sci-fi movie with a nasty little planet full of even nastier creatures that are just waiting for dark. Definitely worth it for sci-fi buffs.