Starring: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Keith David
I remember being vaguely aware of "Pitch Black" when it hit the
theatres. It seemed to be an attempt at the sci-fi/horror genre,
during a period when people weren't making sci-fi/horror films,
and it had some meathead named Vin Diesel who was making the ladies
soggy. It was the type of film I'd be pretty prone to seeing on
a lazy Sunday afternoon, unfortunately, no lazy Sunday afternoons
occurred while "Pitch Black" was out and I missed its theater run.
Of course I knew I could catch the film when it came out on video
but I also knew that there were a million films ahead of it on my
"to see" list, so the odds of me renting it were slim.
Then a funny thing began to happen. People starting insisting
I see the film - a lot of people. And many of the folks recommending
were not the type I figured for sci-fi/horror buffs. They were intellectual
types who wouldn't turn down a Jane Austen remake if it bit them
in the pants, and had nothing but kind words for estrogen fueled
drek like "The Piano." I figured if Vin Diesel had managed to capture
these saps maybe I should give Pitch Black a try.
So I rented it. And I watched it. And I liked it. It's not the
greatest thing ever, certain no "Alien" (to which "Pitch Black"
carries a heavy debt of gratitude.) but you could do worse.
The film opens with a interplanetary space transport making a
crash landing on an alien planet (though, not so alien that humans
can't breath the air.) While several of the ships passengers have
been killed in the landing, there's still plenty left to be killed
of by whatever alien menace they encounter. One character who seems
unkillable, is Diesel's Riddick, a mass murderer being transported
by a bounty hunter to a penal colony on planet Zarcon or something...
you know the drill. Riddick is 110% badass, and has had his eyes
specially modified so that he can see in the dark. At first this
would seem like a hindrance on the planet the gang has landed -
it has three suns and seems to be covered in daylight 24/7. But
after a few people are killed off by the hoards of flying lizard
creatures that live with in the dark crevices beneath the planet's
surface the secret is revealed. Every 22 years the planet is engulfed
in an eclipse and the flesh eating monsters that live underground
come forth to feast on whatever wary space travelers might have
the misfortune to be prowling about.
Of course, like most of these films, the real villain isn't the
cold blooded space monsters - they're just acting according to their
primal needs - it's the dark nature of man, who should know better.
Various crew members inner demons lead them to screw each other
over while they face an enemy that can only be defeated via a united
front. Most of it's pretty predictable, though Diesel's Riddick,
at first an unapologetic nihilist, undergoes a interesting redemption
at the end of the film.
Sure, you've seen this all before. It's "Alien," it's "The Thing,"
it's "It Conquered Space" and it goes back to all the classic "trapped-with-a-killer-amoungst-us"
stories Agatha Christie ever pumped out. But the formula is nicely
updated for the double zero decade and the digital effects are ably
used to bring the aliens to life. The overwhelming brightness of
the planet's surface before the eclipse is given a nice visual representation
by over exposing the film and then adding a various color filters.
The acting is alos quite capable - no one gets to slack off on
their good looks or overabundant musculature (Diesel may be the
newest in a long line of musclebound superheros - Schwarzenegger,
Stallone, Van Damme - but he's the best actor of the bunch.) One
of my favorite bit players, Keith David, shows his range while playing
a Muslim guru whose faith is tested as the bodies pile up. Radha
Mitchell plays the lead chick and she's quite good. Both her appearence
and acting remind me of Jennifer Jason Leigh who I consider one
of this generation's finest.
So check it out. "Pitch Black" ain't gonna knock your socks off,
but it beats a dreary Jane Austen film any day of the week.
Unless there's a Jane Austen film with homicidal aliens.