Pitch Black

Sci-fi fans will watch just about anything with spaceships and lots of gore.

Pitch BlackAnd Pitch Black is for them. It starts off as a standard-issue Alien ripoff, the opening scene grim and very familiar: A commercial freight and passenger ship crawls through the starry darkness, then is damaged by encounters with a meteor storm – the small projectiles that rip through the ship are enough to do it serious damage, such that its crew is awakened from travel-slumber ahead of schedule.

Beautifully shot, the ship, piloted by Fry (Radha Mitchell), crashes onto a planet surface, a planet with three suns, which means it’s real hot (cool visuals, composed of grainy video & film stocks, are bleached out by cinematographer David Eggby, who also shot Mad Max on the same location 20 ago at Australia’s desolate Coober Pedy).

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Pitch Black’s murky challenge to SF-action heroic standards is its most redeeming feature. Besides Fry, we have a Muslim and his three sons, Johns (Cole Hauser: Good Will Hunting), a law-enforcement type and his prisoner, the obligatory hardened criminal, Riddick (Vin Diesel: The Iron Giant, Saving Private Ryan) with a penchant for turning the tables on his captors and an alcoholic with a cache of fine booze.

Surly and brutal, Riddick is a convicted killer who’s spent so much time in solitary black holes that he’s had his eyes surgically modified in order to see sans light. But despite this Vin Diesel is utterly dignified while clearly guilty of nameless, terrible crimes and provides some of the best lines in the movie such as the uselessness of religious faith: “I absolutely believe in God,” he tells the imam. “And I absolutely hate the f*cker.”

Or “Finally found something worse than me, huh?” he sneers, as the others discover a crew member’s tattered remnants.”

It’s fairly dull before the discovery of the monsters, big, flying things with huge teeth that look like a cross between bats and H.R. Giger’s aliens. They hate the light, and since there’s no night until there’s an eclipse, these 12 lucky humans have arrived just in time for dinner; an extended period of pitch blackness, when the planet’s surface is swarmed by winged, slam-headed shredders that resemble H.R. Giger’s designs for the Alien aliens, altered by creature designer Patrick (Godzilla) Tatopolous.

This film manages to work in a lot of unexpected ways. Pitch Black (check out the Widescreen Edition) is not a film where the battle is between good and evil, but it makes us face the preciousness of human life, through plot twists like the death of a sympathetic character that makes us feel that loss.

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