Pitch Black's opening scene is filmed in the style I have named the
junkie-withdrawal style, described as such because the camera shakes like --
you guessed it -- a junkie going through withdrawal. This is the favorite style
of filmmakers whose primary creative impulse when directing an action scene
is deciding how to hide the fact that the actors are being portrayed by plastic
mannequins covered with packets of red food coloring.
Fortunately, director David Twohy does not rely too heavily on this style
throughout the movie. He does however, use the random camera trick method. Tense
moments in the film are indicated by out of focus shots, odd camera angles,
and sheared images. Why? I believe the only rational answer is, "Just 'cause."
Despite these flaws, Pitch Black is a well-made film, better than most
SF horror flicks. The premise of the film is that a marooned group of not-necessarily-friendly
crash survivors are stuck on a planet that appears to be lit by its three suns
perpetually. Of course, after the survivors discover predators which only come
out at night, an eclipse plunges the desert planet into darkness.
The second-in-command of the ship, Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell), is the only
one of the crew alive after the crash. In the crash sequence, we see her nearly
decide to jettison the passengers in order to save herself. Her actions haunt
her throughout the rest of the film, giving her character some depth.
The most interesting character by far is Riddick (Vin Diesel). His gravelly-voiced
convict appears to be constantly on the edge of violence. His loyalties are
unclear throughout most of the film. Of course, his superhuman strength (rivaled
only by the massive power packed into my own five-foot-six frame) and silver
reflective eyes that let him see in the dark add to his cool factor.
The nocturnal predators that the survivors encounter are all arms, legs, wings
and X-shaped heads. Twohy and fellow screenwriters Jim and Ken Wheat take a
page from Jaws and avoid introducing the creatures too early in the film.
Instead, they opt to first build tension between the survivors before adding
the mild stressor of gruesome dismemberings into the wash, which serves to make
the later scenes more intense.
The forte of this movie is its visuals. The grainy shots of the desert are
bathed in blues, yellows and greens which convey the otherworldly nature of
the three suns. The landscape itself is ruggedly desolate, marked by a field
of monstrous bones akin to an elephant graveyard. Plus, the film is filled with
individual moments that are impressive -- including the ticket-selling shot
of a survivor blowing a burst of fire, illuminating the predators that surround
Unfortunately, alongside the pretty pictures is some incredibly clunky dialogue.
Consider the following conversation:
Fry: How much do you weigh, Johns? [...]
Johns: Around Seventy-nine kilos, to be exact-
Fry: Cause you're seventy-nine kilos of gutless white meat, and that's
why you can't think of a better plan.
Yup. Uh-huh. Well, for the most part, wince-worthy lines like that can be ignored
by focusing on the visceral positives mentioned above.
As for the performances... both Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell seem to get into
playing their characters, and the child actor who plays Jack has the ability
to convey fear with a fair degree of accuracy.
Overall, Pitch Black exceeds the standards of its genre and makes for
an excellent popcorn film. It's almost enough to make we wish for silver eyes.
P.S.: Our lawyers have reminded me of my moral responsibility to the mush-headed
and/or extremely gullible. Hence, they have required that I leave you with the
following disclaimer: Kids -- no matter how much you want to be a cameraman,
don't do heroin! Coke'll do the trick.
P.P.S.: I meant Coca-Cola. Jeez.