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Pitch Black
Reviewed by Navin Vembar, ©

Format: Movie
By:   David Twohy (Director)
Genre:   Science Fiction / Horror
Released:   February 18, 2000
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

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 him.

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.


- RevolutionSF contributor Navin Vembar and Connecticut toy collector Matt Gregory will be the first ones in line when the casting call goes out for Pitch Blacker: Riddick's Revenge.

 
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  •  

    The Dirt on the DVD:

    The video is clear, handling the darkness and washed out landscapes fine. The audio is done really well, using the Dolby channels to give a real sense of direction to the predators.

    The DVD includes a few minutes of extra scenes. I never saw the movie in the theater, so I can't identify what was added, but the commentary seems to indicate that there isn't too much new stuff. Included: a making-of featurette that is incredibly short and uninformative, and a video of the Raveworld promotional parties. There are two commentary tracks. The first (by Diesel, Hauser, and Twohy) is decent because it's clear that those three had fun making the film. The second (by producer Tom Engelman, visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang, and Twohy again) is more about the craft and limitations of filmmaking.

    DVD Rating: 7/10

     

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