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Starring: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell
Director: David Twohy
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4 / 5
Reviewed by Guest Scribe Godking
One newspaper critic trumpeted Pitch Black as the "scariest sci-fi movie in years." Having now seen this David Twohy thriller, I can say that the aforementioned statement is most certainly true! Not only that, but Pitch Black is actually - gasp! - a very good movie. I admit that I may be slightly biased, as I am a huge fan of science fiction movies, and I have been known to watch certain films that the typical filmgoer has never even heard of. That being said, Pitch Black is visually stylish, full of unwavering tension, and loaded with will-they-or-won't-they-survive questions. In short, this is one science fiction film that actually delivers on its promise.
During a routine voyage across the galaxy, a spaceship is struck by something resembling a stray meteor shower. Whatever the unidentified force is, it causes the spaceship to experience a hull breach and to begin careening helplessly towards a nearby planet. During the incident, the ship's captain is killed, as his cryogenic freezing compartment is shattered to pieces. This leaves Fry (Radha Mitchell), the ship's pilot, in charge, and she tries frantically to land the ship. Watching as it is torn to pieces, Fry somehow manages to safely crash (is there such a concept?) her vessel on the barren planet.
When the passengers - some of whom are merely settlers heading off to a faraway world - disembark from the ship, they realize that there are two dangers confronting them. First and foremost, they are on a desert planet that is being scorched by three suns, so they are in desperate need of water. Secondly, one of the passengers, Riddick (Vin Diesel), is an escaped murderer, being hauled across the galaxy by another passenger, Johns (Cole Hauser). Soon it becomes apparent, however, that the crash survivors are not the only residents of this planet, as something else, something decidedly not human, may in fact have been there long before.
I dare not speak further of this film's plot, for the vast majority of the fun is in waiting for the arrival of the planet's mysterious residents. In addition, this is one of those movies where the audience can speculate endlessly about who is going to survive the oncoming carnage. Radha Mitchell, she of the indie scene, is impressive as a scared pilot thrust into a leadership role, and David Keith adds a little dignity to the party as a devout man of God. Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan) gives the breakout performance of the film, however, as the kill-or-be-killed convict. The man is cool personified, from his subtle mannerisms to his raspy voice. The action is non-stop, the lurking evil is downright chilling, and the movie will make sure you answer one heart-pounding question: Are you afraid of the dark?
Moral ambiguity in pitch black and white. What more can you ask out of a sci-fi film these days that dares to take a premise more seriously than bedding down with the space girls and killing the evil aliens? A sci-fi film that delivers a scare presence while not totally tangling the plot, ala Event Horizon, to the point where you forget if you were supposed to be scared or just mildly interested? Pitch Black will reside on the echelon of space films below the idolization of Star Wars and Alien, but significantly above such competing works as Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek: First Contact, and Event Horizon.
Our cast of shipwrecked spacefarers is human, and there is no knight in shining armor among them. There is no Luke Skywalker, only a collection of people who could hope to be Han Solo if things turned out well. Additionally, there is Riddick (Vin Diesel). He likes knives. He sees in the dark. He follows a code. He is big and strong, and, unfortunately, a sociopath and homicidal killer. He would be the bad guy in any other space flick, but here, he is just a guy trying to stay alive.
Pitch Black does not condemn the characters. In fact, you feel as though director David Twohy is encouraging them to act in the gray in-between of right and wrong. The only categorical imperative here is survival of the fittest. The downside is that humans are not the fittest creatures in the dark. There is enough complexity and layered characters that you can forgive the occasional sci-fi cliche and "doh" actions of the embattled survivors as you watch this film, and even allow the thought of personal redemption to warm your little heart, thankful it is still in your chest.
Certification: Rated R for violence and language.
Running Time: 108 minutes.
Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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