Just about everyone knows about actor Mark Sinclair Vincent. Well, to be more precise, I actually mean, everyone knows the actor Mark Sinclair Vincent, who goes by the name Vin Diesel. From the ‘xXx’ movies to the ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise to voicing everyone’s favorite alien conifer Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he’s a very recognizable face – and voice. He’s very good at playing the bad-ass role with his finely formed physique, deep voice, and cleanly shaved dome. If you’ve heard of the film’s sequels, ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ or the even-more-simply-titled ‘Riddick,’ you might not be surprised to know that ‘Pitch Black’ came before it, either. But this is a strangely-tuned film “franchise,” so it’s possible that many people don’t know that the three are connected (and there’s even an animated adventure, ‘Dark Fury,’ that takes place in between the films as well).
As a fan of both science-fiction and horror – especially when the two come together – it’s little wonder that I’d find ‘Pitch Black’ an extremely intriguing option to revisit time and time again. The plot isn’t completely something new, but it does bring neat and interesting characters into a situation that none of us would want to be in and makes them all dance for the viewer. Okay – they don’t literally “dance”, but they definitely create the right kind of tone set with the atmosphere of the film.
Set in the distant future, a spaceship carrying a group of people (mostly settlers moving to new colonies) encounters a meteor shower and crash lands on an unknown planet, killing all but ten of them. The survivors, led by the second-in-command Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell), find themselves in a sweltering hot and arid landscape with constant sunlight from three orbiting suns. Fry has to not only help the survivors find food and water but also contend with a deadly criminal named Riddick (Diesel), who was being transported to a penal colony. Unbeknownst to all, every 22 years the planet’s three suns go into a total eclipse for a month, where the darkness brings out the planet’s real inhabitants: large, reptilian, vampire-like creatures that swarm the surface and dominate the planet in total darkness, killing and eating all life. That time, of course, occurs as the survivors are stranded; Fry and her people have no choice but to cooperate with Riddick, who has surgically enhanced eyes to see in darkness. Can Riddick lead the group to safety and off the planet before they all become dinner for the creatures?
The sci-fi alien creature part of the film is dramatized — it is science fiction after all, but take a look at some deep ocean pictures of the animals and fish that live in the deep. Not everything about a creature’s features is grounded in fiction. You have to take it for what it is: a bit of realism mixed with a sci-fi locale.
There are some truly gruesome yet impressive scenes scattered throughout the film. A criminal’s arms are secured behind his back and there’s a wide gap in a support beam far above him. What could he possibly do? Well, nothing… unless you’re double jointed to be able to pop your arms out of their sockets at your shoulder and rotate them! I’m not kidding. You see this happen. Vin Diesel is reported to have been able to do the stunt himself. How awesome is that? I cringe every time I see and hear the sockets pop but it’s super neat to see happen. Ouch.
But moving on…
The crew has danger around every unknown corner. Starvation, dehydration, a murderous criminal on the premises, and an unknown entity that’s just waiting for the cover of darkness. Yet, with all of these angles, the movie doesn’t fail to feel fluid through it. It doesn’t trip itself up on too many plots – it just works everything out and makes it clean. I find the film very entertaining.
How realistic does the film feel? A co-pilot makes some daring, fairly selfish choices in the bid to stay alive during an unexpected ship crashing onto a hostile planet. The survivors of the wreckage must find shelter, food, and water to survive the climate and find some kind of assistance to leave but are thwarted by creatures who are hunting them. The story couldn’t be more interesting, yet it’s usually the cast performances that make or break a film. In ‘Pitch Black,’ I found that the story and cast blended perfectly well, and neither one lacked or overstepped. It all makes for a very fresh-feeling story wrapped in the blanket of “we may have seen something like this before, but it’s not quite like any of the others.” Every time I sit down to watch it, I’m hooked and drawn in like a wriggling little fish.
I thought it was a bold choice to introduce the movie from the criminal’s point of view rather than from what we might consider the “hero’s” view. It worked incredibly and had a tremendous pay-off in my opinion. I love the burned-out, brown-washed, hazy scenes used in the desert and the ship wreckage itself, is still to this day and age of filmmaking and special effects, a sight to see. It holds up extremely well. Call it what you will, but there is a certain gleam about it that shines like a new penny in the horror-alien genre.
‘Pitch Black’ may not be the best of the best, but it is certainly one of my favorite alien monster movies because all the key features hold together and present themselves very well. There is a pleasing balance from all sides which ensnares my attention, which I admit, tends to drift at times. Multitasking can be a bit brutal. The film’s sequels don’t quite have the hold on me that ‘Pitch Black’ does. Though I do give ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ props for boldly presenting a completely different “type” of monster: humans being humans.
In any case, if you haven’t seen ‘Pitch Black,’ you owe it to yourself to give it a try. And even if you didn’t like them or just straight-up skipped over them completely, check out ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ and ‘Riddick’ as well. There are far worse ways to spend an afternoon: you could listen to a multi-hour audio track of Vin Diesel saying “I am Groot,” if that seems more your style.