PITCH BLACK - 2000
Intrepid Pictures / Interscope Communications / USA Films
Rated: USA: R
The dullwitted comments of producer Tom Engleman (THE TEMP) in the Jan. 2000 issue of Fangoria Magazine did nothing for encouraging me to watch this flick ("I'm aiming for Scream in space."). Obviously his highest aspirations were to do
nothing more than try and imitate a movie that was both a send-up and
a condemnation of all the slasher movie clichés that had come before. SCREAM was Director Wes Craven's attempt
to expose and finally lay to rest all the tired old Horror movie clichés
(particularly Slasher movies) that had been used yea unto death: possibly in order to infuse Horror with wholly new blood
and new criteria. Arguably, his success with SCREAM and SCREAM 2 may have ushered in
the new face of Horror. 1999 was, without a doubt, the year for Horror
movies. From Sommer's witty THE MUMMY,
to the amateur but startling efforts found in THE
BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999's top grosser's were all Horror (as
well as some of the worst failures). Disney gave us THE
SIXTH SENSE and Artisan came back from BWP with a second helping in
the form of STIR OF ECHOES. Warner Brothers
gave us the intense THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED
HILL and gothic old Tim Burton finally cut his first true Horror movie
with SLEEPY HOLLOW. But with all
this new energy and creativity, Engleman only wanted to copy someone else who was copying someone else.
Yet I saw this movie and actually liked it. Why?
Luckily, Director and co-writer David Twohy (THE ARRIVAL, BELOW and as a writer: CRITTERS 2, WARLOCK, THE FUGITIVE, LAST GASP) was at the helm of PITCH BLACK. David's skills at movie making aren't that sharp yet, but his movies always give me the feeling that he's a man of unshakable sincerity. He really wants to make a great film. As such
the ideas he presents, while not always as deep or devastating as the
Thriller / Horror movie crowd may like, are never-the-less creative and
original. David never goes for the expected "Cat-in-the-closet"
trick. Its a mark in his films that sets him apart and makes me look forward
to his next one. His humor is also unique and fun.
PITCH BLACK starts off with deep space transport ship Hunter-Gratzner
on a very long journey. The folks inside are in deep sleep - no warp factor
five here - as their ship glides through the tail of a passing comet.
The tail of a comet is largely made up of ice with some solid debris (thus the "dirty snowball" moniker).
It's this debris that shoots right through the hull destroying the integrity
of the ship. The ship computer aims the craft toward the nearest planet
and wakes the crew. As they awake they are surprised to find themselves
falling onto the deck. The gravity of the planet has taken hold and they
are spiraling down through the atmosphere, their hull, not made for such
a thing, burning away. The ship does have emergency air brakes for cases
of crash landings and the pilot attempts to control the trajectory of
the ship. The whole scene is pretty hairy though not without a few bad gaffs.
When all is said and done, all the crew but one are dead. Fry (Radha
Mitchell) is now the Captain and the few passengers are in her care.
Among them are Johns (Cole Hauser: PAPARAZZI) who isn't what he appears to be, and Riddick (Vin Diesel: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), an escaped convict murderer who is exactly
what he appears to be.
Also among the cast of potential victims are Keith David (THE
THING, THEY LIVE, THE PUPPET MASTERS, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) as Islamic holy man Imam
and Lewis Fitz-Gerald as the delicate dealer in Antiquities. It is his
cargo of esoteric trinkets that help save the folk. And do these folk need help.
The planet they've crashed on is inhabited by cave dwelling creatures.
Most of them are ferocious varmints that are such excellent killers, they
have nearly stripped the planet clean of all other life. Now these creatures, with little
else to prey on than each other, are dying out. The dying planet has three
suns. Two of which revolve around each other and a third in a faraway
orbit. In this system however, all revolve around a massive sol sized
ringed planet. Such are the dynamics of this part of the Universe that
the planet our protagonists are on, only sees night once every twenty
two years. It is at this time that the cave dwelling animals come out
and wreak havoc. Our troupe has picked a bad time to crash.
As Nightfall descends and the humans realize their fate so the tension picks up. They
must survive the night, and no one knows how long that night will last.
Days? Weeks? During this time of stress and panic loyalties will be traded,
trusts will be broken, and secrets will come out. The survivors will have
to stay together if they are to survive the odds.
For those among us who are fans of the late Good Doctor, yes - this movie acknowledges
its plot device from Isaac Asimov's Hugo winning short story, NIGHTFALL.
That was the working title of PITCH BLACK and while the movie has little in common with the story,
it is still a damn sight better than the actual movie Nightfall which was
released during Dr. Asimov's lifetime (and left him unimpressed with Hollywood).
Among the standouts in PITCH BLACK are the Giger-esque creatures of this planet. Blind, they use sound and
the photosensitive ability of their skin to navigate. The idea of a mind
that "sees" with sound was put to good effect thanks to the
imaginative works of Peter Chiang (KRULL) and Richard Bain (DOLORES CLAIRBORNE). Knowing how the varmints can "see" makes us understand the potentials for survival and death among the survivors all the better.
Another stand out is Vin Diesel. As the primal and murderous Riddick, Diesel's part
was written with little beyond a few threatening diatribes and the expected thuggish
sound bite. Yet Diesel infuses his character beyond the script. The movie
calls for him to remain enigmatic and hide his eyes behind dark glasses,
the whole TERMINATOR she-bang.
Instead Diesel portrays his killer with a human soul. He admits to killing
before and he may do it again if it means his survival, but like a true
predator he doesn't kill unless he feels threatened - or hungry. David
Twohy must have noticed Diesel's ability too because there is a definite
shift halfway in the movie with Riddick going from a secondary to the
The story was written by the Wheat Brothers, Jim and Ken, whose banal credits include
SILENT SCREAM, A NIGHTMARE
ON ELMSTREET 4, THE FLY II, THE
BIRDS II (TV), THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS and worse. The script was most likely
elevated by the hand of Director/Writer David Twohy.
Though it misses several moments where it could have gone from interesting to stark
staring scares for the audience, PITCH BLACK is still a fun movie and gets 3 Shriek Girls from me.
copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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