|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 24 October 2000|
‘Pitch Black’ is an enjoyable science-fiction/horror flick that should appeal to both traditional genre fans and action aficionados. The movie musters most of the traditional trappings to good effect: cool-looking (if mostly fleetingly shown) monsters, deep space, shipwreck on a distant planet and a small band of survivors who are suspicious of each other.
The movie begins with a fairly standard shot of a spacecraft moving through the galaxy. For those who check out the two audio commentary tracks, director David Twohy makes a point on both of stating that he wanted to avoid the visual cliché, but discovered in test screenings that without it, audiences got confused as to the characters’ location. It’s not a long wait – within moments, the ship is out of control, crashing into an unidentified and uninhabited planet. Most of those aboard are killed, but pilot Fry (Radha Mitchell) and eight others survive. One of those still alive is Riddick (Vin Diesel), a convicted murderer who can see in the dark. This turns out to be a handy ability, as although the planet has three suns, all of them are due to set, plunging the world into total darkness – in which a highly predatory native species comes out to hunt.
Patrick Tatopoulous’ creature designs (there turn out to be two different lethal breeds here) are impressively creepy, made more so by Twohy’s wise decision to tease us with glimpses of the carnivorous locals for much of the running time. When we get a good look, they prove worthy of the build-up.
The script, by Twohy and Jim & Ken Wheat, from the Wheats’ story, keeps a few decent mysteries running simultaneously. The writing gets a bit over-ambitious in the character department, giving us some drawn-out beats intended to convey personality that don’t quite resonate. Diesel, however, has a lot of presence as the threatening, ambiguous Riddick and Mitchell is good as the troubled heroine. Cole Hauser as Riddick’s captor gives an adroit performance that doesn’t telegraph anything too soon and Keith David exudes moral authority as a Muslim cleric.
As director, Twohy certainly knows how to make the viewer jump. He also gets a tremendously distinctive look for ‘Pitch Black,’ washing the screen at various times completely in gold, silver-blue or red, depending on which sun dominates the sky, magenta for Riddick’s unconventional point of view and a gray, streaked tunnel vision when we’re seeing things from the monsters’ perspective.
The sound on ‘Pitch Black’ rocks, starting with the clanging in Chapter 1 as the ship starts to malfunction, with loud metallic injuries in the mains echoing in the rears for a fully dimensional effect. Chapter 2 augments this, with roaring engines banging in the mains to taper away into the rears, putting us sonically right in the middle of the crash. Chapter 4 gives us some loud dialogue in the right and left mains as well as the center channel, so that we get a persuasive sense of the characters moving back and forth as they talk. Chapter 7 makes particularly nice use of the rears, housing the eerie whoosh of receding tentacles. Chapter 9 has a similar sound effect, as well as a striking visual, with a shot from Riddick’s point of view that sees a purple landscape punctured by innumerable points of sparkling light that are in actuality living creatures. Chapter 17 has an enormous, blow-you-out-of-the-chair whoosh that is specific to the nature of the film.
While it may be a flaw exclusive to a single copy, the DTS audio track on the disk reviewed displayed a momentary sound drop-out in the transition between Chapters 9 and 10, two more fractional audio drop-outs in Chapter 10 and another two in Chapter 11.
Supplemental materials on the disk include two audio commentary tracks, both with director Twohy. In one, he chats with actors Diesel and Hauser. It’s advisable to see the film before listening to this one, not only for the obvious reasons but because otherwise it’s hard to figure out who’s speaking, as none of the commentators identify themselves. Diesel’s distinctive voice is easy to recognize, but it’s sometimes hard to tell Twohy from Hauser. The other commentary track brings Twohy together with producer Tom Engelman and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang; here the director at times seems to be almost interviewing his colleagues. There’s also the Raveworld ‘Pitch Black’ event, which combines clips from the film with footage of folks dancing at a rave promoting the film (amusingly, the glow-in-the-dark tubing, a major prop in the film, looks perfectly at home in the rave scene). A making-of featurette is also included.
‘Pitch Black’ seems intended to be a bit more emotionally resonant that it is. Still, it’s eye-catching, stylish and, as monster movies go, is perfectly good fun and well-done.