Pitch Black (2000) — Shining in the dark

“Somebody’s gonna get hurt one of these days. It ain’t gonna be me.”

Justin’s rating: This is why I glow in the dark!

Justin’s review: The spring film season of 2000 will probably go down something like this: all the big-budget, highly-hyped flicks tanked while some surprisingly mediocre-looking films soared. Pitch Black is the first film I saw in 2000 that I would heartily endorse with Sprite.

At first, it does appear to be another been-there, shot-that excuse for a movie. A ship crashlands on a planet that’s seemingly dead… except when night comes to the triple solar system (every 22 years) and lots of bad little Starship Trooper bugs come out to play. Escape becomes our survivors’ motive, but of course it can’t be too easy…

There are a lot of factors that propelled this film to fascinate me, but I think (in an early summary, those with lactose problems are excused from this review) that it is simply an average plot that was treated extremely well. For instance, the opening scene is pretty cool: the passenger ship enters a meteor storm, and as the hull is being breached by hundreds of small meteors, the computer begins to wake up the crew. Our hero Fry (Radha Mitchell) anxiously waits to be let out of her sleep tube while she watches her captain killed via many holes punched through his body. The sound goes from soft (the whooshing bullets of rock through the hull) to loud (as the ship breaks up during crash landing).

Okay, so the opening was nifty, but then we’re trapped on this Tatooine-like planet with little more than an Elimination Movie to sit through. True… but it’s still better than average. The planet, for instance, looks truly alien, with the various casts of light from the suns and some wacky bones and mounds all over the place. Plus, Fry gets a funky ally/adversary to work with, a super-dangerous convict who can see in the dark due to tricked-out eyeballs (Riddick, played by Vin Diesel). Eventually the survivors figure out they’re in a pretty bad situation maybe two minutes before said bad situation happens, in the form of millions of alien critters popping out the mounds. The “gimmick” to fight them (there’s always a gimmick, boys and girls) is that these bugs are afraid of the light. Thus, a deep philosophical discussion of the metaphor between light and dark, and the grey areas between… or something like that.

Sometimes, though, you gotta be thinking, Are these characters deliberately trying to get themselves killed? during horror flicks. And Pitch Black is no exception, with the random doof getting whacked because he or she decides that dark room would be fun to explore or that the safer place to be is anywhere except with the well-armed, tight-knit group. It’s almost as if the filmmakers need to give the audience a reason why these characters are killed: “Well, Tisha is cute and all, but she refused to trust the main character when he said not to smear that slime all over her face. Therefore, she deserved the acid to eat through her skull like salt on a slug.”

So Pitch Black isn’t perfect. In the later quarter of the movie, the idiotic decisions/panic attacks that various characters had kept me going “Just get out of there already!” The many POV shots (of both the sun-blind Riddick and the kooky bugs) can also irritate if you don’t apply salve directly after. I was pretty surprised when there wasn’t a Big Alien Motherbug to kill at the end, but the ending was somewhat satisfying.

Clare’s rating: eh

Clare’s review: Ok, so I am well aware that I’m a girl and therefore understand that my fallopian tubes may prevent me from truly understanding and appreciating action/sci-fi/adventure/monster movies to their full potential. On the other hand, my brain, being the juicy piece of meat it is, helps me overcome the fallopian tube challenge by actually allowing me to decipher between genius action/sci-fi/etc. flicks (Blade Runner, Alien) and absolute bullocks (Starship Troopers, Wing Commander). Pitch Black falls squarely in between those two extremes. It had really cool special effects that were put to good use (them flying flesh eaters sure were scary lookin’), it looked good (was captured on film interestingly) and had a good basic story structure to build from.

However, it could have been really amazing but for some reason just couldn’t come up with the goods. I can picture the pitch meeting for this movie (where the writers go to the production companies and try to sell the script) and I understand why a producer would green light this story. There’s this futuristic space vehicle transporting cargo, people and, oh yeah, a psychopath and the bounty hunter assigned to bring him back where he came from. On the way home there’s an accident, the ship is forced to crash land and this strange mix of folks have to figure a way off a planet that seems at least manageable at first. Then things turn into a flesh ripping nightmare once they figure out they’re basically dinner for the planet’s underground dwelling inhabitants. The only thing that will keep them alive is their wits, their creative use of light sources on a totally dark planet and their teamwork even if one of them is a depraved maniac. I’m down with that.

It’s Tremors meets Cube meets C.H.U.D. meets Silence of the Lambs. Plus it’s got Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser in it and they’re both smokin’ in their own ways, so there’s some eye candy to enjoy along with the guts and the screaming and the hey, hey, hey.

Only problem is that it seems somewhere between the pitch meeting and the final edit of this film, a whole bunch of annoying crap got thrown in that makes no sense and there were golden opportunities to have some really cool and interesting things happen in the group’s attempts at survival that just never worked out.

Another disappointment was that, although Vin Diesel LOOKED like a total bad ass and TALKED like a total bad ass and apparently has some past history of ACTING like a total bad ass, if it weren’t for the fact that he could see in the dark (how CONVENIENT!) and lift heavy things while at the same time looking sexy in a dangerous kind of way, he wasn’t much of a character and didn’t really do a whole lot. Then there’s the fact that the eclipse that happens every 22 years on this planet, the one that sets off the carnage and the mayhem, occurs just a couple of HOURS after they touch down. Again, how CONVENIENT. It would have been way cooler if they’d been forced to actually live there for a couple days to settle in, get comfortable, unpack a little. That would have given us time to actually get to know the characters or at least time to decide who should get eviscerated first based on actual personality traits and not just the fact that some of them were more stupid or annoying than others.

And finally, can someone please explain to me why, in the distant future, when interplanetary space travel is something anybody can do, a craft would have LEVERS that perform vital functions of the ship’s operation? I mean come on people, everything would be done by pushing buttons or giving voice commands or at least typing instructions into a computer. No one would be pulling on big, bulky, easy to get stuck, ineffective LEVERS. That’s just lunacy.

This movie may pass as an inoffensive addition to the sci-fi/adventure/survival genre, but I personally think it had the potential to be a whole lot more exciting and compelling than it ended up being. Then again, maybe those are my ovaries talking.

PoolMan’s rating: It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere, we’re all alone, more or less…

PoolMan’s review: As has been said many, many times during my tenure here at Mutant Reviewers (PoolMan: Years and Years of North Pole Madness!), I’m not really good with scary movies. I can rationalize them away perfectly. I can convince myself there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all good. But give me the tense music with the extremely obvious jump moments, and I will hurtle through the roof with the force of Justin’s belt unbuckling at Thanksgiving. Normally this is just not an enjoyable experience for me. The one really major exception to this is the Aliens series; for some reason I just really jive on the big black bugs.

When Pitch Black first hit theaters, I immediately dismissed it as another comer to try and take on Ripley’s xenomorphs. A bunch of trapped, dirty characters stumbling around in a darkness filled with vaguely defined reptilian/insectoid creatures, running low on ammo and dying one by one? Yeah, it’s been done before.

But J, that loveable curmudgeon that he is, has so openly espoused his love of Richard B Riddick (his review of Chronicles of Riddick was surprisingly upbeat) that I eventually had to cave and see what my good buddy had seen that was so intriguing. I have to admit, I really back him up on this one.

Pitch Black is a pretty damn good creature flick for a few simple reasons. First and foremost, they don’t overdo the creatures. 45 minutes into the flick, the audience still hasn’t gotten much (if any) idea of what the threat is, or that it even exists. Our clearest view of the monsters usually comes from the point of view of Riddick himself, in his weird “shine job” vision. But it doesn’t drag or feel deprived, it’s just paced really, really well. By the time random characters start getting torn into hors d’oeuvres (here’s a hint, three of them don’t speak any English… hmmm, do ya think they might be among the first to go?) the audience is still too busy dealing with Reason Two that Pitch Black is any good: Riddick.

It was with a tinge of regret that I finally rented my first Vin Diesel movie (I’d successfully gone five years since his breakthrough without watching even one, with the debatable exception of The Iron Giant). But give the man his due, Diesel makes Riddick a damn cool antihero. In the opening shots on board the passenger ship, Riddick’s blindfold, bit, and chains make him look almost as alien as the bugs down on the planet. He’s intimidating, deadpan funny, and generally badass. The first half of the movie is spent not in fear of the aliens, but in fear of Riddick. He’s a palpable, believable threat. Sure, his turn to help the rest of the crew escape starts to feel a bit illogical, but I can ignore this in the face of some fun bughunting. I just liked the fact that we had a character who couldn’t be predicted… he’ll save a character in one shot, but be ready to leave the deadly planet (and the other survivors) behind him in another. Relying a little too much on his mental instability as a character trait? Maybe, but it was still fun.

The flick was good. It’s not deep, it’s not overly philosophical, but it comes to do a job, and it does it nearly as well as Aliens did so many years before it. With a decent cast of characters (hey, look, it’s the chick from Farscape playing, um, the chick from Farscape…) and a sense of style that’s good enough to forgive all the little logical silly bits, I absolutely look forward to seeing the rest of the series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s